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The Odyssey Reading Club -- Entry 2 -- Glossary & Cast of Characters for Book I

If you're not totally immersed in the myths and legends of the Ancient Greeks, some references in Homer's Odyssey may be lost on you. Some editions come with notes, of either the end or foot variety, but to save a lot of flipping (and Googling), I'm going to list here some of the main characters and allusions that Homer employs in Book I. (N.B.: Since Homeric Greek has its own alphabet {similar, but not identical, to the alphabet of Modern Greek} all names listed are transliterations and my be spelled differently in your edition.)

Muse--One of nine sisters, daughters of Zeus, and goddesses of various arts. The Muse invoked by the poet is almost certainly Calliope, the Muse of Epic Poetry.

Odysseus--King of Ithaca, and our protagonist. He spent 10 years fighting alongside his Greek allies at the Siege of Troy, and then took 10 years trying to get home again. Homer's Odyssey is the story of that journey home. He is often referred to as the "man of many ways" or "the man of twists and turns" to emphasize that he is a man who lives by his wits.

Ithaca--An island in what is now called the Ionian Sea, on the west coast of Greece. It was one of many Greek city-states (some others being Mycenae and Sparta) that banded together to sack Troy.

Troy--A great city in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey. It was besieged for 10 years by the collective Greece forces before finally falling.

Olympus--The highest mountain in Greece, and home of the Olympian Gods of the Ancient World.

Zeus--King of the Olympians. God of the sky and wielder of the thunderbolt.

Athena--Daughter of Zeus. Goddess of wisdom and craft and just war. Patron Goddess of Athens, and of Odysseus, whose skill, wisdom, and genius she admires most among all mortals. Often referred to as "grey-eyed" or as "the grey-eyed goddess." Also known as Pallas Athena, or just Pallas, an alternative name for her whose origins are murky, at best, but generally involve Athena accidentally killing a childhood friend, Pallas, and then taking his/her name as an honorific. (Homer possibly uses it when he does to fill out the meter of the particular line.)

Hermes--Son of Zeus. God of Travelers, Shepherds, Thieves, and Messenger of the Gods. Often given the epithet Argeiphontes, a reference to a time that he killed a giant named Argos. Some translations go for the simpler "giant-killer." He also escorts the souls of the dead to the Underworld.

Poseidon--Brother of Zeus. God of the Sea and of Earthquakes. Harbors a grudge against Odysseus and thus delays his return home to Ithaca.

Kalypso--Daughter of Atlas. A nymph/goddess who lives on the island Ogygia and who delays Odysseus for several years, wanting to keep him as a companion in her solitary life.

Agamemnon--King of Mycenae, greatest of the Greek city-states. Leader of the Greek forces at Troy. Murdered upon his homecoming by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus.

Orestes--Son of Agamemnon. He avenged the killing of his father by murdering both his mother and her lover.

Polyphemus--Greatest and most fearsome of the Cyclops, sons of Poseidon. He is blinded by Odysseus, who then incurs Poseidon's wrath.

Helios--The charioteer of the sun. He kept a special flock of cows with Odysseus' men foolishly killed and ate, incurring his anger.

Achaeans--A general terms for the various Greeks. Also called the Argives.

Telemachus--Son of Odysseus. He's grown from birth to manhood in his father's absence.

Penelope--Queen of Ithaca, mother of Telemachus, and wife of Odysseus. Many suitors have come to try to marry Penelope, hoping to inherit the throne of Ithaca, but Penelope has remained faithful to Odysseus. In the meantime, the suitors have been essentially abusing the laws of hospitality (very important in the Ancient world) by lying about all day and eating and drinking everything in sight.

Laertes--Father of Odysseus, and former King of Ithaca.

Menelaus--King of Sparta, brother of Agamemnon, and husband of Helen. It was Helen's abduction by the Trojan prince Paris that led to the Trojan War.

Nestor--King of Pylos, one of the oldest and wisest of the Greek kings who fought at Troy.


Antinous--One of the leading suitors for Penelope's hand.

Eurymachus--The other leading suitor.


  1. Wow...over 10 years later and I still can't read the name "Orestes" without hearing Johnny Ray Hayes saying it in his South Carolinian dialect.


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