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Odysseus (also spelled Ulysses) was a major ancient Greek hero, and a legendary Greek king of Ithaca, credited for his infamous Trojan Horse trick. He is the eponymous hero of the Odyssey, which tells the story of his ten-year-long journey back to his homeland of Ithaca after the Trojan War.

History

Role in the Iliad

Odysseus was one of the most influential Greek champions in Homer's Iliad. During the battles, he was one of the most valiant and mighty heroes, and who fought alongside Diomed and Ajax.

He came up with the idea of the Trojan Horse with the help of his patron goddess, Athena. The Trojan Horse allowed the Greek forces to sneak into the protective walls of Troy under the cover of darkness, while the Trojans were celebrating the fallback and retreat of the Greeks.

When night fell, a troop of soldiers led by Odysseus came out from the Trojan Horse, having hidden inside, and opened the gates of Troy, allowing Agamemnon's troops to invade the city.

After Troy was sacked, Odysseus threw Hector's infant son, Astyanax, from the walls of the city in order to kill him. Such a dishonorable act by Greek standards made him be cursed by the gods.

Role in the Odyssey

Odysseus is the central hero in the second of Homer's epics, the Odyssey. The legend describes Odysseus' travels as he tries to return to his home after the Trojan War and reclaim his rightful title as the King of Ithaca. Odysseus' way home becomes quite troublesome because of the curse the gods had laid on him for killing Hector's son. After he blinded Polyphemus, Poseidon became wroth with him as well.

First, he meets the Cícones (Ciconians), who were allies of the Trojan, but after taking their city, they came back with a whole army and they had to run to the ships in order to survive. Then he stopped at the country of the Lotus Eaters who ate only the fruit of the Lotus tree, which made them drowsy. When Odysseus' crew ate the fruit, they lost their will to return home. After deciding to continue the trip and go back home they ended up on the island of Polyphemus, a Cyclops. After admitting Odysseus and several members of his crew into his cave, the Cyclops trapped them and began eating two of Odysseus' men a day. In a clever scheme, Odysseus allowed Polyphemus to drink his wine until the Cyclops had passed out. Once out cold, Odysseus and his men sharpened the Cyclops' great club and gouged his eye out with it. Blinded and confused, the Cyclops staggered about, and Odysseus and his men escaped in a flock of the Cyclops' sheep. Poseidon, Polyphemus' father, sought retribution for this, and made Odysseus' journey fraught with peril. 

They came to Aeolia soon after leaving the Cyclops. There Aeolus gave Odysseus a bag holding all the winds, which would allow them to sail to Ithaca quickly. When they were close enough to see Ithaca's lights, greed overcame Odysseus' crew, who promptly opened the bag in search of gold, and thus the winds blew them back to Aeolia. The god of the winds angrily dismissed them as cursed by the gods. Since they didn't have a choice, they started the hard way to Ithaca without the god's help. They stayed at the sea for seven days until they stop at Telépio, in which the cannibalistic Lestrygonians devoured many of his men, and destroyed all the ships but one, upon which Odysseus escaped. They got to Circe's island after a few days and tough a rush arrival and a few problems in the begging, they stay there for a year. When they decided to head back to Ithaca, Circe advised them to pass by the Underworld. There they talked to many deceased people, but specifically to Tiresias, one of the wisest men ever who could see the future. Upon hearing a prophecy they sail back to Circe's and then restart the long way back home. At Aeaea (Circe's island) one crew member, Elpenor, was so excited at the prospect of returning home, that he, in a drunken stupor, accidentally fell off the roof of a building and broke his neck. This forced the crew to return to Aeaea to give him a proper burial.

They passed by the Sirens (Odysseus heard them and survived, after instructing his crew to bind him to the mast), Scylla and Charybdis (they passed close to Scylla) and then they stopped at the island of Helios' sacred cattle, the oxen of the Sun. Odysseus' starving crewmen, despite being warned, decided to slay and eat some of the cattle, for which they are later punished. As Odysseus and his men set sail once more, Helios beseeched Zeus destroy Odysseus' ship for revenge, and thus a sea storm wrecksed the ship, killing all but Odysseus, who didn't eat the meat of the sacred cattle. Clinging to a part of his ship, the gods sent him to Ogygia (Calypso's island) and he stayed there for seven years. Finally, he left, and at sea, was struck by another storm sent by Poseidon. Fortunately for him, the goddess Ino appeared and gifted him with a magical veil which would protect him from drowning. After the storm ceased, he washed onto the island Scheria, in which the Phaeaceans lived. There he encountered Nausicaa, who spotted him as she played upon the shore, when he stumbled up to her clothed in nothing but a tree branch, and King Alcinous, her father. There, he recounted his story, which is how the reader gets insight into what he went through. The Phaeaceans then bear him to Ithaca. However, when he arrives, Athena clothes the island in mist, as to initially obscure his home, and then she dramatically reveals it to him.

He then encountered his faithful swineherd, Eumaeus, with whom he had short discourse, and also he met his son. However, he kept his identity hidden from the public. He was received into the palace of Penelope, who was beleaguered by suitors following Odysseus' departure for Ilion. While he was being washed by a maid, the maid recognized him from a scar he had on his leg, but Odysseus bade her not to reveal anything to Penelope. He then began to conspire with his son to get revenge upon the suitors. While dining, several suitors, such as Eurymachus, began insulting Odysseus, even hitting him with a footstool, but Odysseus did not react.

At the palace, he was faced by a beggar, Arnaeus (also called Irus, the masculine form of Iris, because of his willingness to run messages), who challenged him to a fight after insulting him. Odysseus agreed, and broke Irus' jaw with a single strike.

Finally, it was decided by Penelope that she would marry whosoever could string the great bow of Odysseus, and shoot an arrow through twelve axes. Each suitor tried, including Antinous (the leader) and Eurymachus, however, none could even string the bow. Finally, Odysseus (disguised as a beggar) strung the bow and shot it through the axes. He then revealed himself, and the battle in the hall began.

Together with Telemachus and two faithful servants, he killed all the suitors (only a singer and a musician get out alive because of Telemachus' mercy). Telemachus also hanged all of the maids who had been flirtatious with such suitors.

Initially, after Odysseus revealed himself to Penelope, she was doubtful, as it had been twenty years. Thus she asked their marriage bed to be brought thither, which she knew to be rooted to the ground (being constructed around a tree). Odysseus was first confused, and thought she had cut down the tree, and accused her of destroying the bed. It was because of this that Penelope knew Odysseus was truly her husband, and they rejoiced, to finally be in each other's embrace after two decades apart.

After that, Ithaca entered chaos, as the fathers of the suitors went after Odysseus and his followers looking for revenge. The gods stopped the civil war in the middle of the battle and peace was made, keeping Ithaca from destruction. He later made peace with Poseidon by making a sacrifice for him in the land where people did not know about the sea.

Odysseus would die after many years as a righteous king, although the details surrounding his death are vague. One story says that he was accidentally killed by his son, Telegonus, whom he had sired with the sorceress, Circe.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians

The Sea of Monsters

Percy and Annabeth's adventure greatly resembles the Odyssey, with many of the same locations and monsters, and even certain details like the funeral shroud that Penelope would weave at day and unravel at night. Annabeth's fatal flaw is noted to be hubris, similar to Odysseus. 

The Heroes of Olympus

The Mark of Athena

While Minerva is in Grand Central Station, she becomes confused and lost because her two sides are at war with each other. As she looks at the map, she wishes Odysseus was there as he would be able to help her find the way home.

Annabeth later thinks about how Odysseus was not only a great warrior, but he was also very intelligent, which gives her the drive to continue her quest for the Athena Parthenos.

The House of Hades

While Leo is on Ogygia, Calypso talks about all the other men who had come to her island but had to leave her behind. Calypso remembers Odysseus as one of them.

The Blood of Olympus

Annabeth, Jason, and Piper disguise themselves and successfully infiltrate Odysseus' old palace in Ithaca, which is now haunted by the ghosts of the Suitors as well as the spirits of many historical figures and demigods, who are in league with Gaea. After learning the enemy plans, the trio kills all the ghosts present.

Jason is wounded in the process and calls on Juno using the marriage bed of Odysseus and Penelope. While Juno/Hera praises the faithfulness of Odysseus and Penelope's marriage, Jason remembers that Odysseus was unfaithful to Penelope and had romantic affairs with other women.

Trivia

  • Ajax the Greater committed suicide after losing Achilles' armor to Odysseus in a poetry contest. When Odysseus later visits the Underworld in search of the blind seer Tiresias, he comes across the soul of Ajax, who refuses to speak to him, as, even in death, Ajax didn't forgive him.
  • Odysseus was gifted with his famous bow by Iphitus. It was originally owned by Iphitus's father Eurytus, who received the bow from his grandfather, Apollo.
  • Hundreds of men (suitors) stayed outside Odysseus' house, demanding his wife Penelope choose one of them for a husband. During their stay, the island suffered as the suitors killed his livestock, drank his wine, and ate his crops.
  • His father, Laertes, was a demigod son of Zeus, while his maternal grandfather is Autolycus, was a son of Hermes. Odysseus would, therefore, be a legacy of both Zeus and Hermes.
  • Odysseus and Jason both shared the same grandfather, Autolycus, a son of Hermes.
  • Odysseus was stranded on the island of Ogygia for seven years. 
  • A book called Ulysses was published by Irish author James Joyce, which depicts the struggles of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, two figures whose journeys through Dublin from Jun 16-17 1904 mirror those of Odysseus and Telemachus respectively. The chapters are even titled the different episodes of the Odyssey, and contain subtle references and parodies of the original episodes from the Odyssey. For example, the Circe episode involves lengthy hallucinations and a talisman (a shriveled potato corresponding to Moly in the Odyssey), and Nestor involves Stephen Dedalus (Telemachus) speaking with Mr Deasy, who takes the role of Nestor (the reference is made through the supposed advice that the latter gives the former, and the portrait of past Gold Cup horses on the wall; Nestor was fond of horses). However, the irony is that while Nestor was wise and sage-like, Mr Deasy is closed minded, anti-semitic, and condescending.  
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