The Odyssey

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The Odyssey Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Homer's The Odyssey. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Homer

Little is known about Homer's life. Many people believe no such person ever existed, and that "Homer" is a pseudonym uniting the works of many authors from various time periods. Others believe that he was a blind court singer in the 8th century BC.
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Historical Context of The Odyssey

Most ancient Greeks believed that the Trojan War took place in the 11th or 12th century BC, but on a slightly smaller scale than what was depicted in stories and legends. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance scholars believed that the Trojan War was pure invention, but in the past century archeologists and geologists have excavated sites that correspond topographically to the geography of Troy and surrounding sites, as they were described in The Iliad. Today, most scholars agree that the Mycenean Greeks did storm a city called Troy in the 11th century BC, but that the details of the battle described in The Iliad and The Odyssey are fictitious.

Other Books Related to The Odyssey

The Odyssey is the sequel to The Iliad, which describes the events of the Trojan War. The epics are considered the first known works of Western literature, and exerted vast influence on most of the authors and philosophers in ancient Greece as well as epic poems written in Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance times, such as The Aeneid, The Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost. Some scholars have pointed out resemblances between The Odyssey and the Epic of Gilgamesh, a Mesopotamian poem that dates back to the 18th century BC.
Key Facts about The Odyssey
  • Full Title: The Odyssey
  • When Written: 8th or 7th century BC.
  • Where Written: Ancient Greece
  • When Published: The poem was passed down orally for many generations, but the Athenian tyrant Peisistratos established a committee to compile and revise Homer's manuscripts in the 6th century BC. The oldest complete manuscript of the poem dates back to the 10th or 11th century AD. Dozens of English translations have been published since the 17th century.
  • Literary Period: Ancient Greece (pre-Classical)
  • Genre: Epic Poem
  • Setting: The Pelopponese and the Ionian islands in Mycenaean Greece, in the 10 years after the fall of Troy, circa 12th century BC.
  • Climax: The slaughter of the suitors
  • Antagonist: The suitors, Poseidon
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for The Odyssey

The Limits of Papyrus. The Odyssey was initially recorded on fragile papyrus scrolls; some people believe that the length of each of the twenty-four books was determined by the length of a single scroll, which would break if it exceeded a certain size.

Son of Telemachus. The Oracle at Delphi claimed that Homer was Telemachus's son.