Book One

"Oh Goddess of Inspiration, help me sing of wily Odysseus, that master of schemes!" So Homer begins his epic, though the hero himself is still offstage. We are treated to a glimpse of life among the supreme gods on Mount Olympus.

Grey-eyed Athena, the goddess of war, is addressing an assembly headed by Zeus, the king of gods:

"Even though we all love Odysseus, he alone of the Greek heroes has been waylaid on his journey home from Troy. When he put out the eye of the giant Cyclops, he provoked the wrath of the God of Earthquakes."

The Olympians know she refers to Poseidon, the Ruler of the Sea, who is off enjoying a banquet elsewhere.

"And now Odysseus languishes on the lonely island of the nymph Calypso, pining for home. Is that your will, Zeus?"

"You know very well it isn't," replies the god of gods.

"Then send your herald, Hermes, flying to Calypso. Make her let Odysseus go. I myself will inspire the hero's son." Athena departs to fulfill this vow.

Adopting a mortal guise, she appears at the gate of Odysseus' mansion on the island of Ithaca. Odysseus' son, Telemachus, does not recognize the goddess in her human form but invites the stranger in as a guest. Over food and wine they discuss the fact that Telemachus and his mother Penelope are plagued by suitors for Penelope's hand in marriage.

All the eligible young nobles of Ithaca and the neighboring islands, assuming that Odysseus is dead, are vying for Penelope. And while they wait to see which one of them she will choose, they help themselves to her hospitality, feasting through her herds and guzzling her wine. Telemachus is powerless to do anything about it.

"Warn them off," counsels Athena. "Then fit out a ship that will carry you to the mainland. There you must seek tidings of your father."

Book number: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18 - 19 - 20 - 21 - 22 - 23 - 24


Goddess Although Homer invokes only one, there were nine goddesses of artistic inspiration, known collectively as the Muses. They were rarely worshipped but often called upon by poets, particularly bards, since they aided memory as well as creative spark.

epic An epic is a long poem recounting the adventures of a hero in a grand or elevated style.

Olympus Olympus is a mountain in northern Greece, rising to multiple peaks of over 9000 feet. In mythology, it is the home of the supreme gods, who lived there in a beautiful castle. They were known as the Olympians in consequence.

Mount Olympus. Thessaly, Greece. Photo: C.M. Dixon.

Athena (uh-THEE-nuh)

In another myth, Athena presents a mirrored shield to Perseus, sponsoring the hero's quest to slay Medusa.

Zeus (ZOOS or ZYOOS)

alone Since the immortals know everything, Athena doesn't have to tell them that all the other Greek heroes of the Trojan War have long since returned to their homes -- except for those who died on the homeward voyage because they had angered Athena herself.

Cyclops (SY-klops) The Cyclops was the son of the God of Earthquakes. He was a one-eyed giant of the race that built Olympus for the gods. His story is told in Book 9 of the Odyssey.

Poseidon (poh-SYE-dun) In addition to being God of Earthquakes, Poseidon was supreme Ruler of the Sea. He was Zeus's brother. Together with a third brother, Hades, they divided up creation. Zeus ruled over Mount Olympus and the heavens, Poseidon ruled the sea and Hades had dominion over the Underworld of the dead beneath the earth.

Poseidon was one of the twelve Olympian gods.

Hermes (HER-meez)

Telemachus (tel-EM-uh-kus)

Penelope (peh-NEL-uh-pee)

Book number: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18 - 19 - 20 - 21 - 22 - 23 - 24