Odysseus  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Odysseus (also known by the Roman name Ulysses), was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and a hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. Odysseus also plays a key role in Homer's Iliad and other works in that same Epic Cycle.

Husband of Penelope, father of Telemachus, and son of Laërtes and Anticlea, Odysseus is renowned for his brilliance, guile, and versatility (polytropos), and is hence known by the epithet Odysseus the Cunning (mētis, or "cunning intelligence"). He is most famous for the ten eventful years he took to return home after the decade-long Trojan War and his famous Trojan Horse ploy to capture the city of Troy.

He is depicted with Penelope in a painting by Francesco Primaticcio.

Contents

Other stories

Odysseus is one of the most recurring characters in Western culture.

Classical

According to some late sources, most of them purely genealogical, Odysseus had many other children besides Telemachus, the most famous being:

Most such genealogies aimed to link Odysseus with the foundation of many Italic cities in remote antiquity.

He figures in the end of the story of King Telephus of Mysia.

The supposed last poem in the Epic Cycle is called the Telegony and is thought to tell the story of Odysseus's last voyage, and of his death at the hands of Telegonus, his son with Circe. The poem, like the others of the cycle, is "lost" in that no authentic version has been discovered.

In 5th century BC Athens, tales of the Trojan War were popular subjects for tragedies. Odysseus figures centrally or indirectly in a number of the extant plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, (Ajax, Philoctetes) and Euripides, (Hecuba, Rhesus, Cyclops) and figured in still more that have not survived. In the Ajax, Sophocles portrays Odysseus as a modernistic voice of reasoning compared to the title character's rigid antiquity.

Plato in his dialog Hippias Minor examines a literary question about whom Homer intended to portray as the better man, Achilles or Odysseus.

As Ulysses, he is mentioned regularly in Virgil's Aeneid written between 29 and 19 BC, and the poem's hero, Aeneas, rescues one of Ulysses's crew members who was left behind on the island of the Cyclops. He in turn offers a first-person account of some of the same events Homer relates, in which Ulysses appears directly. Virgil's Ulysses typifies his view of the Greeks: he is cunning but impious, and ultimately malicious and hedonistic.

Ovid retells parts of Ulysses's journeys, focusing on his romantic involvements with Circe and Calypso, and recasts him as, in Harold Bloom's phrase, "one of the great wandering womanizers." Ovid also gives a detailed account of the contest between Ulysses and Ajax for the armor of Achilles.

Greek legend tells of Ulysses as the founder of Lisbon, Portugal, calling it Ulisipo or Ulisseya, during his twenty-year errand on the Mediterranean and Atlantic seas. Olisipo was Lisbon's name in the Roman Empire. Basing in this folk etymology, the belief that Ulysses is recounted by Strabo based on Asclepiades of Myrleia's words, by Pomponius Mela, by Gaius Julius Solinus (3rd century A.D.), and finally by Camões in his epic poem Lusiads.

Middle Ages and Renaissance

Dante, in Canto 26 of the Inferno of his Divine Comedy, encounters Odysseus ("Ulisse" in the original Italian) near the very bottom of Hell: with Diomedes, he walks wrapped in flame in the eighth ring (Counselors of Fraud) of the Eighth Circle (Sins of Malice), as punishment for his schemes and conspiracies that won the Trojan War. In a famous passage, Dante has Odysseus relate a different version of his final voyage and death from the one foreshadowed by Homer. He tells how he set out with his men for one final journey of exploration to sail beyond the Pillars of Hercules and into the Western sea to find what adventures awaited them. Men, says Ulisse, are not made to live like brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge.

After travelling west and south for five months, they saw in the distance a great mountain rising from the sea (this is Purgatory, in Dante's cosmology) before a storm sank them. Dante did not have access to the original Greek texts of the Homeric epics, so his knowledge of their subject-matter was based only on information from later sources, chiefly Virgil's Aeneid but also Ovid; hence the discrepancy between Dante and Homer.

He appears in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, set during the Trojan War.

Modern

Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "Ulysses" presents an aging king who has seen too much of the world to be happy sitting on a throne idling his days away. Leaving the task of civilizing his people to his son, he gathers together a band of old comrades "to sail beyond the sunset".

Nikos Kazantzakis' The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, a 33,333 line epic poem, begins with Odysseus cleansing his body of the blood of Penelope's suitors. Odysseus soon leaves Ithaca in search of new adventures. Before his death he abducts Helen, incites revolutions in Crete and Egypt, communes with God, and meets representatives of such famous historical and literary figures as Vladimir Lenin, Don Quixote and Jesus.

Irish poet Eilean Ni Chuilleanain wrote "The Second Voyage", a poem in which she makes use of the story of Odysseus.

James Joyce's novel Ulysses uses modern literary devices to narrate a single day in the life of a Dublin businessman named Leopold Bloom. Bloom’s day turns out to bear many elaborate parallels to Odysseus’ twenty years of wandering.

In Virginia Woolf's response novel Mrs Dalloway the comparative character is Clarisse Dalloway, who also appears in The Voyage Out and several short stories.

Odysseus is the hero of The Luck of Troy by Roger Lancelyn Green, whose title refers to the theft of the Palladium.

Frederick Rolfe's The Weird of the Wanderer has the hero Nicholas Crabbe (based on the author) travelling back in time, discovering that he is the reincarnation of Odysseus, marrying Helen, being deified and ending up as one of the three Magi.

In Dan Simmons' novels Ilium and Olympos, Odysseus is encountered both at Troy and on a futuristic Earth.

In the second book of the Percy Jackson series, The Sea of Monsters, Percy and his friends encounter many obstacles similar to those in the Odyssey, including Scylla and Charybidis, the Sirens, Polyphemus, and others.

In S.M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time trilogy, Odikweos (Mycenean spelling) is a 'historical' figure who is every bit as cunning as his legendary self and is one of the few Bronze Age inhabitants who discerns the time-traveller's real background. Odikweos first aids William Walker's rise to power in Achaea and later helps bring Walker down after seeing his homeland turn into a police state.

Odysseus is also a character in David Gemmell's Troy trilogy, in which he is a good friend and mentor of Helikaon. He is known as the ugly king of Ithaka. His marriage with Penelope was arranged, but they grew to love each other. He is also a famous storyteller, known to exaggerate his stories and heralded as the greatest storyteller of his age. This is used as a plot device to explain the origins of such myths as those of Circe and the Gorgons. In the series, he is fairly old and an unwilling ally of Agamemnon.

Lindsay Clarke's The War at Troy features Odysseus, and its sequel, The Return from Troy, retells the voyage of Odysseus in a manner which combines myth with modern psychological insight.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood retells his story from the point of view of his wife Penelope.

Return to Ithaca by Eyvind Johnson is a more realistic retelling of the events that adds a deeper psychological study of the characters of Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus. Thematically, it uses Odysseus's backstory and struggle as a metaphor for dealing with the aftermath of war (the novel being written immediately after the Second World War).

The actors who have portrayed Odysseus in feature films include Kirk Douglas in the Italian Ulysses (1955), John Drew Barrymore in The Trojan Horse (1961), Piero Lulli in The Fury of Achilles (1962), and Sean Bean in Troy (2004). In TV miniseries he has been played by Bekim Fehmiu, L'Odissea (1968), and by Armand Assante, The Odyssey (1997).

Tony Robinson's 1996 UK children's television series Odysseus: The Greatest Hero of Them All (sometimes listed as an episode in the Jackanory serial), comprised Robinson narrating the Iliad and Odyssey, with most of the events maintained intact, but retold in modern language.

Joel and Ethan Coen's film O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) is loosely based on the Odyssey. However, the Coens have stated that they hadn’t ever read the epic. George Clooney plays Ulysses Everett McGill, leading a group of escapees from a chain gang through an adventure in search of the proceeds of an armoured truck heist. On their voyage, the gang encounter—amongst other characters—a trio of Sirens and a one-eyed bible salesman.

Between 1978 and 1979, German director Tony Munzlinger made a documentary series called Unterwegs mit Odysseus (roughly translated: "Journeying with Odysseus"), in which a film team sails across the Mediterranean Sea trying to find traces of Odysseus in the modern-day settings of the Odyssey. In between the film crew's exploits, hand-drawn scissor-cut cartoons are inserted which relate the hero's story, with actor Hans Clarin providing the narratives.

Ulysses 31 is a Japanese-French anime series, published in 1981, which updates the Greek and Roman mythologies of Ulysses (or Odysseus) to the 31st century. In the series, the gods are angered when Ulysses, commander of the giant spaceship Odyssey, kills the giant Cyclops to rescue a group of enslaved children including Telemachus. Zeus sentences Ulysses to travel the universe with his crew frozen until he finds the Kingdom of Hades, at which point his crew will be revived and he will be able to return to Earth. In one episode, he travels back in time and meets the Odysseus of the Greek myth.

A cartoon show named Class of the Titans has a character named 'Odie' who is a direct descendant of Odysseus. One of the episodes, "The Odie-sey", portrays the story of the Odyssey, with characters like Calypso, Scylla, and Aeolus, and also including modern twists.

Early 20th century British composer Cecil Armstrong Gibbs's second symphony (for chorus and orchestra) is named after and based on the story of Odysseus, with text by Essex poet Mordaunt Currie.

Cream's song "Tales of Brave Ulysses" speaks somewhat of the travels of Odysseus including his encounter with the Sirens. An unnamed Odysseus figure is the narrator of the Steely Dan song, "Home at Last."

Suzanne Vega's song "Calypso" shows Odysseus from Calypso's point of view, and tells the tale of him coming to the island and his leaving.

Progressive metal band Symphony X have a song based on Odysseus's journey, and called "The Odyssey", on the album of the same name. At 24 minutes and 7 seconds long, it has a six-part orchestra playing in it, each part comprising about sixty musicians.

Comparative mythology

A similar story exists in Hindu mythology with Nala and Damayanti where Nala separates from Damayanti and is reunited with her. The story of stringing a bow is similar to the description in Ramayana of Rama stringing the bow to win Sita's hand in marriage.

"Odysseus himself was the only one who was able to strain his bow … he beat his competitors and regained his wife after his long absence due to the Trojan War. We can discover the same theme … for example in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata …."

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Odysseus" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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