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"It is unfortunate for us, that, of some of the greatest men, we know least, and talk most.
Homer, Socrates, and Shakespearehave, perhaps, contributed more to the intellectual enlightenment of mankind than any other three writers who could be named, and yet the history of all three has given rise to a boundless ocean of discussion."
Translated by Alexander Pope, with notes by the Rev. Theodore Alois Buckley, M.A., F.S.A. and Flaxman's Designs. 1899
THE ODYSSEY OF HOMER
DONE INTO ENGLISH PROSE
by S. H. BUTCHER, M.A. AND A. LANG, M.A.
Odysseus was the King of Ithaca, a small and rugged island
on the western coast of Greece. When he was but lately
married to Penelope, and while his only son Telemachus was
still an infant, the Trojan war began. It is scarcely
necessary to say that the object of this war, as conceived
of by the poets, was to win back Helen, the wife of
Menelaus, from Paris, the son of Priam, King of Troy. As
Menelaus was the brother of Agamemnon, the Emperor, so to
speak, or recognised chief of the petty kingdoms of
'Greece, the whole force of these kingdoms was at his
disposal. No prince came to the leaguer of Troy from a home
more remote than that of Odysseus. When Troy was taken, in
the tenth year of the war, his homeward voyage was the
longest and most perilous.
The action of the Odyssey occupies but the last six weeks
of the ten years during which Odysseus was wandering. Two
nights in these six weeks are taken up, however, by his own
narrative of his adventures (to the Phaeacians, p. xx) in
the previous ten years. With this explanatory narrative we
must begin, before coming to the regular action of the
After the fall of Troy, Odysseus touched at Ismarus, the
city of a Thracian people, whom he attacked and plundered,
but by whom he was at last repulsed. The north wind then
carried his ships to Malea, the extreme southern point of
Greece. Had he doubled Malea safely, he would probably have
reached Ithaca in a few days, would have found Penelope
unvexed by wooers, and Telemachus a boy of ten years old.
But this was not to be.
The 'ruinous winds' drove Odysseus and his ships for ten
days, and on the tenth they touched the land of the Lotus-
Eaters, whose flowery food causes sweet forgetfulness.
Lotus-land was possibly in Western Libya, but it is more
probable that ten days' voyage from the southern point of
Greece, brought Odysseus into an unexplored region of
fairy-land. Egypt, of which Homer had some knowledge, was
but five days' sail from Crete.
Lotus-land, therefore, being ten days' sail from Malea, was
well over the limit of the discovered world. From this
country Odysseus went on till he reached the land of the
lawless Cyclopes, a pastoral people of giants. Later Greece
feigned that the Cyclopes dwelt near Mount Etna, in Sicily.
Homer leaves their place of abode in the vague. Among the
Cyclopes, Odysseus had the adventure on which his whole
fortunes hinged. He destroyed the eye of the cannibal
giant, Polyphemus, a son of Poseidon, the God of the Sea.
To avenge this act, Poseidon drove Odysseus wandering for
ten long years, and only suffered him to land in Ithaca,
'alone, in evil case, to find troubles in his house.' This
is a very remarkable point in the plot. The story of the
crafty adventurer and the blinding of the giant, with the
punning device by which the hero escaped, exists in the
shape of a detached marchen or fairy-tale among races who
never heard of Homer. And when we find the story among
Oghuzians, Esthonians, Basques, and Celts, it seems natural
to suppose that these people did not break a fragment out
of the Odyssey, but that the author of the Odyssey took
possession of a legend out of the great traditional store
of fiction. From the wide distribution of the tale, there
is reason to suppose that it is older than Homer, and that
it was not originally told of Odysseus, but was attached to
his legend, as floating jests of unknown authorship are
attributed to eminent wits. It has been remarked with truth
that in this episode Odysseus acts out of character, that
he is foolhardy as well as cunning. Yet the author of the
Odyssey, so far from merely dove-tailing this story at
random into his narrative, has made his whole plot turn on
the injury to the Cyclops. Had he not foolishly exposed
himself and his companions, by his visit to the Cyclops,
Odysseus would never have been driven wandering for ten
weary years. The prayers of the blinded Cyclops were heard
and fulfilled by Poseidon.
Homer - Ancient Greek Epic Poet of the Odyssey and Iliad
Homer's ancestry can be traced from Odyssey. He was the son of Epikaste and Telemachus. Born around 8th - 9th century B.C. he was said to be a court singer and a story teller. Even if these details about Homer are available, not much is know about him. In fact his existence is somewhat doubted. Some say he was born on the island of Chios while argue that he existed in Ionia. But the dialect and the description in the poems pointed that Homer lived in Ionia.
When we think of the blind poet Homer with relation to Ancient Greece, the first thing that comes to our mind is his beautiful epic poems Iliad and Odyssey. While there is disagreement, whether Homer alone wrote these poems or many other people, the 'analysts' and the ancient Greek people and the 'unitarians' are on Homer's side. These poems were an important part of the Greek culture as they were written during the famous Trojan war era.
The argument whether Odyssey was written by Homer or not has been going on for a long time. Even if the epics are controversial, there is enough evidence that the Odyssey is written in a consistent style, and this fact is doubtful if they had been written by different authors. Another argument is that whether Homer wrote both Iliad and Odyssey. The difference in style and languages of the epics leads to debate. One ancient Greek literary critic, namely Longinus argued that the styles differed because Homer wrote both these poems in different stages of his life period. While Iliad was created during his youth, Odyssey was written as Homer aged.
There is also much debate about how Homer composed such long poems, because for people now to memorize such long stanzas, seems impossible. It's said some editor merged all his works as one whole epic. The fact that uncomfortable transitions from topic to topic in his poems supports the argument.
Iliad by Ancient Greek Poet Homer
The poems of Illiad depict the seige of the city of Ilion or Troy during the Trojan War. The word Illiad itself means "something concerned with Ilion". Illion was the city based in the state of Troy. When Illiad was created, is arguable. Some scholars are adamant that it was written around the 8th - 9th century, while some debate it must have been written during the 6th - 7th century.
The whole Illiad is devoted to war of Troy, giving a detailed poetic description of the war. The characters of the fighters, their battle cries and all the intricate details of the war are mentioned. The epic has strong religious and supernatural influence. Both warring parties are extremely religious and the Greek and Trojan heroes draw strength from favored gods, giving them divine power. Regularly making sacrifices to Gods, while the Gods constantly intervene in the war on behalf of their believers, almost treating the humans as puppets for their own causes.
The Illiad covers only the final and tenth year of the Trojan war. The intial war years, the background of the war and the end of the war are given a miss.
Troy was at first unknown to be factual city, known through Homer , until an Archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann in 1870 followed the geographical clues in the 'Iliad' and began excavating North West Turkey. He was convinced he had found the legendary city of Troy and excavated a hill called Hisarlick, in Anatolia, on Turkey's coast. He discovered huge city walls and evidence of a city destroyed by fire. The archaeology site called Troia, where the city is now called now Truva by the Turkish Government.
In 1988, Manfred Kauffman along with a Team from the University of Tubingen and Cincinnati excavated this site further. Findings included arrowheads that dated to the 12 Century BC. He is also reported to have found a deep ditch around the city, as Kauffman explains this ditch would be means of defense of a much larger city than originally thought.
However, it was still unclear which level of the city was Homer's Troy of 1200 BC, which was destroyed by the Greeks, as there are nine consecutive levels of occupation at Hisarlick. There are two levels that fit this period which are named Troy VI and Troy VII, archaeologists are agreeable to VII, which was destroyed by Fire in 1250 BC-1200BC.
At this time, as told by Homer's Iliad the King of Troy, was Priam, which was waged war upon the Trojans by the Achaeans (Greeks) over Helen, the wife of Agamemnon, who was kidnapped by Paris, the Prince of Troy. As Paris refused to return Helen, the War is thought to have lasted about ten years or more and eventually the Greeks won by using the deception of offering the Trojans a statue of a Horse as a gift that they would take inside the Walls of Troy, once inside the statue was filled with the Greek warriors that were able to open the Gates of Troy allowing and the Greeks to overcome, burn and pillage the city.
Other references to the City of Troy include Homer's Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid.
The language spoken in the ancient city of Troy is not certain, but though that the inhabitants, Trojans could understand Greek.
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The Odyssey in a Nutshell
In the tenth year of the Trojan War, the Greeks tricked the enemy into bringing a colossal wooden horse within the walls of Troy. The Trojans had no idea that Greek soldiers were hidden inside, under the command of Odysseus. That night they emerged and opened the city gates to the Greek army. Troy was destroyed. Now it was time for Odysseus and the other Greeks to return to their kingdoms across the sea. Here begins the tale of the Odyssey, as sung by the blind minstrel Homer.
"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. Urged on by Athena, the goddess of war, they decide that Odysseus has been marooned too long on the island of the nymph Calypso.
Meanwhile, the mansion of Odysseus is infested with suitors for the hand of his wife Penelope. Everyone assumes Odysseus is dead. His son Telemachus calls an assembly to ask for help, and Zeus sends an omen of the suitors' doom. Two eagles swoop down, tearing throats and necks with their talons. Afterwards Telemachus sets sail for the mainland to seek news of his father.
Telemachus consults King Nestor, who led a contingent in the Trojan War when he was in his nineties. Nestor tells what he knows of the Greeks' return from Troy: "It started out badly because of Athena's anger. Half the army, your father included, stayed behind at Troy to try to appease her. The rest of us made it home safely -- all except Menelaus, who was blown off course to Egypt, where he remained for seven years. Seek advice from Menelaus. I'll lend you a chariot to travel to his kingdom."
Menelaus tells what he learned of Odysseus while stranded in Egypt after the war. He was advised by a goddess to disguise himself and three members of his crew in seal pelts and then pounce on the Old Man of the Sea. If they could hold him down while he transformed himself into various animals and shapes, he would send them on their homeward way and give news of their companions. Menelaus did as instructed and was informed that Odysseus was presently being held against his will by the nymph Calypso.
Zeus, the King of the Gods, sends his messenger Hermes skimming over the waves on magic sandals to Calypso's island. Though the goddess isn't happy about it, she agrees to let Odysseus go. But the raft on which he sets sail is destroyed by his enemy, the god Poseidon, who lashes the sea into a storm with his trident. Odysseus barely escapes with his life and washes ashore days later, half-drowned. He staggers into an olive thicket and falls asleep.
Odysseus awakens to the sound of maidens laughing. Princess Nausicaa of the Phaeacians has come down to the riverside to wash her wedding dress. Now she and her handmaids are frolicking after the chore. Odysseus approaches as a suppliant, and Nausicaa is kind enough to instruct him how to get the king's help in returning to his home. Odysseus follows her into town.
Odysseus stops on the palace threshhold, utterly dazzled. The very walls are covered in shining bronze and trimmed with lapis lazuli. The blacksmith god Hephaestus has even provided two brazen hounds to guard the entrance. Odysseus goes right up to the queen and puts his case to her as a suppliant. The king knows better than to refuse hospitality to a decent petitioner. He invites Odysseus to the banquet which is in progress and promises him safe passage home after he has been suitably entertained.
The next day is declared a holiday in honor of the guest, whose name the king still does not know. An athletic competition is held, with foot races, wrestling and the discus. Odysseus is invited to join in but begs off, prompting someone to suggest that he lacks the skills. Angered, he takes up a discus and throws it with such violence that everyone drops to the ground. That night at a banquet, as the court bard entertains with songs of the Trojan War, Odysseus is heard sobbing. "Enough!" shouts the king. "Our friend finds this song displeasing. Won't you tell us your name, stranger, and where you hail from?"
"My name is Odysseus of Ithaca, and here is my tale since setting out from Troy. We sacked a city first off, but then reinforcements arrived and we lost many comrades. Next we visited the Lotus Eaters, and three of my crew tasted this strange plant. They lost all desire to return home and had to be carried off by force. On another island we investigated a cave full of goat pens. The herdsman turned out to be as big as a barn, with a single glaring eye in his forehead. This Cyclops promptly ate two of my men for dinner. We were trapped in the cave by a boulder in the doorway that only the Cyclops could budge, so we couldn't kill him while he slept. Instead we sharpened a pole and used it to gouge out his eye. We escaped his groping by clinging to the undersides of his goats."
"Next we met the Keeper of the Winds, who sent us on our way with a steady breeze. He'd given me a leather bag, which my crew mistook for booty. They opened it and released a hurricane that blew us back to where we'd started. We ended up among the Laestrygonians, giants who bombarded our fleet with boulders and gobbled down our shipmates. The few survivors put in at the island of the enchantress Circe. My men were entertained by her and then, with a wave of her wand, turned into swine. Hermes the god gave me an herb that protected me. Circe told me that to get home I must travel to the land of Death."
'At the furthest edge of Ocean's stream is the land to which all journey when they die. Here their spirits endure a fleshless existence. They can't even talk unless re-animated with blood.' Accordingly, I did as Circe instructed, bleeding a sacrificed lamb into a pit. Tiresias, the blind prophet who had accompanied us to Troy, was the soul I had to talk to. So I held all the other shades at bay with my sword until he had drunk from the pit. He gave me warnings about my journey home and told me what I must do to ensure a happy death when my time came. I met the shades of many famous women and heroes, including Achilles, best fighter of the Greeks at Troy.
"At sea once more we had to pass the Sirens, whose sweet singing lures sailors to their doom. I had stopped up the ears of my crew with wax, and I alone listened while lashed to the mast, powerless to steer toward shipwreck. Next came Charybdis, who swallows the sea in a whirlpool, then spits it up again. Avoiding this we skirted the cliff where Scylla exacts her toll. Each of her six slavering maws grabbed a sailor and wolfed him down. Finally we were becalmed on the island of the Sun. My men disregarded all warnings and sacrificed his cattle, so back at sea Zeus sent a thunderbolt that smashed the ship. I alone survived, washing up on the island of Calypso."
When Odysseus has finished his tale, the king orders him sped to Ithaca. The sailors put him down on the beach asleep. Athena casts a protective mist about him that keeps him from recognizing his homeland. Finally the goddess reveals herself and dispells the mist. In joy Odysseus kisses the ground. Athena transforms him into an old man as a disguise. Clad in a filthy tunic, he goes off to find his faithful swineherd, as instructed by the goddess.
Eumaeus the swineherd welcomes the bedraggled stranger. He throws his own bedcover over a pile of boughs as a seat for Odysseus, who does not reveal his identity. Observing Zeus's commandment to be kind to guests, Eumaeus slaughters a prime boar and serves it with bread and wine. Odysseus, true to his fame as a smooth-talking schemer, makes up an elaborate story of his origins. That night the hero sleeps by the fire under the swineherd's spare cloak, while Eumaeus himself sleeps outside in the rain with his herd.
The ancient Greeks were great storytellers. They created many stories about gods, goddesses, and other mythical creatures. Some of these stories tell tales of what happened when magical beings meet mortal man.
The Greeks loved heroes. One of their heroes was King Odysseus. The stories of brave Odysseus and his loyal band of men were told over and over by traveling storytellers during the dark ages of ancient Greece.
A man named Homer lived right at the end of dark ages, in the 8th century BCE. (During 700 BCE.) Over 2700 years ago, the poet Homer collected and wrote down many of the ancient legends told by the traveling storytellers. Homer took all the stories about King Odysseus and put this collection of stories together in one book, which he named The Odyssey.
The stories told of Odysseus and his men who lived on the island of Ithaca. Odysseus had been away from home, fighting a war. After the battle of Troy, which the Greeks won, King Odysseus and his men finally sailed for home. Ithaca is a little island as far away from Troy as you could get and still be in ancient Greece.
It was a long trip. It could have taken Odysseus a good month to get home. These were early times, and the ships were not as strongly built as they are today. But because of the trouble Odysseus faced on the way, it took Odysseus and his men ten long years to get home!
According to the ancient Greek storytellers, in ten long years, Odysseus and his men had quite a few adventures, and all of them had to do with mythical creatures!
Loosely based on stories from “The Odyssey”, two of the stories went something like this …
The Cyclops Cave: After Odysseus and his men had been at sea for a while, their supplies began to dwindle. Odysseus and some of his men landed on shore to look for food. They found a cave, full of sheep! They cooked some sheep and stuffed themselves full. Unfortunately, the sheep belonged to a Cyclops. A Cyclops is a one-eyed giant!
When the Cyclops returned to his cave, he was furious. He locked Odysseus and his men up so they could not get away.
Using trickery, Odysseus managed to get the Cyclops drunk. Odysseus sharpened a stick and blinded the Cyclops. The Cyclops tried to find Odysseus and his men, to eat them. But Odysseus and his men crawled under the sheep. Making bah-bah sounds, they crawled safely out of the cave and got away!
The Sirens: Not too long after that, Odysseus and his men ran into the Sirens. The Sirens were magical sea creatures that looked rather like mermaids. They were known for their beautiful singing voices. The music they made was so hypnotic that sailors stopped sailing their ships, to listen. With no one in charge, the ships crashed into land, killing everyone on board.
When Odysseus heard the beautiful music, he was suspicious immediately. He had had quite a few adventures already. He was beginning to be a bit suspicious of everything!
To be extra safe, he stuffed his crewmen’s ears so they could not hear the music. He tied himself to the ship’s mast. That way, in case the gods decided to be helpful, he wanted to be able to hear them. But, since he was tied tightly, he would not be able to jump off the ship or swim to shore, or to do anything else that might endanger himself or his crew, when he heard the magical music. It worked! Odysseus is still the only man in the world who ever heard the Sirens sing and lived to tell about it!
After many adventures, the goddess Athena took pity on Odysseus, and helped him find his way home.
Today, we still enjoy these fantastic adventure tales, first told by ancient Greek storytellers, and then written down by the famous Greek poet, Homer, over 2700 years ago!
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