The Odyssey (Greek: Ὀδύσσεια, Odusseia) is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work traditionally ascribed to Homer. It was probably composed near the end of the 8th century BC, somewhere in Ionia, the Greek-speaking coastal region of what is now Turkey.
The poem mainly centers on the Greek hero Odysseus (or Ulysses, as he was known in Roman myths) and his long journey home following the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War. In his absence, it is assumed he has died, and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus must deal with a group of unruly suitors competing for Penelope's hand in marriage.
It continues to be read in the Homeric Greek and translated into modern languages around the world. The original poem was composed in an oral tradition and was more likely intended to be sung than read. The details of the ancient oral performances, and the story's conversion to a written work inspire continual debate among scholars. In the English language as well as many others, the word odyssey has come to refer to an epic voyage.
The Odyssey begins in medias res (in the middle of things), meaning that the plot begins in the middle of the overall story, and that prior events are described through flashbacks or storytelling. This device is imitated by later authors of literary epics. All ancient and nearly all modern editions and translations of the Odyssey are divided into 24 books.
Themes in the Odyssey
There is a strong theme of homecoming (nostos) in the Odyssey, because Odysseus is on a journey home after the Trojan War has finally ended.
The theme of temptation as a psychological peril is portrayed by the sirens who lure sailors to their deaths by seduction. They represent the ideal audience—they sing about the most glorious moment of your life, thus tempting you to stay the hero or warrior they are portraying you as. Your own weakness makes you vulnerable, your greatest weakness comes from inside you.
Another significant theme is that of disguise, in the case of the gods, they disguise themselves so that they can interact with mortals. Athena in particular assumes many disguises including a shepherd, a girl, Telemachus, and the Mentor. Odysseus is also able to disguise his identity, though not physically, by telling Polyphemus his name is ‘Nobody’ so that he will not be identified as the one who blinded the Cyclops. He also disguises himself as a beggar when he returns to Ithaca to protect himself from being killed by the suitors.
Hospitality (xenia) is also a reoccurring theme as fundamental as the heroic code in the Odyssey. During that time, beggars or travelers often knocked on a stranger’s door in hopes of a procuring a place to stay. There are specific steps for proper hospitality beginning with the feeding of the guest, which is of utmost importance since food is rare at that time and beggars beg for food, not money. Before the food is given, a bath is offered to the stranger, done by a woman or a servant—often different depending on the status of the visitor. After the food is given, the beggar is asked who he is and where he is from and stories are exchanged. Next, they are offered a bed to sleep on and it is understood that that they can stay overnight and at the most another night. When the beggar is leaving, there is an exchange of gifts, if the beggar does not have a gift to give, they will still be given one.