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Odysseus the Stranger

The Worlds of Homer and Odysseus





Our world could scarcely be more different from that of Odysseus (Ulixes, Ulysses) in The Odyssey.

"Tell me, O Muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide
after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit,
and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was
acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save
his own life and bring his men safely home ...."

Odyssey Book 1.1ff

In the World of Odysseus Gods Walked Among Men

It's not so much that gods walked and talked among mortals -- although today there are sometimes dire consequences for people claiming to hear divine voices.

"A certain man has been abroad many years; he is alone, and the god Poseidon keeps a hostile eye on him. At home the situation is that suitors for his wife's hand are draining his resources and plotting to kill his son. Then, after suffering storm and shipwreck, he comes home, makes himself known, attacks the suitors: he survives and they are destroyed."
-Aristotle's summary of The Odyssey according to Robert Fagles on the PBS March 13, 1997 Online News Hour.

In the World of Odysseus There Were Fantastic Temptresses

Nor does the difference lie in the existence of monsters and fantastic, villainous temptresses like the Sirens, Circe, or Calypso [see People in the Odyssey.]. Such vixens hardly seem out of place today with our daily dose of television and tabloids.

"First you will come to the Sirens
who enchant all who come near them. If any one unwarily draws in too
close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children
will never welcome him home again...."

Odyssey XII
<{>No, the major difference is:


In antiquity children read and memorized the Epics of Homer (Iliad and Odyssey) because they showed patterns and standards of behavior citizens were expected to emulate. Among these was the all-important ethic of hospitality.

Etiquette vs. Safety

Today, if we're wise, we don't open our bolted doors to strangers without proof of identity, we fear hitch-hikers, and we expect visitors to bring a dish or bottle of wine when they come for a visit. Rules of etiquette (www.history.rochester.edu/ehp-book/yefhas/chap22.htm) require us to make our guests feel at home, but not to make people we don't know our guests.

Strangers are the bogey-men we warn our children about. This hasn't always been the case.

Before the advent of coins, credit cards, Motel 6, and McDonalds, hospitality to strangers saved lives. And it had its rules, the most infamous breakers of which are Penelope's suitors.


Poseidon's son, the cyclops Polyphemus got his just deserts after he helped himself to Odysseus' crewmen instead of serving them meals. Even a cyclops was expected to provide food for the wanderers. Loss of an eye was suitable punishment, especially since it was the only way crafty Odysseus could think of to escape.

Too bad Odysseus wasn't simply wily, but also full of pride. If he hadn't been, he wouldn't have revealed his name to Polyphemus. Poseidon's torments at sea were the god's revenge since Polyphemus was son to Poseidon (Roman: Neptune) by the nymph Thoosa, daughter to the sea-king Phorcys; therefore, although he will not kill Odysseus (Roman: Ulysses) outright, Poseidon torments him by preventing him from getting home.


In contrast to Polyphemus, Alcinous, King of the Phaeacians, offers hospitality without even knowing who Odysseus is, although he suspects his guest of being a god. Not only hospitality, but first his daughter, Nausicaa, and then an escort home -- even after the unknown stranger assures him he's only mortal.
"Then he sat down on the hearth among the ashes and they all held
their peace, till presently the old hero Echeneus, who was an
excellent speaker and an elder among the Phaeacians, plainly and in
all honesty addressed them thus:"

"'Alcinous,' said he, 'it is not creditable to you that a stranger>br> should be seen sitting among the ashes of your hearth ... tell him, then, to rise and take a
seat on a stool inlaid with silver ... and let the housekeeper give him some supper, of
whatever there may be in the house.'"

Odyssey VII


Menelaus explains the importance of hospitality when 2 noble strangers (Telemachus, son of Odysseus, and Peisistratos, son of King Nestor of Pylos) appear at his home. Like Alcinous, he doesn't require their names before providing them with the king's portion of a feast, although he does guess Telemachus' paternity.

"'Menelaus, there are some strangers come
here, two men, who look like sons of Jove. What are we to do? Shall we
take their horses out, or tell them to find friends elsewhere as
they best can?'"

"Menelaus was very angry and said, 'Eteoneus, son of Boethous, you
never used to be a fool, but now you talk like a simpleton. Take their
horses out, of course, and show the strangers in that they may have
supper; you and I have stayed often enough at other people's houses
before we got back here, where heaven grant that we may rest in
peace henceforward.'"

Odyssey IV


  • Odyssey, translated by Robert Fitzgerald.
  • The Odyssey
    1997 translation by Robert Fagles.
  • Odyssey, by Neil Philip and Peter Malone, for ages 9-12.
  • The Adventures of Ulysses, by Bernard Evslin, for ages 9-12.
  • The Odyssey, Loeb bilingual edition Vol II.
  • The Odyssey, Loeb bilingual edition Volume I.
  • The Children's Homer,YA PB by Padraic Colum.

Homeric Questions

Part I: The Discovery of Troy
Part II: The Great Homer Nodding
Part III: But is it Troy?
Part IV: Tale of Troy or Iliad?
Part V: Mycenean Culture
Part VI: Odysseus the Stranger

Odyssey Translation

- Book 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24

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