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Who Was Odysseus?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 23, 2024
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Odysseus, who is also known as Ulysses, is the hero of the epic poem the Odyssey, which is attributed to the bard Homer. Odysseus also plays an important role in Homer’s other famous poem The Iliad. Known as Odysseus the cunning, this hero is touted for his ability to slip out of difficult situations using his wit. In fact, his ability to thoughtfully sneak his way out of captivity, beguile evil, and cheat death is represented in the ten action-packed years that he spends trying to reach home after the Trojan War.

In addition to being quite cunning and a talented fighter, Odysseus is also the King of Ithaca, a Grecian island. There is some debate as to his parentage. Some people believe that Odysseus is the son of Laertes and Anticlea. However, in the tragedy of Iphigenia at Aulis, Sysiphus is named as his father. His wife is Penelope, and together they have a son named Telemachus.

Although Odysseus is married to Penelope, it was well known that he was first a suitor to her cousin, Helen of Troy. Helen was known for her amazing beauty. She had so many suitors, in fact, that her father feared the wrath of her dismissed suitors in the eventuality that she chose a husband. Odysseus solved this problem by having every suitor take an oath to defend Helen’s chosen husband. When the suitors, including Odysseus, took this oath, Helen chose Menelaus. Afterwards, Odysseus chose Penelope as his mate.

It was the abduction of Helen by Paris that began the Trojan War. When she was taken, Menelaus called on all of the suitors to help him reclaim her. It is because of this that Helen is known to have had “the face that launched a thousand ships.” It was because of her great beauty that she had these devoted suitors to come, along with her chosen husband, to her rescue. As Odysseus was a member of this troupe, he left Penelope with their young son to fight alongside Menelaus.

Odysseus was a key figure in the Trojan War. However, it is what happened after the war that he is best known for. On his trip home, he was diverted many times over. During this trip, he had to deal with a monstrous Cyclops, a drugged crew, bewitching women, and unsafe waters, to name just a few of his ordeals. Once he arrived home to Ithaca, however, he had yet another battle to fight. His wife Penelope was under the siege of suitors who were after his kingdom. By the use of wit and disguise, Odysseus prevails once again and reseats himself as the King of Ithaca.

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Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By anon78855 — On Apr 20, 2010

This profile really helped me on my report and all I could say is thank you!

By anon19487 — On Oct 13, 2008

skilled in all ways of contending, the wanderer,

in this passage that explains why odysseus shipmates were killed...clarify

By anon19486 — On Oct 13, 2008

how would you describe odysseus?

By anon19485 — On Oct 13, 2008

after the war, what did odysseus want to do?

By anon13655 — On Jun 02, 2008

this was very helpful to me because i m not having a good time finding information about Odysseus!!! thanks anonymous

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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