/oh dis"ee euhs, oh dis"yoohs/, n. Class. Myth.
king of Ithaca; son of Laertes; one of the heroes of the Iliad and protagonist of the Odyssey: shrewdest of the Greek leaders in the Trojan War. Latin, Ulysses.

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Hero of Homer's Odyssey.

According to Homer, Odysseus was the king of Ithaca. His shrewdness, resourcefulness, and endurance enabled him to capture Troy (through the device of the Trojan horse) and endure nine years of wandering and adventures before reaching his home in Ithaca, where his wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus, awaited him. Classical opinion was divided on whether he was an unscrupulous politician or a wise and honourable statesman. Odysseus has been one of the most frequently portrayed figures in literature, treated by numerous Greek and Roman poets and by later writers such as William Shakespeare (Troilus and Cressida), Níkos Kazantzákis (The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel), and (metaphorically) by James Joyce (Ulysses) and Derek Walcott (Omeros).

Odysseus slaying the suitors, detail of a red-figure skyphos ...

Courtesy of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ger.
(as used in expressions)
Elytis Odysseus
Odysseus Alepoudhelis
Grant Ulysses S.
Hiram Ulysses Grant
Kay Ulysses Simpson

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Latin  Ulixes,  English  Ulysses, 
 hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey and one of the most frequently portrayed figures in Western literature. According to Homer, Odysseus was king of Ithaca, son of Laertes and Anticleia (the daughter of Autolycus of Parnassus), and father, by his wife, Penelope, of Telemachus. (In later tradition, Odysseus was instead the son of Sisyphus and fathered sons by Circe, Calypso, and others.)

      Homer portrayed Odysseus as a man of outstanding wisdom and shrewdness, eloquence, resourcefulness, courage, and endurance. In the Iliad, Odysseus appears as the man best suited to cope with crises in personal relations among the Greeks, and he plays a leading part in achieving the reconciliation between Agamemnon and Achilles. His bravery and skill in fighting are demonstrated repeatedly, and his wiliness is shown most notably in the night expedition he undertakes with Diomedes against the Trojans.

      Odysseus's wanderings and the recovery of his house and kingdom are the central theme of the Odyssey, an epic in 24 books that also relates how he accomplished the capture of Troy by means of the wooden horse (Trojan horse). Books VI–XIII describe his wanderings between Troy and Ithaca: he first comes to the land of the Lotus-Eaters (Lotus-Eater) and only with difficulty rescues some of his companions from their lōtos-induced lethargy; he encounters and blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops, a son of Poseidon, escaping from his cave by clinging to the belly of a ram; he loses 11 of his 12 ships to the cannibalistic Laistrygones and reaches the island of the enchantress Circe, where he has to rescue some of his companions whom she had turned into swine. Next he visits the Land of Departed Spirits, where he speaks to the spirit of Agamemnon and learns from the Theban seer Tiresias how he can expiate Poseidon's wrath. He then encounters the Sirens (Siren), Scylla and Charybdis, and the Cattle of the Sun, which his companions, despite warnings, plunder for food. He alone survives the ensuing storm and reaches the idyllic island of the nymph Calypso.

      After almost nine years, Odysseus finally leaves Calypso and at last arrives in Ithaca, where his wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus, have been struggling to maintain their authority during his prolonged absence. Recognized at first only by his faithful dog and a nurse, Odysseus proves his identity—with the aid of Athena—by accomplishing Penelope's test of stringing and shooting with his old bow. He then, with the help of Telemachus and two slaves, slays Penelope's suitors. Penelope still does not believe him and gives him one further test. But at last she knows it is he and accepts him as her long-lost husband and the king of Ithaca.

      In the Odyssey Odysseus has many opportunities to display his talent for ruses and deceptions; but at the same time, his courage, loyalty, and magnanimity are constantly attested. Classical Greek writers presented him sometimes as an unscrupulous politician, sometimes as a wise and honourable statesman. Philosophers usually admired his intelligence and wisdom. Some Roman writers (including Virgil and Statius) tended to disparage him as the destroyer of Rome's mother city, Troy; others (such as Horace and Ovid) admired him. The early Christian writers praised him as an example of the wise pilgrim. Dramatists have explored his potentialities as a man of policies; and romanticists have seen him as a Byronic adventurer. In fact, each era has reinterpreted “the man of many turns” in its own way, without destroying the archetypal figure.

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Universalium. 2010.

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