Odysseus is the king of Ithaca, and one of the Greek heroes who joined in the Greek expedition to Troy, leaving his wife Penelope and infant son Telemachus behind. He has a reputation for clever speaking and cunning; the ruse of the Trojan Horse by means of which the Greeks finally sacked Troy after ten years of war is said to have been his idea. The Odyssey tells of Odysseus’ adventures on his journey home from Troy – which takes him ten more year – and his eventual reunion with his family.
Calypso is a nymph who lives on the island of Ogygia, where Odysseus was washed up after being shipwrecked on his return journey from Troy. She keeps him there for seven years and promises to make him immortal if he would become her husband.
Penelope is the wife of Odysseus. She loyally awaits the return of her husband from Troy during his twenty-year absence (ten years laying siege to Troy and ten years on the journey home). Meanwhile 108 suitors are hoping to marry Penelope and take Odysseus’ place. Penelope pretends she cannot remarry until she has finished weaving a shroud for Odysseus’ father Laertes; in order to delay the decision she unravels her weaving every night until her ruse is discovered by one of her maids.
Telemachus is the son of Odysseus and Penelope. He was a baby when his father left for Troy but is an adult at the opening of the Odyssey. The first four books of the Odyssey tell of his journey in search of news of his father.
The goddess Athena is the daughter of Zeus and Mētis (‘Wisdom’ personified); she is associated with strategic thinking, tactical warfare and handicrafts. In the Odyssey she supports Odysseus.
The suitors of Penelope take up residence in Odysseus’ palace during his long absence in hope that Penelope will marry one of them. They behave badly, drinking Odysseus’ wine and eating him out of house and home. Upon his return Odysseus outwits and kills them with the help of his son Telemachus.
The sea-god Poseidon hates Odysseus, because Odysseus blinded Poseidon’s son, the Cyclops Polyphemus. In the Odyssey Poseidon repeatedly attempts to thwart Odysseus’ return home by whipping up storms at sea.
The Phaeacians are a semi-magical people upon whose island (sometimes known as Scheria) Odysseus is washed up on his journey home to Ithaca. There Odysseus befriends the princess Nausicaa; her father, King Alcinous, offers him hospitality and he tells the Phaeacians the tale of his adventures since leaving Troy. The Phaecians provide him with a ship to carry him home to Ithaca.
Polyphemus, also known as the Cyclops, is one of a mythical race of one-eyed man-eating giants giants, the Cyclopes. He rears sheep and goats on an uncivilised island where Odysseus. Polyphemus traps Odysseus and his men in his cave and eats some of Odysseus’ companions. Odysseus outwits Polyphemus by getting him drunk on wine and blinding him with a stake; he and his remaining men then make their escape.
Circe is a witch, skilled in magic, who turns some of Odysseus’ men into pigs. Odysseus resists her magic by means of the mythical herb moly and frees his men.
The Sirens are magical winged females who entrap and destroy sailors with the power of the songs they sing. When Odysseus’ ship is about to pass their island he asks his men to fill their ears with wax and continue rowing, but to lash him to the mast and leave his ears unblocked so that he can hear their song.
Scylla is a sea monster represented with six heads, each with a triple row of teeth, and twelve feet. She lives in a cave opposite the whirlpool of Charybdis.
Charybdis is a whirlpool in a narrow channel of water, who is said to suck in seawater and spew it out three times a day. She is located opposite the cave of Scylla which means that Odysseus has to decide which to avoid as he sails between them.