Homer’s epic Odyssey

While trees look beautiful with autumnal tint, it is nice to immerse yourself in reading books.

How about Homer’s epic Odyssey?


 

Homer

Greek bust of Homer, Capitoline Museum, Rome. ©C M Dixon/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

Greek bust of Homer, Capitoline Museum, Rome.
©C M Dixon/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

 

The Iliad and the Odyssey, arguably among the world’s greatest epic poems, were composed about the mid-eighth century BC by Homer, but when we look for information about the poet, we only find a complete blank. Tradition has it that Homer was blind, and there are indications that he may have lived in the east Greek lands of Asian Minor or one of the Aegean islands, since his geography in this area is fairly reliable, but becomes distinctly legendary as his tale moves further west. Beyond this, nothing. Indeed, a few scholars insist that the poems are collections of folk tales and that Homer never existed, but to the ancient Greeks he was the fount of all wisdom and the basis of every Athenian boy’s cultural education.


 

Ithaca

Ithaca. Greece. Ionianis. View from Ithaca north east towards mainland. Island of Odysseus ©Geoffrey Garvey/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

Ithaca. Greece. Ionianis. View from Ithaca north east towards mainland.
Island of Odysseus
©Geoffrey Garvey/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

 

The siege of Troy dragged on for many weary years until Odysseus’ clever device of the wooden horse brought about the overthrow and destruction of the city. Troy’s patron, the sea-god Poseidon, would never forgive the hero who was the cause of the city’s downfall, and for many more years Odysseus had to encounter all kinds of difficulties from winds, weather, monsters and magic before his return to his kingdom in the beautiful and fertile island of Ithaca. Even then, there were problems to confront. His son Telemachus was nearly grown up and his faithfull wife Penelope was struggling to fend off the attentions of numerous suitors wanting to marry her and take over the kingdom. A short, sharp battle disposed of them, and Odysseus was finally home again.


 

Odysseus and Sirens

Scene from the Odyssey. Odysseus and the Sirens. Odysseus tied to ships mast. Roman Mosaic. 2nd-4th cent. AD. Dougga. ©Ronald Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

Scene from the Odyssey. Odysseus and the Sirens. Odysseus tied to ships mast.
Roman Mosaic. 2nd-4th cent. AD. Dougga.
©Ronald Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

 

Many of the episodes in the Odyssey were seen by the Greeks as morality tales. Legend told that the song of the Sirens was irresistible, luring passing ships to wreckage and destruction on the rocks; so Odysseus, never short of a cunning plan, plugged his men’s ears with wax and had himself tied to the mast until his ship was safely out of earshot. This tale taught the Greeks that some temptations simply cannot be withstood, and in this case the only way is to make sure that it is not in your power to yield by putting yourself beyond the fatal lure.

 


 

Odysseus and Polyphemus

Odysseus giving wine to the giant Polyphemus. Engraving. Greece. ©Ronald Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

Odysseus giving wine to the giant Polyphemus.
Engraving. Greece.
©Ronald Sheridan/Ancient Art & Architecture Collection

 

In one of the most dramatic adventures of Odysseus’ wanderings, he and his men were trapped in the cave of the one-eyed giant shepherd Polyphemus, who blocked the entrance with a huge boulder and ate one of his captives every evening. Odysseus, however, was never short of a clever device to meet any threat. He got Polyphemus incapably drunk and blinded his one eye. The giant had to remove the boulder to let his sheep out, and Odysseus sneaked himself and his men out of the cave underneath the animals, thereby proving that size and brute strength are no match for intelligence.