Why does Athena feel bad for Odysseus?
He was the most popular and clever legend hero of the Greeks. As king of Ithaca, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, according to legend, he fought against Troy. The Greeks owed their victory to his cunning after ten years of siege. But another ten years passed before he could return to his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus. The legend reports that he and his companions made fun of the gods several times and they then prevented them from returning home. Even today, the term "odyssey" is a symbol in many languages for an arduous undertaking or a journey with numerous obstacles.
The ancient story about the cunning seafarer Odysseus comes from the pen of the Greek poet Homer from the 8th century BC. Homer had already written the story of the destruction of Troy - the "Iliad". Now there should be a sequel that appeared in a total of 24 chants consisting of 12,200 verses. The structure of the story is rather complicated because like any good narrator, Homer wants to keep the tension going. Therefore, he works with flashbacks to the past, insertions or actions that run side by side.
Ancient stories like the Odyssey are also called epics. They were passed on orally and told of historical events or mythological and fairytale acts. In addition, the poems were written down in verse - the classic meter of the Greek epics was the "hexameter", in which the wanderings of Odysseus are also told. They were performed and passed on by wandering singers, the so-called "rhapsodes". At that time, very few people were able to read or write and so we were happy about the traveling singers and their exciting adventure stories. If one reads the first verses of the Odyssey out loud, one understands why the meter was so well suited for reading. It had a very special rhythm that helped the singers remember the storyline:
"Tell me, muse, the deeds of the wandering man,
Who erred so far after the destruction of Holy Troy,
Of many people have seen cities and learned the customs,
And suffered so much unspeakable suffering on the sea,
To save his soul and return his friends. "
A homecoming with obstacles
The epic begins with the gods' decision to allow Odysseus to return home to Ithaca after all. At this point in time, our hero has been on the island of Ogygia for seven years, which is inhabited by the nymph Calypso. In Greek mythology, nymphs are nature goddesses of low rank who live in forests, meadows, bodies of water or mountains and are endowed with supernatural powers.
Calypso had taken in Odysseus after defeating Troy after a violent storm drove him off course. Although she hoped to be able to bind the shipwrecked man to her with immortality and eternal youth, she must finally let him go at the request of the gods. Odysseus receives an ax and hatchet so that he can build a raft with which he leaves the island shortly afterwards. In the meantime, the goddess Athene appears to Odysseus' wife Penelope in the form of an old friend and asks her son Telemachus to look for the missing King Ithakas.
Odysseus sets sail with his raft, but the sea god Poseidon, whom the courageous seafarer has previously annoyed, sends a storm in which Odysseus is shipwrecked again. He is stranded on the island of Scheria, where he is found by Nausicaa, the daughter of King Alcinous. The king welcomes the stranger, who does not want to give his name at first, in a friendly manner. On two consecutive nights, Odysseus tells of his wanderings. At the end of his description, which is designed as a retrospective, the hero finally reveals himself. But first he tells King Alcinous about the victory over Troy, which he and his warriors finally leave with twelve ships. After a failed attack on the Thracian Kikonen, allied with the Trojans, the Ithacians are caught again in a storm that takes them to the land of the lotus eaters. While exploring the island, two of Odysseus' men get to know the peaceful lotus eaters, who feed them from their intoxicating fruits. As a result, the warriors forget the purpose of their journey. Only by force can Odysseus bring the men back on board, whereupon everyone quickly turns their backs on the island.
Odysseus outwits the giant Polyphemus
Water and food on board are slowly becoming scarce, which is why Odysseus and his companions decide to land on the island of the Cyclops. The Cyclops were one-eyed giants who lived on the island as shepherds. As expected, Odysseus immediately takes on the greatest of the Cyclops, Polyphemus, and is immediately locked in a cave with his men. There Polyphemus begins to eat the first men from Odysseus' crew. But Odysseus, who introduces himself to the giant with the name "Nobody", can engage him in a conversation and ultimately make him drunk.
With a glowing stake they stab the snoring Polyphemus out of the eye. When this the other Cyclops with the words "Nobody blinded me!" calls for help, everyone thinks he's crazy. Odysseus and his friends can escape the cave by clinging to the sheep's peritoneum. Back at sea I insist on mocking Polyphemus and revealing his real name to Odysseus. Unfortunately, he did not take into account that Polyphemus is the son of the sea god Poseidon. He calls his father for help and Odysseus and his crew get caught in a terrible storm.
A sack full of wind and a pissing sorceress
Once again completely off course, Odysseus lands on the floating island of the wind god Aiolos. There he is received in a hospitable manner and when he leaves he is given a sack in which Aiolos locks all unfavorable winds so that Odysseus can finally return home. When the weather is fine, the men set sail, but shortly before Ithaca, the curiosity of the team wins, who want to know why Odysseus is keeping a sack like the apple of his eye. In an unobserved moment, they finally open the sack, releasing all the winds. When they are back in front of Aiolo's door shortly afterwards, Aiolos refuses any further help.
Left on their own, the team ends up shortly afterwards with the Laistrygonen, man-eating giants, to which some fall victim. Finally, Odysseus arrives with his last ship on the island of Aiaia, where the sorceress Zirze / Kirke lives. She likes to turn Odysseus' companions into pigs and it is only thanks to the help of the messenger of the gods Hermes and the sacred herb Moly that Odysseus is spared the effects of her magic potion. Zirze falls in love with Odysseus and "charms" him for a long time so that he stays with her. By the way, that's where the word comes from, it means "to ensnare". But Odysseus does not allow himself to be dissuaded from his wish to return home soon. So she advises him to go to the already dead clairvoyant Teiresias in the underworld and ask for advice.
Bloodthirsty souls and singing sirens
Odysseus is not that certain when he finally reaches the gates of the underworld. Up to now, no mortal has dared to cross the boundaries of Hades. Odysseus sacrifices a sheep whose fresh blood attracts the dead. He then drives away the souls with his sword until the seer Teiresias appears. He warns him of Poseidon's anger because he blinded Polyphemus. In addition, Odysseus is said to keep away from the cattle of the sun god Helios. Should anything happen to them, Odysseus' companions and ships would sink and he himself would return alone and unrecognized. After Odysseus meets his deceased mother and many fallen companions from the Trojan War, he leaves the underworld in horror.
His next destination is the islands of the sirens, whose magical singing has already become the undoing of many sailors. Because while they listened to the seductive voices, their ships crashed on the dangerous cliffs. But Odysseus is clever: he stuffs wax into the ears of his sailors so that they don't hear the sirens' lures. He then lets himself be tied to the ship's mast and threatens his men not to untie him under any circumstances. Only his ears remain free so that he can hear the wonderful singing, and so the crew sails past the sirens unmolested.
Between Scylla and Charybdis
Even today we use the expression "to stand between Scylla and Charybdis" to mean that we have to choose between two evils. When Odysseus crossed the strait between mainland Italy and Sicily with his ship, he found out firsthand what was meant by that. According to legend, Charybdis was a sea monster, which one has to imagine like a great suction that sucks in water and ships three times a day and spits it out again broken into rubble.
Opposite is Skylla, once a young girl who fell in love with the same man as the sorceress Kirke. In order to eliminate the annoying rival, Kirke poisoned the sea in which Skylla liked to bathe. Skylla became a beast with six dog heads and twelve paws. From then on she lurks on her rock and devours every sailor who sails past it. Odysseus, who passes too close to her rock, also loses six of his men.
Exhausted and starved, the team finally reaches the island of the sun god Helios, who drives his sun chariot across the sky every day and brings the day to earth. Even though Odysseus impressed on his men that the cattle are sacred, they eventually hunt them down and throw a huge barbecue. As a punishment, the entire team is killed in a storm and Teiresia's prophecy that Odysseus would return alone is fulfilled. Odysseus rescues himself on the island of the nymph Calypso, where he stays for seven years before ending up as a shipwreck with King Alcinous on the island of the Phaiacs.
The long-awaited return
The review ends here. King Alcinous gives the returnees rich presents and enables him to return to Ithaca. A different wind blows there, however, as numerous princes have laid claim to the throne and the hand of Penelope. It is only thanks to one of Penelope's cunning that no wedding has taken place: she would first like to finish weaving her father-in-law Laertes' shirt before deciding on a bridegroom. The suitors do not know, however, that during the night Penelope unravel everything that she had woven the day before. While waiting for their decision, they plunder Odysseus' property and enrich themselves with his treasures.
When Odysseus lands on Ithaca, Athena appears to him, who warns him of the conditions at his court. She transforms him into an old beggar so that he can scout out the situation at his court undetected. Only his old dog Argos and the maid Eurycleia recognize him. Finally he reveals himself to his son Telemachos and together they plan to return to the royal court.
In the meantime, Athena appears to Penelope and advises her to have Odysseus' old bow fetched. Anyone who can cock it and shoot it through the loops of twelve axes should become her husband. The suitors try their luck in vain until Odysseus finally shoots the arrow through all the eyelets. Then he reveals himself, has all the doors locked and with his son fights down all suitors.
One final test
But Penelope does not recognize Odysseus. When he claims to be her long-missing husband, she tests him. He asked him to describe the bedroom with the double bed that Odysseus made from the trunk of a single olive tree. Nobody but the two of them knows about this secret, and when Odysseus answers correctly, she too can look forward to his return.
Now everything will finally be fine and even in the underworld the fallen heroes from the Trojan War praise Odysseus' victorious homecoming. Athena appeases the relatives of the slain princes and ensures peace. This ends one of the greatest epics in world literature, the focus of which is not only on the exciting adventures of a cunning seafarer, but also on the subject of homesickness, which keeps the hero from giving up and abandoning himself to his fate.
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