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Definition: Odysseus from Philip's Encyclopedia

(Ulysses) Greek hero of Homer's epic poem, the Odyssey. King of the city-state of Ithaca, husband of the faithful Penelope, he was an astute and brave warrior. It was Odysseus who devised the wooden horse used to enter Troy during the Trojan War.

Summary Article: Odysseus
From The Encyclopedia of Ancient History

Mythical king of Ithaca, son of Laertes and Antikleia; with Penelope, father of Telemachos. In the Iliad, he is already Odysseus "of the many wiles" (polymetis) and has a reputation for cunning, being chosen for the embassy to Achilles (Book 9) and accompanying Diomedes on the night mission (Book 10), but otherwise differs little from the other Greek heroes. In the Odyssey, which recounts his ten-year voyage home from Troy, his cunning is prominent. Initially behaving in Iliadic fashion, attacking the Kikones purely for glory and gain, he learns caution, routinely concealing his identity in order to test those he encounters, including his swine-herd Eumaios, Penelope, Laertes, Telemachos, and even the disguised Athena. He survives numerous adventures, though losing all his companions, before being detained on Kalypso's island for seven years. Released at Zeus' behest, he is shipwrecked by Poseidon and washes up in Scheria, home of the Phaiakians. There he recounts his exploits – including his encounters with the Lotos-Eaters, the Cyclops, Aiolos, the Laistrygonians, Circe (who sends him to the underworld to interrogate the shade of Teiresias), the Sirens and Skylla and Charybdis, and the killing by his men of the cattle of Helios – and the Phaiakians return him to Ithaca. Infiltrating his own palace disguised as a beggar, he is abused by the suitors of Penelope, who have overrun the palace in his absence. With Telemachos and Eumaios, he kills them and restores order. The impending blood-feud this provokes is forestalled by Athena. In classical times, his cunning gained him an ambiguous reputation. In tragedy he can be cruel and unscrupulous (Eur. Tro.; Soph. Phil.), but also magnanimous and reconciliatory (Soph. Aj.). Post-Odyssey adventures, hinted at by Teiresias, are largely lost. He received cult at the Polis cave on Ithaca, although epigraphic evidence firmly linking the site to his worship dates only to the first century BCE.


Athena; Hero cult; Poseidon; Zeus.

References and Suggested Readings
  • Coldstream, J. N. (1976) "Hero cults in the age of Homer." Journal of Hellenic Studies 96: 8-17.
  • Dougherty, C. (2001) The raft of Odysseus. The ethnographic imagination of Homer's Odyssey. Oxford.
  • Gantz, T. (1993) Early Greek myth: a guide to literary and artistic sources. Baltimore.
  • Morris, I. (1988) "Tomb cult and the 'Greek renaissance': the past in the present in the 8th century BC." Antiquity 62: 750-61.
  • Segal, C. (1994) Singers, heroes and gods in the Odyssey. Ithaca.
  • Ralph Anderson
    Wiley ©2012

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