Suggestions for Study
For each class, I suggest that you first read the assigned text "cold," using only the notes. Just go through it and let yourself be confused, if that happens. (None of the readings is all that long: most of them are under 20 pages; the few that are longer are easier reading.) Second, read the supplementary material, if any is assigned (passages from the "Introduction" and the like). Third, read the Background Material on this site. Fourth, reread the assigned text. Now you should understand it better and you should have answers to some of the questions that will have arisen in the course of your initial reading. Fifth, consult the Illustration and Study Questions site on the Web, and spend some time thinking about the issues raised there.
As a general rule, for each class hour at Wesleyan, you are expected to spend three hours of preparation time. Thus, for each of our classes, which meet for an hour and 20 minutes, you should plan to spend about four hours in preparation time. For many classes, you will not need this much time. When you have time left over, you should spend it thinking about your paper, beginning a draft, and/or commenting on other students' papers.

Contents (Sections):
Homer, Odyssey
Book 1: Theme and Plot
Book 1: Aegisthus
Book 1: Clytemnestra
Book 1: "Godlike Polyphemus"
Book 1: The Suitors
Book 2: The Assembly
Book 6: Plot Situation (the fate of Odysseus)
Book 6: Plot Situation (the plot against Telemachus)
Book 6: Plot Situation (from Ogygia to Phaeacia)
Books 3 and 4: The Orestes-Story
Book 16: Plot Situation (Odysseus' Wanderings)
Book 16: Plot Situation (Three Threads Converge)
Book 18: Plot Situation (News of Odysseus)
Book 19: Odysseus' Scar
Book 21: Plot Situation
Book 21: The Bow Contest
Book 23: Plot Situation
Book 23: The Penelope Tradition

Book 1: Theme and Plot
The theme of the Odyssey is "the man of twists and turns," announced in the first line of the poem. "Twists and turns" should be understood figuratively (Odysseus' cleverness) as well as literally (his various wanderings).
The plot of the Odyssey encompasses only a few weeks in the last year of the ten-year period of Odysseus' wanderings, and the week or so culminating in his homecoming; in this respect it is like the Iliad, and Aristotle admired the Odyssey too for this feature of its structure. (See Aristotle, Poetics,
Chapter 8.)
Also like the Iliad, the Odyssey includes prior events retrospectively. In the Odyssey, however, these do not appear as part of the ongoing plot, but as the stories Odysseus tells about his past.
Thus, in Books 9-12 Odysseus narrates the story of his adventures since leaving Troy, including some that are referred to in Book 1:
the devouring of the Cattle of the Sun (Book 1, line 9, narrated in Book 12), for which all of Odysseus' companions died;
the blinding of the Cyclops Polyphemus (Book 1, line 83; narrated in Book 9), for which Odysseus incurred the wrath of Poseidon (Book 1, lines 23-24).

But while the action of the Iliad is a more or less straight shot from Book I to Book XXIV, the plot of the Odyssey is more convoluted. It encompasses four primary episodes:
Odysseus' sojourn with the nymph Calypso, daughter of the Titan Atlas (Books 1, 5)
The adventures of Telemachus (Books 3, 4)
Odysseus' sojourn in Scheria, with the Phaeacians (Books 6-8, 13, including the narrative of his adventures in Books 9-12)
The action on Ithaca and Odysseus' homecoming (Books 1, 2, 13-24)
(Link here to a
detailed summary of the plot of the Odyssey.)

In this course, we read most of those books having to do with the situation on Ithaca and Odysseus' homecoming (Books 1, 2, 16, 18, 19, 21, 23) and with his sojourn on Phaeacia (Books 6-8)--a little less than half of the Odyssey.

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Book 1: Aegisthus
In Book 1, line 34, Zeus remembers "handsome Aegisthus," who was killed by Orestes. The story is alluded to several times in the Odyssey, at critical points in the development of the narrative, and it forms the plot of Aeschylus' Oresteia.
In the Oresteia, Agamemnon was murdered upon his return from the Trojan War by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, who was also Agamemnon's cousin and the usurper of his throne. In retaliation, Orestes, Agamemnon's son, killed both Aegisthus and his mother Clytemnestra.
Aegisthus and Agamemnon were related through a common grandfather, Pelops, son of
Tantalus and father of Atreus and Thyestes.
(This link will take you to the story of
the origin of the curse on the house of Atreus.)
Consider what Athena disguised as Mentes says to Telemachus in Book 1, lines 342ff. about Orestes. What is the relevance of the analogy to Telemachus' situation?

(You might wish to consult also the section below on the

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Book 1: Clytemnestra
Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, and Penelope were related through their fathers, who were brothers. Tyndareus, Clytemnestra's father, was the brother of Ikarius, Penelope's father. And in legends not mentioned in the Odyssey, Tyndareus was also the mortal father of Helen. You can see the relationship by consulting their family tree.
Why do you think the details of these relationships are largely suppressed in the Odyssey?

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Book 1:"Godlike Polyphemus"
In Book 1, lines 81ff., Zeus explains that Odysseus is kept from his homecoming because Poseidon is angry on account of the Cyclops, Polyphemus, who is Poseidon's son and whom Odysseus blinded. This famous story is related in Book 9, which we do not read in this course. It is worth perusing; or you might consult the detailed summary of Book 9 of the Odyssey. You can see one representation of this episode on a vase in Perseus, which comes from the late fifth century, and another on an earlier vase. Neither of these shows the more grisly details of the episode, but in another representation, the Cyclops is holding the lower legs of a companion whose upper body has already been devoured.

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Book 1: The Suitors
In Book 1, lines 285ff., Telemachus explains his "other miseries" to Athena disguised as Mentes. These are Penelope's suitors, who are laying waste to Telemachus' house while courting his mother. Telemachus says that they comprise "all the nobles who rule the islands round about [Ithaca] and some from Ithaca itself.
In Book 16 (one we don't read), when Odysseus has returned and has revealed himself to Telemachus, the two of them make plans to recover their household. At that point, Telemachus spells out for Odysseus the number of suitors (108 plus 6 servants [124] and their islands.
Link here to
this passage and a map showing the relevant islands.
Telemachus does not list the suitors by name, and in the Odyssey only some of them are named. Link here to see a
list of suitors given by the late mythographer Apollodorus, who totals them out at 136.

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Book 2: The Assembly
At the assembly on Ithaca, we meet a variety of characters, some of whom are sympathetic to Odysseus and Telemachus, and some of whom are not:

Aegyptius, who speaks first, has four sons: one of them, Eurynomus, is a suitor who appears later in the poem; another son had sailed away with Odysseus and was eaten by the Cyclops; the other two sons work their father's farm.

Antinous (page 96) has already appeared in Book 1 (page 90), as has Eurymachus (page 99; page 90), and they are the two chief suitors, who do most of the talking and formulate most of the suitors' plans of action.

Halitherses (page 98) is a prophet who is sympathetic to Odysseus and his house.

Mentor (page 100), like Halitherses, is sympathetic to Odysseus and his house. On page 101 Leocritus, another suitor, calls the two of them Telemachus's "father's doddering friends since time began" (line 285).

Distinguish Mentor from Mentes, whose guise Athena assumes in Book 1. (Athena also assumes the guise of Mentor in Book 2, in order to serve as Telemachus's companion and guide.)

Mentor is a man of Odysseus's age or older to whom the hero "committed his household" (line 282) when he sailed for Troy. Mentor is thus a character like the bard whom Agamemnon had set to watch over Clytemnestra, as we find out in Book 3 (pages 115-16, lines 288-310). Note that it was only after Aegisthus had gotten the bard out of the way that he was able to seduce Clytemnestra.

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Book 6: Plot Situation (the fate of Odysseus)
At the end of Book 2, Telemachus sets out upon his voyage, and in Books 3 and 4 he follows the itinerary suggested to him by Athena:
"First go down to Pylos, question old King Nestor,
then cross over to Sparta, to red-haired Menelaus...." (page 86, lines 327-28).

Telemachus spends Book 3 at the palace of Nestor on Pylos, and Book 4 with Menelaus and Helen in Sparta.

At Pylos, Telemachus can find out nothing about his father, since, as Nestor explains:
"And so, dear boy, I made it home from Troy,
in total ignorance, knowing noting of their fates,
the ones who stayed behind." (page 113, lines 206-8)

At Sparta, Menelaus tells Telemachus that he heard about Odysseus from the Old Man of the Sea, who reported:
"Laertes' son, who makes his home in Ithaca...
I saw him once on an island, weeping live warm tears
in the nymph Calypso's house--she holds him there by force.
He has no way to voyage home to his own native land,
no trim ships in reach, no crew to ply the oars
and send him scudding over the sea's broad back." (page 142, lines 623-30)

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Book 6: Plot Situation (the plot against Telemachus)
At the end of Book 4, when Telemachus is still in Sparta, the scene of the narrative shifts back to Ithaca (on page 144, line 698).

There, the suitors discover from Noomon (who had lent a ship for Telemachus in Book 2 [page 105, lines 426-27]), that, to their surprise, Telemachus actually undertook the voyage he had envisioned.

At the suggestion of Antinous, the suitors form a plot to ambush Telemachus on his way home (page 145, lines 741ff.)

At the close of Book 4, Penelope is told about the plot "to cut Telemachus down with bronze swords / on his way home" (page 146, lines 788-9).

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Book 6: Plot Situation (from Ogygia to Phaeacia)
In Book 5, the scene shifts back to Calypso's island, Ogygia.
Athena extracts from Zeus permission to start Odysseus on his way home, and Zeus sends the messenger-god Hermes to Calypso, with instructions to help him depart.

Odysseus eventually sails off in a raft, and is buffetted by storms aroused by Poseidon, who is on his way home from visiting the Ethiopians (cf. Book 1, page 78, lines 25ff.).

At the end of Book 5, Odysseus reaches land (
Phaeacia); he had completed the last part of the voyage by shedding his clothes and swimming to shore. This explains why he is naked when he is aroused from sleep by Nausicaa and her companions in Book 6.

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Books 3 and 4: The Orestes-Story (Background for Book 16)
In Pylos, Nestor mentions Agamemnon's fate and Orestes' revenge (page 113, lines 219-25), and this leads Telemachus to ask for further details.

Athena in the guise of Mentor breaks into the conversation and says that she would rather
"sail through years of trouble and labor home
and see that blessed day, than hurry home
to die at my own hearth like Agamemnon,
killed by Aegisthus' cunning--by his own wife." (page 115, lines 264-67)

When Telemachus requests further details, Nestor fills him in (pages 115-17, lines 289-352), explaining that Clytemnestra resisted at first but eventually gave in, and that when Orestes returned he killed Aegisthus, and then held a funeral feast at which he buried "his hated mother, craven Aegisthus too" (line 350).

Notice that the murder of Clytemnestra is never specifically mentioned, only the fact that Orestes buried her. What significance do you attach to this omission?

In Book 4, when Telemachus is in Sparta, he hears another version of the Orestes-story from Menelaus, who reports what he heard from the old man of the sea. Menelaus' account (pages 140-41; cf. page 143 top) includes only the crimes of Aegisthus.

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Book 16: Plot Situation (Odysseus' Wanderings)
When we last saw Odysseus, at the end of Book 8, he had just been asked by King Alcinous to identify himself. He does so at the beginning of Book 9 (page 212), and then launches into the tale of "the voyage fraught with hardship / Zeus inflicted on me, homeward bound from Troy..." (page 21, lines 43-44).

Below is a summary account of Odysseus' adventures, which is repeated on a site showing a
map of the voyages. In the ancient world, there were three main schools of thought about the account of Odysseus' adventures in the Odyssey; all are based on the notion that the earth is a flat disk and that it is surrounded by water and floats upon it. (This site shows the voyages from the perspective of this notion of the earth's geography.)

1. The geographer Eratosthenes (3rd century bce) thought the voyages were entirely fictitious but that "Homer intended to put the wanderings of Odysseus in the western regions" (i.e., along the coasts and islands of the Ionian, Libyan, Sicilian and Tyrrhenian Seas).
2. The geographer Crates (2nd century bce) thought the voyages were located in the outer Ocean beyond the Straits of Gibralter.
3. The geographer Strabo (late 1st century bce/early 1st century ce) thought that the voyages were real, for, as he said: "it is not Homer's way to present a mere recital of marvels in no way related to reality." Strabo thought the adventures were located in the western basin of the Mediterranean, around South Italy and Sicily.

And although a number of modern scholars have attempted reconstructions of the wanderings (and some have done so by sailing the hypothetical route), Larry Gonick's
cartoon version of the adventures may be closer to the mark....

The Wanderings of Odysseus (numbers refer to
locations on the map):
In Book 9, Odysseus begins the recitation of his voyages (page 212), and explains that he was driven by the winds first to Ismarus, the land of the Kikones (1), where he and his men sacked the stronghold but were subsequently attacked.

From there he sailed on, but ran into a storm as he rounded Cape Malea and was driven past Cythera (2) for nine days (page 214).

He reached the land of the Lotus-Eaters (3) on the tenth day, where those men who ate the lotus lost "all memory of the journey home" (page 214).

The rest of them sailed on to the land of the Cyclops (4), where, although some men were eaten by the monster, Odysseus and others escaped after blinding the Cyclops. The Cylops prayed to his father Poseidon to be avenged upon Odysseus: "grant that Odysseus...never reaches home. Or if he's fated to see / his people once again and reach his well-built house / and his own native country, let him come home late / and come a broken man--all shipmates lost, / alone in a stranger's ship-- / and let him find a world of pain at home" (page 228). Poseidon grants the Cyclops' prayer, and this is the origin of the curse upon Odysseus that we read about in the poem's opening lines.

Next, Odysseus and his remaining crew reach the island of Aeolus (5), where the hero is given a bag of winds to aid him in his voyage home. His shipmates, however, suspicious that he is carrying treasures, open the bag of winds just as they are in sight of Ithaca, and are blown off course once again (pages 231-32).

Next, they reach the land of the Laestrygonians (6), another group of giants, who attack the men. More men are lost, and the remnant sails on to reach the island of Aeaea, home of Circe (7). The "bewitching queen" turns some of the men into swine and other animals, but Odysseus, protected by a magic herb that Hermes brings him, is immune to her spells.

Circe releases the companions from her spell and gives Odysseus instructions on how to reach home. First, she tells him, he must journey to the land of the dead, the Underworld (page 246). In Book 11, the journey to the Kingdom of the Dead (8) is undertaken, and Odysseus learns from the prophet Tiresias the outlines of the rest of his voyage (pages 252-53).

Afterwards, Odysseus and his men return afterwards to Circe's island (7; page 271), and receive from her further instructions about the journey home. They start out, passing first the island of the Sirens (9), where Odysseus, lashed to the mast by his companions, is able to resist their allure (page 277).

Then, they encounter Scylla and Charbydis (10), and six men are lost to Scylla (pages 278-79).

They reach the island of the Sun (Thrinakia, 11), which they had been instructed to avoid; but the men mutiny and slaughter some of the cattle of the Sun-god (pages 282-83). This seals their doom: the ships are hit by a storm sent by Zeus (page 283); the remainder of the men are drowned: "the god cut short their journey home forever" (page 284, line 452).

Odysseus himself is carried back to Scylla and Charybdis, escapes, and is cast up on Ogygia, Calypso's island (13: Sardinia or Malta?). This is where we find him when Book 1 of the Odyssey opens.

He leaves Calypso's island in Book 5 and lands on Scheria (14), home of the Phaeacians, at the end of the book.

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Book 16: Plot Situation (Three Threads Converge)
In Book 16, for the first time in the narrative, the three principal plot lines of the Odyssey converge:
The Adventures of Odysseus
The Adventures of Telemachus
The Action on Ithaca

The Adventures of Odysseus
Odysseus, whom we last saw at the end of Book 8 in the halls of King Alcinous in Phaeacia, has now returned to Ithaca. After narrating his adventures in Books 9-12, he was taken home to Ithaca by the Phaeacians and left asleep on the shores of his homeland at the beginning of Book 13. In Book 14, disguised as a wandering stranger, he makes his way to the hut of his faithful swineherd Eumaeus and is received hospitably.

The Adventures of Telemachus
We last saw Telemachus at the end of Book 2, when he was setting out on his own voyage to Pylos and Sparta. (See above,
Book 6: Plot Situation [The Fate of Odysseus].) At the beginning of Book 15, he is still in Sparta.
In the course of Book 15, Telemachus returns to Pylos and, from there sets sail for home. (See the second part of Telemachus'
itinerary.) At the end of Book 15, Telemachus lands safely on Ithaca (page 335). He, too, makes his way first to Eumaeus' hut (page 337), and reaches it just as Book 16 opens.

The Action on Ithaca
At the end of Book 4, the suitors contrive a plan to kill Telemachus upon his return from his voyage. (See above,
Book 6: Plot Situation [the plot against Telemachus].) In the course of Book 16, the suitors discover that Telemachus has slipped past them, and embark upon a new plan to kill him (pages 348-51, lines 357-452). Also in Book 16, Penelope, who had heard about the plot to kill Telemachus at the end of Book 4 (page 146, lines 788-9), now acts on this new knowledge (pages 351-52 lines 453ff.)

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Book 18: Plot Situation (News of Odysseus)
At the end of Book 16, Telemachus and the disguised Odysseus are still in Eumaeus' hut.

At the beginning of Book 17, a new day dawns, and this day is not brought to a close until the end of Book 19--an important detail to keep in mind when you are considering the implications of the events of Books 17, 18, and 19.

In the course of Book 17, Telemachus make his way back to the palace and greets Penelope. When asked for news of Odysseus, he reports to his mother (on pages 358-59) only what he had learned in Books 3 and 4 (see above,
Book 6: Plot Situation [the fate of Odysseus]).

The seer Theoclymenus, however, who had returned with Telemachus on his voyage from Pylos, offers Penelope a prophecy: "I swear Odysseus is on native soil, here and now!" and substantiates his prophecy with reports of a bird-sign (page 359, lines 161-76).

Later in the book, Eumaeus brings Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, to the palace, and Odysseus endures insults and violence at the hands of Antinous (pages 369-70).

Just afterwards, Penelope sends for Eumaeus and tells him to bring the stranger to her so that she can question him about Odysseus (page 371, lines 562-67).

Eumaeus warns Penelope that the stranger has seductive stories to tell: specifically, that he had heard that Odysseus was nearby, in Thesprotia, and that he was on his way home. (
Thesprotia is located on the mainland just opposite Corfu, and not very far from Ithaca.)

(This is the story that the disguised Odysseus had told Eumaeus in Book 14, lines 173-91 [page 306], and that he repeated with added details later, at Book 14, lines 357-77 [pages 311-12].)

Penelope renews her request for Eumaeus to bring the stranger to see her, so that she can question him herself. But Odysseus tells Eumaeus to tell Penelope to wait until the suitors have retired for the evening (page 373, lines 634ff.)

Eumaeus does so, and then returns to his farm, as the suitors turn to singing and dancing, and dusk begins to fall.

At this point, Book 18 opens.

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Book 19: Odysseus' Scar
As we learn in Book 19, Odysseus acquired the scar which serves to identify him on a boar hunt. The story of this adventure provides a rare glimpse into the hero's childhood, and contains some interesting features relating to Odysseus's lineage.

(See the diagram of this lineage on page 497, or
link to it here.)

We learn that Odysseus was given his name when Autolycus, his maternal grandfather, visited Ithaca. At that time, Laertes must have been king and Anticleia, Odysseus' mother and Autolycus' daughter, must have been queen.

Laertes, however, Odysseus' father and Autolycus' son-in-law, is barely mentioned in the story. Instead, the maternal side of Odysseus' lineage is featured, even though Laertes was the son of Arcesius, and even though the royal lineage of Ithaca descended from him (see Book 4, lines 151ff., page 148; Book 14, lines 209ff., page 307; Book 16, lines 131ff., page 342).

Consider this prominence of Odysseus' maternal line in relation to the response of Athena to Telemachus in Book 1, when Telemachus doubts his own parentage (lines 249ff., page 84). Athena reassures him that "the gods have not marked out your house / for such an unsung future, / not if Penelope has borne a son like you."

The focus generally in the Odyssey--and especially in Book 16--is on Telemachus as the son of Odysseus. But do you think these passages suggest anything about the importance also of a mother and her lineage to a son's character and status?

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Book 21: Plot Situation
The next day in the narrative does not dawn until Book 20, line 102 (page 413), and it is the day on which the bow-contest is set, the slaughter of the suitors takes place, and the recognition between Penelope and Odysseus occurs.

Nightfall does not occur until the end of Book 23 (page 466). The day of the bow-contest is thus almost as long in narrative time (about 1700 lines) as the day preceding it (about 1940 lines).

In the course of Book 20, several events occur:
The suitors stream back into the palace, and resume their plot to kill Telemachus. Amphinomus, however, warns them away from it, and encourages them instead to resume feasting.

Strife breaks out between the suitors as Antinous insults Odysseus once again, and the suitor Ctesippus throws an oxhoof at him. Telemachus rebukes Ctesippus strongly.

Another suitor(Agelaus) seconds his words and asks Telemachus once again to "sit with your mother, coax her / to wed the best man here, the one who offers most, / so you can have and hold your father's estate, / eating and drinking here, your mind at peace / while mother plays the wife in another's house" (page 421, lines 371-76).

Just at the end of the book, we find out that Penelope has been sitting all the while just outside the doorway of the great hall: "And all the while Icarius' daughter, wise Penelope, / had placed her carved chair within earshot, at the door, / so she cold catch each word they uttered in the hall" (page 423, lines 431-33).

What do you think is the significance of this detail? Penelope has never done this before in the narrative; why does she do it now?

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Book 21: The Bow Contest
A. In Book 21, Penelope finally sets the bow-contest. How does it work?

In Book 19, she had described it to the stranger: "I mean to announce a contest with those axes, / the ones he would often line up here inside the hall, / twelve in a straight unbroken row like blocks to shore a keel, / then stand well back and whip an arrow through the lot" (page 408, lines 644-47).

But how does one shoot an arrow through axes? Scholars have pondered the matter, and this is the most convincing solution, which is also the one adopted by ancient commentators:

The "axes" are actually axe-heads, stored with their wooden helves removed. They are lined up on their sides, and the arrow must pass through the hole or socket in which the helve in normally fitted. The axe-heads can be fitted in the ground, or placed in a trench. Follow
this link to see what this arrangement might have looked like.

B. In Book 19, Penelope presents the idea of the bow-contest as her own. At the beginning of Book 21, the poet says that Athena inspired her to do it.

But in Book 24, when the shades of the dead suitors are guided down to the Underworld by Hades, they encounter the shade of Agamemnon. Agamemnon recognizes the suitor Amphimedon, who was an old friend, and inquires how he met his fate.

Amphimedon explains how the suitors were entrapped: "[Odysseus] told his wife to set / the great bow and the gleaming iron axes out / before the suitors--all of us doomed now-- / to test our skill and bring the slaugher on" (page 473, lines 184-87).

What do you think of this? Does Amphimedon know something we don't? Or is he just drawing an inference about what must have happened? If so, why do you think it didn't actually happen this way in the Odyssey as we have it?

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Book 23: Plot Situation
At the end of Book 22, Odysseus successfully strings the bow and shoots an arrow through the axes. Next, he shoots an arrow at Antinous and kills him. The suitors are enraged, although they think that Odysseus' shot was just a lucky one.

But Odysseus announces his presence and, refusing Eurymachus' offer of recompense for "all we ate and drank inside your halls," he shoots him with an arrow and kills him.
The remainder of the book relates the slaughter of all the suitors: Eumaeus the swineherd and the faithful cowherd Philoetius fight alongside Telemachus and Eumaeus, and Athena comes to help in the guise of Mentor.

At the end of the book, all of the suitors are dead, although only thirteen killings are actually related in the poem.

At the urging of Telemachus, Odysseus spares the bard Phemius and the herald Medon. But of the fifty serving-women, twelve--the ones who had slept with the suitors--are killed by hanging after they are forced to carry the suitors' bodies outside to the courtyard.

Finally, Melanthius the vicious goatherd is killed in a particularly brutal manner (page 453, lines 500-504).

At the end of the book, Odysseus tells Eurycleia to bring sulfur to purify the halls, and to bring Penelope down into the hall. This sets the stage for Book 23.

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Book 23: The Penelope Tradition
A debate over Penelope's faithfulness to Odysseus begins in antiquity and was elaborated into a subordinate tradition that competed with the "orthodox" view of Penelope as faithful and chaste.

One of the ancient commentators on the Odyssey, for example, said that Odysseus did not reveal himself to Penelope before the slaughter of the suitors because he suspected that she might have wanted to save some of them. How does this compare with your reading of the meaning of Penelope's dream in Book 19?

Both the poet Pindar in the late sixth or early fifth century bce and the fifth-century historian Herodotus report that Penelope and the god Hermes were the parents of the god Pan; the mythographer Apollodorus agrees with Herodotus and adds some other details about Penelope's amorous adventures; and Pausanias reflects a variant on the tradition, reporting some details from a poem called Thesprotis (8.12.5-6).

Servius (a 4th century ce commentator and grammarian) summarized a tradition that was common in antiquity: "For when he [Odysseus] returned home to Ithaca after his wanderings, it is said that he found among his household gods Pan, who was reported to have been born from Penelope and all the suitors, as the name itself Pan [="all"] seems to indicate; although others report that he was born from Hermes, who transformed himself into a goat and slept with Penelope. But after Odysseus saw the deformed child, it is said that he fled [again] to his wanderings."

The artistic tradition, however, is virtually uniform in presenting Penelope as the faithful wife. Link here to a page which shows you ten examples of artistic representations of the Penelope tradition. Many of them, like the terracotta relief on the Study Questions page, show divergences from the details of the narrative in the Odyssey.

What do you think of the traditions reported by Herodotus and the mythographers? Did they just make the whole thing up, or is there any warrant for their suppositions in the text?

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Last updated 17 January 2000