The Odyssey is an epic poem by Homer, the Greek bard who lived in the 8th century BC. It tells the story of Odysseus, a Greek warrior who had fought at Troy and was returning to his home, the island of Ithaca (off the west coast of the mainland).
Odysseus's journey lasted ten years and took him all over the Greek world, facing many dangers including the Cyclops, Circe the witch, and sea monsters. This long and terrible journey has given us the word 'odyssey'.
Poor Penelope, Odysseus' wife, had to wait twenty years for her husband while he fought at Troy and made his way home. During this time she was pressed by suitors - men who wanted to marry her, assuming Odysseus had been killed. She tricked them by saying she would marry when she had finished weaving a cloak for her father. Secretly, each night she pulled apart the strands she had woven, so she never finished the cloak.
The Odyssey is too long to tell all of it, but here are some highlights.
Landing on an island Odysseus and his men found a cave which belonged to the Cyclops, Polyphemus. Cyclops were incredibly strong and violent giants. When Polyphemus returned he grabbed two of the men and ate them. Odysseus and his men could not escape because of a huge stone blocking the cave which only the Cyclops could move.
Odysseus came up with a plan. He got the Cyclops drunk, and told him his name was 'Nobody'. While the Cyclops slept he thrust a stake into his eye, blinding him. The Cyclops cried to his friends but when they asked who had done it, he said 'Nobody'. And so they thought it had been a punishment of the gods and left him. The Cyclops opened the cave and waited with his arms out.
Odysseus then tied his men underneath the Cyclops' sheep. When dawn came they escaped. The Cyclops felt the backs of the sheep but did not find the men.
In anger the Cyclops cursed Odysseus. He called on his father, Poseidon, to make sure Odysseus would only arrive home after a long journey, much suffering, and losing all his men and ships. And Poseidon made his son's wish come true.
Poseidon blew Odysseus' ships off course, and he arrived at the island of Circe, a witch. He sent some men ahead and the witch invited them to a banquet. But the food was poisoned with Circe's magic potions and turned the men into pigs, dogs and lions.
Odysseus now made his way there, and the god Hermes told him how to defeat the witch - by mixing a special herb into his wine so the magic did not work, and then by drawing his sword against her, making her turn his men back to human form and helping him on his journey. Odysseus followed Hermes' advice and was successful.
The Sirens were women with the bodies of birds. Their song was so lovely sailors would be lured to it and dash their ships on the rocks. Odysseus was warned by Circe, however, and had his men tie him to the mast and put wax in their ears. This way Odysseus heard the beautiful song, but survived.
Scylla and Charibdis
Circe also warned Odysseus about the dangers of the two monsters, Scylla and Charibdis, who lived each side of a very narrow strait (sea passage) between cliffs. On one side was Charibdis at the bottom of a terrible whirlpool. Any ship sailing too close was sucked in and destroyed. Scylla was a woman with dog's heads on six long necks. She could reach over, grab sailors and devour them.
Following Circe's advice Odysseus sailed out of reach of Charibdis, but allowing Scylla's dogs to seize six of his men.
Home at Last
After ten years and many more adventures, Odysseus at last reached home, helped by Athena. Nobody recognised him, and gradually he revealed himself to his swineherd, his son Telemachus, and his father Laertes. In an exciting battle at the palace Odysseus killed all the suitors who had been pestering Penelope and eating all his food. At last he revealed himself to his wife and took his place back on the throne.
Odysseus blinds the Cyclops
Odysseus listens to the Sirens
Odysseus and Penelope