Homer, name traditionally assigned to the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, the two major epics of Greek antiquity. Nothing is known of Homer as an individual, and in fact it is a matter of controversy whether a single person can be said to have written both the Iliad and the Odyssey. Linguistic and historical evidence, however, suggests that the poems were composed in the Greek settlements on the west coast of Asia Minor sometime in the 8th century BC.
Both epics are written in an elaborate style, using language that was too impersonal and formal for ordinary discourse. The metrical form is dactylic hexameter (see Versification). Stylistically no real distinction can be made between the two works. Since antiquity, however, many readers have believed that they were written by different people. The Iliad deals with passions, with insoluble dilemmas. It has no real villains; Achilles, Agamemnon, Priam, and the rest are caught up, as actors and victims, in a cruel and ultimately tragic universe. In the Odyssey, on the other hand, the wicked are destroyed, right prevails, and the family is reunited. Here rational intellect-that of Odysseus in particular-acts as the guiding force throughout the story.
Besides the Iliad and the Odyssey, the so-called Homeric Hymns, a series of relatively short poems celebrating the various gods and composed in a style similar to that of the epics, have also been attributed traditionally to Homer.
The Odyssey describes the return of the Greek hero Odysseus from the Trojan War. The opening scenes depict the disorder that has arisen in Odysseus’s household during his long absence: A band of suitors is living off of his wealth as they woo his wife, Penelope. The epic then tells of Odysseus’s ten years of traveling, during which he has to face such dangers as the man-eating giant Polyphemus and such subtler threats as the goddess Calypso, who offers him immortality if he will abandon his quest for home. The second half of the poem begins with Odysseus’s arrival at his home island of Ithaca. Here, exercising infinite patience and self-control, Odysseus tests the loyalty of his servants; plots and carries out a bloody revenge on Penelope’s suitors; and is reunited with his son, his wife, and his aged father
Penelope, in Greek mythology, daughter of Icarius, king of Sparta, and the wife of Odysseus, king of Ithaca. Penelope and Odysseus had a son, Telemachus. Although her husband was gone for more than 20 years during and after the Trojan War, Penelope never doubted that he would return, and according to most versions of the story she remained faithful to him. She was courted by many suitors who devoured and wasted Odysseus’s property. Unwilling to choose a new husband, Penelope kept their advances in check by insisting that she must first complete a shroud that she was weaving for Laertes, her father-in-law. Each night she undid the work she completed on the shroud during the day, and by this means avoided having to choose a husband. Finally betrayed by a maid, Penelope was compelled to finish the work. The suitors were preparing to force a decision when Odysseus returned in disguise, killed them, and revealed his identity to his wife.
Telemachus, in Greek mythology, son of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, and his wife, Penelope. The constant companion of his mother during the long years of Odysseus’s wanderings after the fall of Troy, Telemachus watched with increasing unhappiness as the many ill-mannered suitors for the hand of his mother lived riotously on his father’s estate. Unable to bear the taunts of these men any longer, the youth set out for Pylos to learn from the old king Nestor the fate of Odysseus. Although the old man could not help him, he sent Telemachus to Menelaus, king of Sparta, from whom the boy learned that his father had been held prisoner by the nymph Calypso. Still uncertain as to whether his father was alive or dead, Telemachus returned to Ithaca only to discover that during his absence Odysseus had returned home. The king had not revealed himself, however, having been disguised as a beggar. After a joyous reunion, Telemachus helped Odysseus kill the suitors and make himself known to Penelope. According to a later legend, Telemachus married the sorceress Circe or her daughter Cassiphone.
Polyphemus, in Greek mythology, a Cyclops, the son of Poseidon, god of the sea, and of the nymph Thosa. During his wanderings after the Trojan War, the Greek hero Odysseus and his men were cast ashore on Polyphemus’s island home, Sicily. The enormous giant penned the Greeks in his cave and began to devour them. Odysseus then gave Polyphemus some strong wine and when the giant had fallen into a drunken stupor, bored out his one eye with a burning stake. The Greeks then escaped by clinging to the bellies of his sheep. Poseidon punished Odysseus for blinding Polyphemus by causing him many troubles in his subsequent wanderings by sea. In another legend, Polyphemus was depicted as a huge, one-eyed shepherd, unhappily in love with the sea nymph Galatea.
Calypso (mythology), in Greek mythology, a sea nymph and daughter of the Titan Atlas. Calypso lived alone on the mythical island of Ogygia in the Ionian Sea. When the Greek hero Odysseus was shipwrecked on Ogygia, she fell in love with him and kept him a virtual prisoner for seven years. Although she promised him immortality and eternal youth if he would stay with her, she could not make him overcome his desire to return home. At the bidding of the god Zeus, she finally released Odysseus and gave him materials to build a raft to leave the island. She died of grief after he left.