An ancient, Greek epic poem ascribed to Homer and written in the eighth century BCE. It recounts, in twenty-four books, the adventures of Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, after the Trojan War. In the Odyssey, Odysseus is forced to wander for ten years before finally making his way back home. The story of the Odyssey is preceded by the Iliad, also written by Homer.
After the action of the Iliad, the Ethiopian Memnon comes with his men to the help of Troy, while Philoctetes with the bow of Heracles and Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, after his father's death, come to aid the Greeks. The alliance of the Amazons with the Trojans is not mentioned in the poems. Odysseus plans the Wooden Horse, by which the city is captured. Athena's wrath is kindled against the Greeks by their conduct after the capture of the city, and she sends upon them a storm, which scatters their fleets. Menelaus is driven to Crete and Egypt, and with Helen reaches his home in Sparta only in the eighth year of their wandering. Odysseus is driven first to the land of the lotus-eaters, then to the island of the Cyclopes, where Polyphemus slays and devours six of his comrades (and is blinded by him), thence to the land of the Laestrygones (where all but one of his ships are destroyed), and to Circe's island, where he passes a year. He then visits Hades, in order to consult the soul of the blind Theban seer, Tiresias. In Hades he sees the shade of his mother and those of many of the Greek heroes.
On his return the dangers of Scylla and Charybdis are met. His comrades slay one of the cattle of the Sun, and their boat is wrecked. Odysseus himself is borne to the island of the sea-nymph Calypso, who cares for him tenderly, and would make him immortal and her husband.
The scene of the Odyssey opens in the tenth year after the close of the Trojan War and the twentieth after the departure of Odysseus from his home on Ithaca. He has been absent so long that no expectation is entertained of his return. His home is filled by more than a hundred young princes, each eager to win the hand of the faithful and prudent wife, Penelope; and thus to become the king of the realm. The goddess Athena pities Odysseus, who is weary of his sojourn in the grotto of Calypso and longing for his home, and secures the decree of Zeus for his return. Meanwhile she sends his son Telemachus to Nestor and Menelaus, asking for tidings of his father. Odysseus sets out from Calypso's island, eighteen days' sail to the west, but as he approaches Greece he is wrecked by the sea-god Poseidon, whose son Polyphemus he had blinded, and is cast on the shore of the Phaeacians (identified by the ancients with Corcyra, the modern Corfu), who convey him to his home. Finding his palace in the possession of haughty suitors, he returns in the guise of a beggar, but with the help of his son and two faithful servants (and Athena) he slays the suitors and regains his kingdom and faithful wife.
The action of the Odyssey covers only six weeks — less even than that of the Iliad — yet the events of the ten years of wandering are comprised in the stories which are put into the mouth of Nestor, Menelaus, and Odysseus himself.
The votive relief by Archelaus of Priene (second century BCE), depicting the apotheosis of Homer, shows a figure who personifies the Odyssey.
This article incorporates text from Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898) by Harry Thurston Peck, which is in the public domain.