Book I Summary:
The narrator calls upon the Muse to help him tell the story of Odysseus. We pick up ten years after the fall of Troy in the Trojan War (the subject of The Iliad). In trying to return home, Odysseus and his shipmates had numerous adventures, but now Odysseus has been left alone on the island of Ogygia for the last eight years, captive of the beautiful goddess Kalypso. We are told that Poseidon, god of the sea, will make Odysseus' journey home to Ithaka even more difficult (he is angry that Odysseus has blinded his son, the Kyklops Polyphemos), and trouble awaits the conquering hero back in Ithaka, too. In the hall of Zeus on Mount Olympos, all the gods but Poseidon gather and listen as Zeus reflects upon the moral failings of mortal men. He brings up the example of Aigisthos, who killed Agamemnon and stole his wife, though the gods warned him that Agamemnon's son, Orestes, would someday retaliate - which he justly did. Athena speaks on behalf of Odysseus, pleading with Zeus to free him from Kalypso's grasp. He agrees, and the god Hermes will be sent to Kalypso to ask her to free Odysseus. In disguise as an old friend of Odysseus', Athena travels to his manor in Ithaka, now overrun with noisy, lustful suitors intent on marrying Odysseus' wife, Penelope. Odysseus' son, Telemakhos, unhappy among the suitors, greets Athena warmly as a stranger and invites her to their feast. As the suitors devour Odysseus' oxen, Telemakhos says he believes his father - whom he does not know at all - is dead. Athena introduces herself as Odysseus' old friend Mentes and predicts that he will be home soon. He does not hold out any hope, however, and he and his mother remain helpless against the arrogant suitors. Athena instructs him to call an assembly of the islanders and order the suitors away; then he must sail away to find news of his father at Pylos and Sparta. After this, he must kill the suitors, as Orestes did. Inspired, Telemakhos thanks her for her advice, and she leaves. The beautiful Penelope joins the suitors and asks the minstrel to stop singing the song of the homecoming of the Akhaians (Greeks) after the Trojan War, as it reminds her of her husband's absence. But Telemakhos reminds her that many others did not return from the war. She returns to her room and weeps for Odysseus. Telemakhos tells the suitors that at daybreak he will call an assembly and banish them from his estate. Two of the suitors ask about the identity of the man Telemakhos was speaking to; though he knows the visitor was immortal, Telemakhos tells them it was a family friend. Analysis:
The story of The Odyssey starts quickly, or "in medias res" ("in the middle of things"), relating in brief exposition the background before jumping into the present narrative.Homer's contemporary audience would have already been familiar with the story of The Iliad, whose events precede The Odyssey, so there is no need to waste time reminding them of it. Remember that the poem was delivered orally, so an audience member could not skip through the opening pages at his leisure. More importantly, Homer kick-starts the narrative engine, and already in Book I we see various plot machinations at work and an emphasis placed on internal stories, which often have a thematic impact on the major story. For instance, the story of Agamemnon parallels that of Odysseus. Odysseus, too, has a wife besieged by suitors and a son who, logically, dislikes them. But Agamemnon's story turned negative: the suitor killed him and married his wife, though his son, Orestes, avenged his death. The story, then, raises questions for The Odyssey: will Penelope remain faithful or marry the suitors? will the suitors kill Odysseus, or will he murder them? and will Telemakhos challenge and kill the suitors, as Athena has instructed, or meekly let them run riot in his father's house? This last question is especially pertinent to the opening books, as we see Telemakhos mature from a callow,...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document