Odysseus was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and a hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. Odysseus also played a key role in Homer's Iliad. He was one of the most influential Greek champions during the Trojan War, and a trusted counsellor and advisor.
Odysseus has traditionally been viewed in the Iliad as Achilles's antithesis: while Achilles's anger is all-consuming and of a self-destructive nature, Odysseus is frequently viewed as a man of the mean.
He is an eloquent speaker, and renowned for his self-restraint, cunning, guile, versatility and diplomatic skills. The famous Trojan Horse ploy was his crafty idea, and he led the warriors inside.
Odysseus is best known as the hero of the Odyssey. This epic describes his travails, which lasted for 10 years, as he tries to return home in a long journey after the Trojan War and reassert his place as rightful king of Ithaca.
Primary themes of the Odyssey include (among others) perseverance, patience and endurance - through bitter experiences, separation, temptations and long-distance travel. As referenced in the following examples, both Odysseus - and his wife Penelope - demonstrate these virtues.
On the way home from Troy, Odysseus and his twelve ships were driven off course by storms. His crew comes across lethargic Lotus-Eaters and then are captured by a Cyclops. The Cyclops started eating the men, so Odysseus used a barrel of wine as bait. The Cyclops drank it, falling asleep. Odysseus and his men took a wooden stake, blinded the Cyclops and escaped.
Odysseus and his men re-embarked and encountered cannibals. Odysseus' ship was the only one to escape. His lone ship sailed on and visited the witch-goddess Circe. She turned half of his men into swine. Circe, being attracted to Odysseus' resistance, fell in love with him. Odysseus and his crew remained with her on the island for one year.
Odysseus and his crew left Circe, skirted the land of the Sirens, passed the six-headed monster Scylla and made it past the whirlpool Charybdis, losing six men in the process.
Having survived all that, the remaining crew was shipwrecked during a thunderstorm in which everyone but Odysseus drowned. He was washed ashore on an island, where Calypso compelled him to remain as her captive lover for seven years before he finally escaped.
Odysseus was shipwrecked again, but was befriended by the Phaeacians. After telling them his story, the Phaeacians sailed him to Ithaca, and delivered him under cover of night to a hidden harbor.
Disguised as a wandering beggar, Odysseus returned to his home, where for 10 long, lonely years his wife Penelope had been patiently, loyally waiting for his return. She waited not knowing if Odysseus was alive or dead or if news would ever arrive in her lifetime. When Odysseus gets home, he finds his wife threatened and harassed by aggressive suitors taking advantage of his long absence. Penelope, not knowing the true identity of the wandering beggar, announces in his presence that whichever suitor can string her missing husband Odysseus's rigid bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe shafts may have her hand.
When the contest of the bow begins, none of the suitors is able to string the bow but then, after all the suitors have given up, the disguised Odysseus comes along, bends the bow, shoots the arrow, and wins the contest. Having done so, he proceeds to dispatch and terminate all the suitors.
Penelope cannot believe that her husband has really returned after 10 years or that the wandering beggar is him, but finally accepts it as true when Odysseus confirms an intimate fact about construction of their wooden bed frame that only the two of them would ever know.
In Odysseus' own words:
"A man who has endured bitter experiences and travelled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time."
"Be strong, says my heart; I am a soldier; I have seen worse sights than this."
Odysseus resisting the temptations of the Sirens