Skip to main content

The Odyssey Reading Club -- Entry 24: Glossary Through Book IX

Book IX of The Odyssey, where what people think of as, well, The Odyssey begins in earnest. This is where the narrative starts to fold back onto itself and Homer make good on promises he's scattered throughout the earlier sections of the book. Given this, a lot of the seemingly "new" names were actually introduced earlier, so Ctrl+F is your super-duper best friend here.

New in Book IX:

Aeaea: The island of the sorceress Circe. It appears mythical in nature, and archaeologists have never settled on a real-world antecedent. It's name seems to deliberately echo its near homophone "Aiai!," the Ancient Greek exclamation that's akin to "Woe!"

Ismarus: A city along the Thracian coastline. The residents there, the Cicones, sided with Troy against the Greek forces during the Trojan War.

Malea's cape: A peninsula in the southeastern Peloponnese. The weather and water in the area has always had a reputation for danger.

Cythera: And island south of the Peloponnese which came to be identified as a placed sacred to Aphrodite.

Lotus-eaters: A tribe of people, either off the coast of North Africa, or perhaps living along the shoreline, who subsist on a diet of the lotus, an plant that has narcotic properties. Modern scholars seem to think that the lotus in The Odyssey is a relative of the  jujube. It is almost certainly not any plant used now as a narcotic, such as the opium poppy.

Maron and Euanthes: Thracian nobility, and descendants of both wise King Minos and the wine god Dionysus.

Telemus and Eurymus: Um...not much to say about them, really. This is their only mention in Greek mythology.

New in Book VIII:

Demodocus: A blind bard at the court of King Alcinous--his name means "People Enchanter."

Pytho: A town and shrine sacred to Apollo, more commonly referred to as Delphi.

Ares: The Olympian god of war, son of Zeus and his wife Hera; his Roman name was Mars. The Greeks recognized a division in the elements of war, with Ares being the god of violence and fighting, while Athena was the goddess of strategy and military leadership.

Eurytus: A king whose archery skills rivaled even those of his grandfather, Apollo, who slew him for presuming to challenge the god.

Lemnos: An island in the northern Aegean Sea. According to The Iliad, when Zeus hurled the lame Hephaestus from Mt. Olympus in a fit of rage, he landed on Lemnos and was tended by its residents.

Sintians: The inhabitants of Lemnos. They were viewed as pirates and are thought to be one of the non-Hellenic peoples in Homer.

Thrace: The area of southeastern Europe that is north and west of mainland Greece and between the Black Sea to the east and the Augean to the west.

Paphos: A city on Cyprus, nearest to the mythological birthplace of Aphrodite. As such, it was the most sacred place of worship to the goddess.

Polybus (II): As mentioned before, there are several men by that name in the poem. This one is apparently a craftsman. He's certainly not an Egyptian king. He won't be the last Polybus we meet, either.

Circe: A powerful witch, about whom more later.

Epeius (Epeus): A minor character in The Iliad. He is the one chosen by Odysseus to help him construct the famous wooden horse.

New in Book VII:

Eurymedon: King of the Giants, who were the offspring of Gaia, the Earth Goddess and grandmother of the Olympian gods. The Giants were thus of the same generation as the Titans, the divinities who held sway until being overthrown by Zeus and his siblings. The Giants unsuccessfully attempted to rebel against the Olympian gods, a myth taken up by the popular video game God of War II. Interestingly, because of their mixed parentage, Arete and Alcinous are descended from both the Olympian gods and the Titans.

Arete: Daughter of the Nausithous, former king of the Phaeacians, and wife of his son, Alcinous, the current king. Yes, she married her own uncle. This is another indication that this race is somehow closer to the gods than to regular mortals, who generally frowned on family ties this closely enmeshed. A very wise and well-respected woman--perhaps the most so in the world.

Marathon: A small town some 20+ miles from Athens, that was, hundreds of years after Homer's time, the site of a famous battle between the outnumbered Athenians and the invading Persian army. The distance between the town and Athens became the basis for the endurance race that bears the town's name.

Erectheus: Ancient mythic King of Athens.

Fate/Spinners: Also called The Moirai, or "the apportioners." The Three Fates were said to weave the thread of the lives of all of the Ancients, even the Gods. The first, Clotho, spun the thread; the second, Lachesis measured it; the third, Atropos, whose name means "no turn," cut the thread of life once it had reached its end.

Tityus: A giant who was the son of Zeus. Hera encouraged him to rape Leto, mother of the Divine Twins Artemis and Apollo. Instead, they slew him, and he was imprisoned in the deepest depths and Hades and tortured for all eternity.

New in Book VI:

Hyperia: Former homeland of the Phaecacians. They moved to Scheria because their neighbors, the Cyclops, were getting too hard to deal with.

Nausithous: Phaeacian king who led his people away from Hyperia and settled them on Scheria. Son of Poseidon.

Alcinous: King of Phaeacia, son of Nausithous, and father of Nausicaa and five sons. His name means "mighty mind."

Nausicaa: Perhaps the archetypal Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Nausciaa is the only daughter of the King and Queen and is the first person Odysseus talks to on Scheria. Young and beautiful and lively, she generally leaves a vivid image in the reader's mind--often cited in Antiquity and afterward as an exemplar of girlhood/young womanhood.

The Graces: Technically, the Charites, from which we derive the word "charity"--the Graces (Gratiae in Latin) is the more Roman name for them, but almost everyone calls them the Graces, even when translating Greek poetry. Three sisters, minor goddess of beauty, joy, and splendor. Often the subject of sculpture and painting.

Dymas' daughter: We know no more about either Dymas or his daughter, whom Athena impersonates but to whom Homer doesn't even bother to give a name.

Taygetus and Erymanthus: Mountains on the Peloponnese. The Taygetus is actually a range near Sparta and was the range in which male Spartan babies were said to have been abandoned if deemed unfit. Erymanthus is a mountain that, in myth, was the home of the Erymanthian Boar, captured by Heracles as one of his Twelve Labors.

Leto: Mother of the divine twins, Apollo and Artemis.

"fling his arms around her knees": Obviously, different translations will put this differently, but it's in this book that we encounter our first references to the traditional pose of supplication. Supplication if the process by which someone who is completely and totally powerless to achieve what s/he desires/needs seeks intercession from a more powerful individual, essentially begging them for their generosity. The traditional supplication pose in Antiquity involved the supplicant (or suppliant), the one asking for forgiveness or kindness, wrapping his/her arms around the knees of the person being asked for help. They may also place one hand under the chin of the person being asked for intercession. Here Odysseus is a supplicant as he is a stranger and has no food, clothes, etc. Sometimes supplicants are seeking a more specific remedy, often from a king or other authority figure, as when in Book XXIV of The Iliad Priam supplicates himself to Achilles for the return of the body of his slain son Hector.

First introduced in Book V:

Tithonous: Mortal husband of Eos, the dawn. In later versions of the myth, when Eos asks Zeus to grant her mortal lover immortality, she forgets to ask for him also to have eternal youth. As a result, Tithonous cannot die but continues to age until he is eventually transformed into a cicada.

Scheria: Home island of the Phaeacians. Its geographical location is unknown, though the people of the island of Corfu long claimed that their island was Scheria. Some ancient geographers maintained that Scheria was an island in the Atlantic, and some have even speculated that Scheria was in fact the same as Atlantis. (Side note: That's almost certainly completely bonkers, as Atlantis doesn't appear as a idea until 500 years later when Socrates tells its story in Plato's dialogue Timeaus.)

Phaeacians: A gentle race of brilliant ship-builders, well-loved by the gods. Their name means "gray-skinned" or "dark-skinned," so they may be a race of African as opposed to European descent.

Pieria: Region of Greece that contains Mt. Olympus.

Hermes' staff/wand: The caduceus, now used as a symbol of medicine. Two serpents entwined around a staff, often with wings at the top.

Ambrosia and nectar: The food and drink, respectively (generally--accounts vary), of the Olympian gods. While they enjoy the smell of burnt offerings, they only eat ambrosia and drink nectar. All other modern uses for the words stem from this classical origin.

Orion: A great hunter, made a constellation after his death. This, and a similar reference in The Iliad, are the earliest references to him, though later poets and writers would build on his myth.

Delos: A small island in the Aegean. Birthplace of the divine twins, Apollo and Artemis.

Demeter: Goddess of the harvest and one of the 6 brothers and sisters who were the first generation of Olympian gods along with Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hera, and Hestia. Her Roman name was Ceres, from which we get the word "cereal," among others. Perhaps most notable for being mother of Persephone, alongside whom she was honored in rituals that predated the era of the Olympian gods; in this way, she can be seen as one of the "Earth mother" goddesses of very early mythologies.

Iasion: A mortal man who Demeter lured away at a wedding party, where they proceeded to have sex in a furrow. After returning to the party, Zeus noticed the mud on the back of Demeter's robes, realized what the two had been doing, and promptly slew Iasion with a thunderbolt.

Styx: One of the main rivers of the underworld--often cited as the one which marks the physical boundary between the surface world and the land of the dead. The Olympian gods swore on it as their most unbreakable oath.

Pleiades: A constellation of seven stars, easily visible in the Northern Hemisphere in winter time. Often used for navigation. Originally, seven sisters, daughters of the Titan Atlas.

Bootesthe plowman: A constellation containing Arcturus, one of the brightest stars in the nighttime sky.

The Great Bear: Ursa Major, or the Big Bear--a year-round constellation in the Northern Hemisphere. It contains the sub-constellation the Big Dipper (or the Plough or the Wagon), which points North at all times.

The Hunter: Orion again. This time in constellation form.

Solymi: A mountain rage in Asia Minor.

Cadmus: An early figure in Greek myth, thought to have founded the great city of Thebes and brought the Phoenician alphabet to the Greeks. His wedding to Harmonia was the first to be blessed by gifts and the attendance of the Olympian gods, and it was during the banquet that Demeter and Iasion went off together.

Ino: A mortal who was given immortality after her death, though the reasons are unclear. This is her first appearance in Greek literature, and most of the myths about her were built up later. Generally, she was though to have raised Dionysus, the god of wine and drama, after his mother's death. Like almost all mortals who associated too closely with Dionysus, she is reported to have had a tragic ending, often involving madness and either suicide or frenzied murder. Enjoy your wine!!!

First introduced in Book IV:

Helen: Variously known as Helen of Sparta or Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world. The face that literally launched a thousand ships. Daughter of Leda and Zeus, who had taken the form of a swan to seduce her.

son of Achilles: Though not named, this is Neoptolemus, a major figure in his own right in several of the non-Homeric stories that deal with the fall of Troy and its aftermath. His name, conveniently enough, means "new warrior." If you're curious, he's a major character in several of the plays based on the Homeric myths, especially the Philoctetes of Sophocles, which is an excellent piece.

Hermione: The only child of Helen and Menelaus. Married to Neoptolemus, later (depending on who you ask) married to her cousin Orestes. Her name is derived from Hermes.

Cyprus, Phoenicia, the Egyptians, Ethiopians, Sidonians, Erembians, Libya: Variously, islands (Cyprus), nation-states (Phoenicia) and races (Ethiopians) in, around, and near the Mediterranean. The Sidonians were in modern day Lebanon, as were the Phoencians. The exact identity of the Erembians is lost to history.

Artemis: Goddess the Moon and of the hunt. A virgin goddess, she was the twin sister of Apollo. Called Diana by the Romans, by that name her legacy has stretched into neo-paganism and the ethos of the warrior woman.

Polybus: One of several mentioned in The Odyssey, I only mention him to point out that this one is a king in Egypt and is not to be confused with others that are mentioned or appear over the course of the poem.

Memnon: An Ethiopian king who fought on the side of Troy. He was the son of Eos, the dawn whose rosy fingers are never far away in Homer.

Aphrodite: Goddess of love and beauty--Venus to the Romans. In some ways, the instigator of the Trojan War, as she bribed Paris, Price of Troy with the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world, in order to win a beauty contest. (Seriously.) Unfortunately, Helen, wife of Menelaus, was acknowledged to be the most beautiful woman in the world, and Paris' abduction of Helen back to Troy to be his wife was the triggering event of the Trojan War.

Deiphobus: Prince of Troy, one of old King Priam's 50 sons. After the death of Paris but before the final fall of Troy, Helen was given to Deiphobus as wife for his deeds in the war. Helen did not love him as she had Paris. Accounts vary, but she either helped the invading Greek forces kill him or killed him herself.

Pharos: Island off the coast of Greece that would eventually be home to the famous lighthouse that bore its name, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Old Man of the Sea: In this instance, Proteus. (The term is used variously to refer to several water deities.) His name, with its connection to the prefix proto-, etc. strongly implies that he was a deity older than the Olympians, perhaps a Titan. His ability to change his shape gave English the word "protean." Wrestling with Proteus, or similar prophetic shape-shifting characters, recurs in several other Greek myths and is in fact part of a broader mythos that appears in mythological systems throughout the world.

Hera: Wife/sister of Zeus, and queen of the Olympian gods. Goddess of women and marriage--her Roman name was Juno. She was determinedly in the anti-Troy camp during the war, as she was one of the goddesses slighted by Paris when he named Aphrodite the most beautiful.

Elysian Fields: Also called Elysium. The land of the blessed dead, more particularly here, the "immortal" sons of Zeus (even immortals either went to Hades or were, in rare cases, take up to Olympus). Hades, the land of the dead, was, in later mythology, subdivided into several other areas to which spirits were assigned based on what sort of life they had led. Elysium was the best of those areas and the highest form of afterlife most mortals could hope for.

Rhadamanthys: Son of Zeus and Europa, brother of King Minos, ruler of the Elysian Fields in Hades' stead. In later mythology, one of the three judges of shades entering the underworld.

River Ocean: The ocean, particularly the Atlantic, thought by the Ancients (in Homer, at least) to be a vast river which encircled the known world.

Hephaestus: God of the forge and later, the volcano. (Roman name Vulcan). A lame craftsman god who was wedded to Aphrodite.

Medon: Herald and servant of Odysseus and Penelope.

Arcesius: Father of Laertes, grandfather of Odysseus, and former king of Ithaca. Notably, Zeus made his line one of "only sons," where Laertes was his only son, Odysseus his, etc., etc.

First introduced in Book III:

Neleus: Father of Nestor, former King of Pylos, killed by Heracles. (Interestingly, this gives us some sense of where the exploits of Heracles are to be placed in relation to the Trojan War. Since Heracles served on the Argo with Jason, a lot of Greek myth, for which there is no canon or written text, can be roughly tied together in this fashion.)

Pisistratus and Thrasymedes: The two most prominent of Nestor's surviving sons. Pisistratus is quite young and was born around the same time as Telemachus, while Thrasymedes fought in the Trojan War.

The Son of Cronus: Zeus. (Though, technically, it could also be either Hades or Poseidon, who are also sons of Cronus.) Also, interestingly enough, the Fitzgerald translation skips the poetical construction all together and just calls him Zeus.

Amphitrite: A sea goddess, wife of Poseidon.

Achilles: Greatest of the Greek soldiers at Troy. The Iliad is the story of Achilles leaving the battlefield because of a dispute with Agamemnon and the various attempts by the Greek forces to get him to return, which he eventually does, to great effect.

Priam: King of Troy who had 50 sons, including Hector, Paris, and Aeneas.

Ajax: The greatest Greek solider, save Achilles. In Homer, he is said to have died from drowning while attempting to return home after the sack of Troy. In later myths, he is thought to have committed suicide after Odysseus cheated him out of winning the armor of the dead Achilles.

Patroclus: Achilles' closest friend, possibly his lover. It was his death at the hands of Priam's son Hector that triggered Achilles' re-entry onto the field of battle. Interestingly, Patroclus re-entered the fray as part of a stratagem devised by Odysseus.

Atreus: Father of Agamemnon and Menelaus, and head of the cursed House of Atreus.

Athena's dreadful wrath: Athena's anger at the victorious Greek troops after the siege of Troy is mentioned but not explained. During the siege of Troy, the Trojan princess and prophetess Cassandra clung to the statue of Athena for sanctuary. However, she was raped and taken into slavery by the Greek forces. The rapists were not punished, and Athena was angered by this desecration.

Diomedes: Another Greek warrior who fought in the Trojan War, and one of the youngest. A main figure in The Iliad, he is portrayed as being possessed of great virtue, wisdom, and martial ability.

Tenedos, Lesbos, Chios, Psyrie, Mimas, Euboea, Geraestus: Islands and coastal areas in and around the Aegean Sea which separates mainland Greece from Asia Minor.

The Myrmidons: Brave warriors who served under Achilles. Allegedly descended from ants. Seriously.

Philoctetes: A great archer who was initially abandoned by the Greek forces on the way to Troy after receiving a snake bite on his foot which grew infected and rendered him lame. He was recalled by Odysseus and Diomedes and is the main character in an (excellent) play by Sophocles that bears his name.

Idomeneus: King of Crete, one of the leaders of the Greek forces, and title character in an early opera by Mozart.

Atrides: Son or descendant of Atreus, in this case Menelaus.

Apollo: God of the Sun, and light, and poetry, and music, and healing, and about a dozen other things. Twin brother of the Moon goddess Artemis.

Lacadaemon: The heartland territory of the Peloponnese (the southeastern section of Greece), governed by Sparta.

Cauconians: A tribe that has literally vanished from history. Nobody knows who they were, what they spoke, or even really where they lived. This is one of very few references to them ever made. So, who knows?

Perseus: One of the sons of Nestor, who I only call out to stress that it is not the Perseus of the Gorgon, etc.

Eurydice: Again, not that Eurydice. Orpheus was a few generations before the time of the Trojan War.

First introduced in Book II:

Rosy Fingered Dawn: Along with its variants, possibly the most commonly used and remembered phrase in Homer. Dawn was, well, the goddess of the Dawn, obviously enough. Mainly I just wanted to call out our first "rosy fingered dawn" reference.

Themis: A minor deity who was goddess of divine law, order, and custom. In this capacity, she was evoked in assemblies.

Tyro, Alcmene: Legendary beauties who bore sons to gods who disguised themselves as their husbands. Poseidon slept with Tyro while in her husband's form and she bore him twin sons. Impregnated by Zeus while in the guise of her husband, Alcmene bore his son Heracles. (We're using Greek here, not Latin--so no Hercules.)

Furies (Erinyes): Three (possibly more--sources differ) ancient, chthonic goddesses of retribution and vengeance. They pursued and tormented those who violated the most sacred natural laws, mainly dealing with family and the breaking of oaths. Interestingly, in Aeschylus' Orestia, they pursued Orestes after he killed his mother Clytemnestra until the newer Olympian gods intervened and instituted the justice of man.

Mentor: Probably should have included this one in Book I. Mentor was an old, dear friend of Odysseus who was given control of Odysseus' household in his absence. His name passed directly into English.

First introduced in Book I:

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.

Hellas: Greece.

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

Eurymachus: The other leading suitor.


Popular posts from this blog

Prague Blog: Preliminary -- Why?

Since I decided to uproot my entire life, move to a country I have never visited, and train in a career I have no experience with, people have often asked me, "Why?" I'm sure that many of them likely were wondering 'WHY?!?!?!" but, if so, they were polite enough to hide that fact. So, here, as the first (unofficial, preliminary) installment of my Prague Blog, I thought I would try to make the case for why this isn't a completely ridiculous thing to do.

The first starting premise for this is probably a key facet of my personality: I don't like things. Not, "there are things I don't like," but rather, on the whole, I don't care about physical things. I am not a thing person.* To a lesser extent, but still worth mentioning, I am not a creature comforts person. It is true that I go a bit stir crazy when I don't have access to walkable shops, etc., and I do have a great fondness for hot and cold running water and HVAC , but my needs in t…

Prague Blog: Preliminary -- What I Leave Behind

This post if pretty melancholy, and more personal than I often get. If you want more like this (or less), one way to ask is to go to, become a Patron, and then exercise your right to request something more cheerful in the future.


When I first made the decision to move to Prague, I focused solely on the opportuity it presented. Once the decision had been made, however, I started to think of practicalities. Like, how good is their internet speed? (About the same as the USA's, if not better.) How much are smokes? (About $4.50 USD--yes, I know I should quit, but I would rather quit because I want to rather than because it's too expensive.) What's the gay scene like? (So thriving the NYT did a piece on it.) Do they have Pizza Hut? (The chain is returning to Prague this year after a 13 year hiatus.)

Generally, the things that make my life not just tolerable but enjoyable will be available in abundance. Oh, to be sure, t…

Prague Blog: Preliminary -- The Things I'm Carrying, in Video Form

In Book II of the Iliad, Homer (let's just call the author that) enumerates the forces that sailed from Greece to lay siege on Troy, and then does a similar, smaller listing of the Trojan force. The "Catalogue of Ships," as it's known, stops the forward momentum of the epic to make sure the reader understands the scene on the plains outside Troy. At the same time, it establishes a great deal about the power dynamics at play, and provides us greater insight into the characters involved. Sometimes, what (or who) you own can speak volumes about who you are. In that spirit, but with none of the grandeur, I'm making a list of all the things I kept when I left my apartment and, more to the point, all the things I am taking to Prague with me.

The first category is things I'm keeping but not taking. This includes about a hundred books, mostly from my time at St. John's; a Johnnie chair, a college graduation present from my mother; various small items of sentiment…