Odysseus – the Myths of Ancient Greece, Zaytsev Y.
Myths of Ancient Greece, as retold by Yu. V. Zaitsev, about the wanderings of Odysseus, king of the island of Ithaca. During his campaign, which lasted more than two decades, Odysseus lost his entire army and ships.
- The Road Home
- The Gift of Aeolus
- ♦ The Enchantress of Kirk
- ♦ Odysseus at the Pheacians
The Way Home
The Greeks returned with rich spoils, but not all were destined to see their homelands. The gods decided that the time of heroes must come to an end. There will come a new age, where there will be no place for the great warriors of the past. It was a long journey home for the Greeks. Many heroes died, and others barely made it home. But the hardest journey was that of Odysseus, king of the island of Ithaca.
Odysseus had hardly set sail from the shores of Troy when strong winds blew his ships out of the way, taking them farther and farther away from their homeland. And then the storm subsided. The ships docked on a flourishing island. Odysseus’ men needed to rest. But who lived there: friends or enemies? And Odysseus, taking a small detachment with him, set out to explore the island. By evening they came to a cave enclosed by large stones. Entering the courtyard, the sailors saw huge baskets of cheese and stables with goats and lambs. Alarm seized the friends of Odysseus when they realized that they were in the kiklop’s cave. The ferocious giants of the kyklops recognized no laws. They did not know how to cultivate the land or build ships, lived alone and herded their fat flocks in the plentiful meadows. Their appearance was terrible: they had one single round eye on their foreheads.
Kiklops possessed immense power. And the hearts of intrepid mariners trembled when the heavy footsteps of the giant drove the herd home. Entering the cave, the kiklop blocked the entrance with a rock. He lit a fire in the huge hearth and saw the frightened people.
Odysseus and the kyclops.
– Who are you vagabonds? How did you come to me? – The walls of the cave trembled at the voice of the kyklop.
– We have lost our way,” Odysseus answered him bravely. -We ask for your protection and hospitality. Zeus himself accompanies the guests.
С. Torelli. Neptune
– What do I care for Zeus and his laws,” laughed the giant. – I, Polyphemus the Cyclops, am stronger than all the Olympian gods. None of you will leave here alive!
And Polyphemus immediately took out the two companions of Odysseus.
The sailors could not escape from the evil Cyclops because the entrance was blocked by a huge rock.
But not for nothing they called Odysseus “cunning”: the king of Ithaca found a way to save himself and his friends. Odysseus presented Polyphemus with a cup of wine. Polyphemus had never tasted such a drink and, laden, he turned to Odysseus:
– Tell me your name and I promise you a gift. S. Torelli. Neptune
– My name is None,’ answered Odysseus.
– I will be the last to kill you! – laughed Polyphemus. – Here is my gift, Nobody!
When the wine had put the giant to sleep, the sailors sharpened a huge beam which lay in the cave and plunged the sharp end into the giant’s one eye. With a roar the blinded Polyphemus jumped up. Hearing his cry, other cyclopes ran to the entrance of the cave.
Д. Turner. Odysseus taunting Polyphemus.
– What’s wrong, Polyphemus? Who wants to destroy you by force or deceit?
– No one! No one could harm me by force, but I have ruined myself! – POLYPHEMUS screamed.
– If no one, why are you waking us up in the middle of the night? – the kiklops got angry. – Perhaps you are ill? Then ask your father, the great Poseidon, not us, to help you.
The Cyclopes are gone. At dawn, Polyphemus began to release his flock. Blocking the entrance, the blind giant groped each sheep so that the captives could not slip in on their backs. The foolish giant was unaware that Odysseus and his friends were leaving the cave, hiding under the belly of the rams.
And now the dreadful cave was behind, and the ships of the Greeks were out to sea. Scoffing, Odysseus shouted to Polyphemus:
– If they ask who robbed you of your eye, answer: Odysseus, king of Ithaca, blinded me!
And the furious Cyclops cried out:
– My father, the shaker of the seas, Poseidon! Make it impossible for Odysseus to return home! And if he should reach his homeland, let him first lose all his friends, let him return in a strange ship, and in his own house meet woe!
Ф. Boucher. Juno and Aeolus.
Odysseus laughed at the powerless howls of Polyphemus and sent his ship away. But Poseidon heard the request of his blinded son and promised to punish Odysseus.
The waves brought Odysseus’ ship to the island of Aeolus, Lord of the Winds. Aeolus hospitably received the travelers and for a whole month Odysseus and his friends enjoyed the hospitality of Aeolus. At Athena’s request, Aeolus gave Odysseus a goodbye gift.
– Here are enclosed all the stormy winds”, said Aeolus, handing Odysseus a bag, firmly tied with a silver thread. – ‘See, Odysseus, do not untie the bag until you arrive in Ithaca.
А. Carracci The Giant Who Tosses Rocks
By the will of Aeolus, the gentle wind Zephyr carried Odysseus’ ships to their homeland.
For nine days and nights Odysseus did not sleep a wink, afraid to lose his way. And now the lights of his beloved Ithaca appeared in the distance. It seemed the end of his wanderings… But then Odysseus fell asleep. While he slept, his curious companions thought that Aeolus must have given Odysseus rich gifts and untied the sack.
Immediately the indomitable winds broke loose and carried Odysseus’ ships backwards. Once again Odysseus found himself on the island of Aeolus. But in vain Odysseus begged him for a fair wind. “Sail home on your oars,” replied the angry Aeolus. Saddened, Odysseus left the island of the wind god.
A week passed before Odysseus’ ships reached land. Odysseus ordered to dock, not knowing how much misfortune this stop would bring them.
This island was unusual. Day and night alternated so quickly here that the shepherd who came out of the house at dawn, greeted those who brought him their flocks, at sunset. No sooner had the sailors rested than the masters of the island, the ferocious ogre giants Lestrigon, appeared and pelted the ships with huge stones. And only one ship, the one on which Odysseus himself sailed, managed to escape the terrible Lestrigonians.
The Enchantress of Kirk.
Only one ship was left to Odysseus. Having mourned their dead friends, the sailors continued their journey. Finally they reached a beautiful island. Having dragged the ship ashore, the wanderers decided to explore the area. Part of the crew, led by Odysseus, remained to guard the ship, while the rest went deep into the island. Odysseus was anxiously waiting for his friends: what would fate prepare them this time?
But of all the sailors who had gone to explore only one returned. With tears in his eyes he told:
“Odysseus at Kirki’s.
– We came to a beautiful palace. There were wild animals wandering around it, and they began to caress us like dogs. Then the beautiful queen came out of the palace and invited us in with a smile. Everyone followed her into the palace, and only I, sensing trouble, stayed outside. I saw in the window how the hostess, treating my companions, slipped some kind of potion into their food. And then she touched everyone with her rod and turned them into pigs!
Grabbing his sword, Odysseus rushed to the rescue of his friends. The palace was already very close, but at that moment the god Hermes appeared before Odysseus and held out a magic flower:
– Do not let it out of your hands and it will protect you from the enchantress Kirka.
With the flower in his hands Odysseus entered the palace. The insidious hostess was treating him to all kinds of viands, slipping a witch’s potion into them.
– Become a pig! – She struck Odysseus with her rod.
But the flower of god Hermes did not let the sorcery take place. Stunned Kirka saw how Odysseus jumped up and put his sword to her breast. The sorceress fell on her knees before Odysseus and begged for mercy. Conquered Kirka unearths the sailors and welcomes all the companions of Odysseus in her palace.
The travelers spent a whole year on the island of Kirka. But homesickness did not leave Odysseus.
– I will let you go,” Kirka finally said to Odysseus. – There are many dangers ahead of your ship, but I will teach you how to avoid trouble. But before you go home you must go to the realm of the dead and learn your fate.
The road to the kingdom of Hades was difficult. But Odysseus fearlessly entered the abode of the dead. Here he learnt that he would not return home soon – Poseidon was furious with him because he had blinded his son Polyphemus. The shadow of the great soothsayer Tiresias tells Odysseus that great troubles await him at home. Everyone on Ithaca thinks he is dead, and only Odysseus’ wife Penelope and his son Telemachus believe that the King will return. In the meantime, his house is plagued by unrest. Many suitors come to Ithaca to win the hand of the queen Penelope. They ravage the kingdom and hurt Penelope and Telemachus. But if Odysseus manages to reach his homeland, he will repay the dishonourable suitors in full.
With a heavy heart Odysseus continued his journey home. The fair wind sent by the sorceress Kirk was blowing the sails. And then an island appeared on which lived treacherous sirens – birds with the heads of women.
Fascinated by the sirens’ singing, the sailors steered their ships toward the island and perished, crashing on the rocks. Having learned from Kirk, Odysseus ordered his companions to cover their ears with wax so that they would not hear the sirens singing. Odysseus himself wanted very much to hear the enchanting voices. He ordered himself to be tied to a mast and commanded his companions:
– If I ask you to untie the ropes, you must tie me even tighter to the mast!
When they saw the ship, the sirens sang sweetly. But only Odysseus heard them. He shouted to his companions to release him, but they tied him to the mast even tighter. Odysseus was the only sailor who was able to hear the sirens’ singing and stayed alive.
The ship safely passed the ruinous island. But the sailors were to face an even more frightening ordeal. They were to sail through a narrow strait, on both sides of which were towering rocks. On one of these lived Skilla, a monster with six canine heads. On the other side was the fierce whirlpool of Charybdis. No one had ever sailed between Scylla and Charybdis.
Odysseus on the ship. Painting Vases
Odysseus’ ship rushed rapidly into the strait, and immediately Charybdis began to pull it into its bottomless throat. The ship, leaving Charybdis, approached the cliff on which Scylla lived, and the ferocious monster swept away six sailors.
Having miraculously escaped the terrible strait, Odysseus’ ship continued on its way. Ahead of the sailors was an island where the sun god Helios grazed his flocks. Having landed on this island, the poor shipmen waited a month for a fair wind. They ran out of provisions, and disobeying Odysseus, the sailors ate the bulls of the god Helios. Their punishment was a huge storm that killed everyone except Odysseus. He managed to grab hold of his mast and the waves carried him into the open sea…
Nine days Odysseus spent at sea, and at last the waves carried him ashore. Half dead he lay on the sand. His strength had completely left him. But suddenly, someone’s hands touched him. Odysseus opened his eyes and saw a beautiful maiden.
– Am I alive or dead? – whispered Odysseus. – Who are you and what is this shore?
– I am Calypso the nymph,” the beauty answered him, “and my island is called Ogygia.
А. Afonin . Odysseus and the Nymph Calypso
Calypso lived in a grotto of amazing beauty, the entrance to which was twined with a vine. Beside the grotto, four springs gurgled and abundant meadows verdant.
– Stay with me forever,” Calypso persuaded Odysseus. – I will give you immortality… Why should you return home? Only misfortune awaits you on Ithaca.
Odysseus spent seven years on Aegis. But no matter how hard Calypso tried, he did not forget his homeland and waited until Poseidon’s anger subsided. One day it happened that Poseidon went to the far corners of his domain. While he was away, the gods sent Hermes to Aegis.
– Rejoice, Odysseus,” Hermes appeared before the astonished king of Ithaca. – You are free! The gods are letting you go home!
Odysseus from happiness could not utter a word, and Hermes, waving his rod in farewell, shouted from high above:
– Hurry, before Poseidon returns!
Calypso did not want to let Odysseus go, but she could not go against the will of the gods. Calypso helped Odysseus to build a raft and gave him food and drink for the journey. After hugging her goodbye, Odysseus launched the raft into the water.
П. Lastman. Odysseus and Nabeshal to table of contents ↑
Odysseus at the Pheacians
A light tailwind drove Odysseus’ raft. But the wanderings of the King of Ithaca were not yet over. On his way home Poseidon spotted the fugitive. Suddenly a storm arose and a huge wave covered the raft. Odysseus struggled for life. And then a light-winged dive descended on the raft. It was the good goddess Leucophea. In its beak the whale was holding a wonderful blanket that saved him from storms. Wrapped in the blanket, Odysseus threw himself into the sea and swam.
He wrestled with the waves for two days until he reached the island of the hospitable Pheacians – famous sailors. Here he saw the beautiful Nausicaia, daughter of the king of the Theacians, who had come to the stream with her friends. The kind Nausicaia took Odysseus to her father, and Alcinoe ordered him to take Odysseus to Ithaca. On the way Odysseus fell asleep. Not daring to disturb his sound sleep, the Pheacians carried Odysseus to dry land and laid him on the shore of his native island. On their way back, an angry Poseidon struck their ship with his hand and turned it and the crew into stone. From that time on, never again did the good Pheacians see the wanderers off…
Waking up, Odysseus could not for a long time understand where he was: the goddess Athena had enveloped the island in a mist. Soon Athena herself appeared to Odysseus – his good patroness
– Know this, Odysseus,” she said, “while you were gone, a hundred and twelve of the most noble young men came to Ithaca to marry Penelope and get your throne. But faithful Penelope is still waiting for you. She said she would give her answer to the suitors as soon as she finished weaving a veil for your father Laertes. She weaved during the day and in the evening she unraveled what she had made during the day; for three whole years the suitors could not unravel her cunning. And all that time, Odysseus, they lived in your house and plundered your goods. But take your time,” she said to the furious Odysseus. I will help you to overcome the wily suitors.
Е. Demakov. Odysseus
Athena turned Odysseus into an old man and dressed him in rags. No one could recognize the king of Ithaca in this guise. Only his son Telemachus revealed himself to Odysseus. Having asked him to keep silent about his meeting with his father, Odysseus, as a beggar, came to his palace.
court. No one recognized the king and Odysseus was mocked by the suitors and even by his own servants.
Meanwhile, the suitors figured out Penelope’s trick with the veil. And then Penelope announced that she agreed to marry the one who would bend Odysseus’ mighty bow and put an arrow through the holes in the twelve axes. But none of the suitors could even draw the bowstring. Only Telemachus almost succeeded in bending his bow, but under Odysseus’ menacing gaze he put away his weapon.
В. Pinturicchio Penelope with her petitioners
The suitors did not think that the beggarly old man was the great hero Odysseus, and so, laughing, allowed him to take part in the contest. Easily drew the bowstring, Odysseus fired an arrow through the holes of all twelve axes. Then Athena gave Odysseus back his real appearance. Not a frail old man, but a mighty warrior, the master of Ithaca, the suitors saw.
Ч. Eckersberg The Return of Odysseus
A heated battle began. Taking his spear, Telemachus stood beside his father. Together they struck down the dishonourable suitors, repaying all wrongs. When the fight was over, Odysseus warmly embraced his faithful wife and beloved son.
Ithaca – the island of Odysseus
Among the many Greek islands there are some that we have known since childhood, and yet are so densely shrouded in a mythical haze that the imagination itself draws pictures that one would certainly expect to see live on them. Ithaca is undoubtedly one of these.
Who among us, as a child, hasn’t read Homer’s Odyssey and worried about the cunning hero of the Trojan War who took 10 years to get home? Thanks to the Odyssey, the island of Ithaca is not just one of the Greek islands, it is a symbol of the striving and perseverance of a traveler determined to return to his homeland, to the woman and child he loved.
The Greek island of Ithaca
Today the inhabitants of the island of Ithaca are not inferior to the famous ancestor in cunning and in full exploit his name, although there are still minds in the world, putting under doubt the existence of a real Odysseus. Well, we are not one of them…
Before we go directly to the island of Ithaca, let’s say a few more words about its history outside the Odyssey.
Mountainous and green Ithaca is a stark contrast to the Aegean islands.
Ithaca has been inhabited since the third millennium B.C. and has long been famous as an island of seafarers. Finds from the Mycenaean era confirm the fact that Ithaca at the assumed period of the Trojan War already maintained close ties with mainland Greece.
This connection was not severed later on: in the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic eras. In the following centuries, the Venetians, the French and the English managed to visit the island of Ithaca.
For a time, the island also served as a pirate base from which the lucky trappers made raids. And in 1864, along with the other Ionian Islands, Ithaca became part of Greece.
How to get to Ithaca
Ithaca has no airport, so those who prefer to travel by air, should look closely at the airport on the neighboring island of Kefalonia.
If you are not afraid of long journeys, however, everything is much easier. You can get to Ithaca by regular buses departing from Terminal A in Athens.
Ithaca is connected to the mainland by regular ferry routes
The terminal address and a tentative schedule can be found here. The journey to Ithaca takes 7 and a half hours and involves a ferry crossing.
Speaking of ferries in general, the island of Ithaca is connected to mainland Greece by regular sea routes from Astakos and Patras in the Peloponnese.
There are also ferries to Ithaca from Kefalonia, Lefkada, Corfu and other islands.
You can find ferry schedules and buy ship tickets online at this link. If you have never bought tickets for Greek ferries before we recommend our step-by-step guide.
With the advent of online reservation systems, selecting a hotel in Ithaca and booking a room has become much easier. Grekoblog, for example, regularly uses Booking.com. You can also search directly on a map of the island to stay in the most comfortable place.
Climate and Weather of Ithaca
Ithaca has a Mediterranean climate with characteristically long, hot summers and short, mild winters.
The season in Ithaca lasts from May to mid-September, although the weather and sea temperatures often allow you to enjoy the beach until the end of October inclusive.
Ithaca’s hottest months are July and August. During the peak season the thermometer column can easily reach 35-40C. But the best time to visit Ithaca is May and September, when the temperature usually ranges around a comfortable 25C.
However, in May it may be a little early to swim in Ithaca, but in September it is just right.
Vafi, the capital and main port of Ithaca, is located deep in a natural bay and is strikingly cozy.
Although Vathi is not a large town it has an archaeological museum with interesting items from the Mycenaean period and a Library with many editions of Homer, including some very rare ones.
It is worth visiting the church of Taxiarhos in Vathi, famous for the icon painted by the hand of the young El Greco.
Stavros, the second largest town in Ithaca, also has a small archaeological museum.
The pier at the village of Kioni
Its main feature is an ancient mask on which you can clearly see the word “Odysseus” in ancient Greek transcription, of course. Here – in Stavros – there is also a monument to Odysseus.
Located 20 km from the capital of Ithaca, Vafi, the village Frickes has a small port from which the ships sail to Kefallenia and Lefkada. It is a small and lovely resort popular with windsurfers.
The monastery of Cafaron was built in the seventeenth century and is located 600 meters above sea level. The slopes of the mountain that leads to the monastery are thickly covered with strawberry trees and abound with beautiful views.
In the Monastery of Cafaron there is a miraculous icon of Our Lady, whose power is evidenced by numerous tablets of thanksgiving.
The capital of Ithaca, Vathi, is situated deep in a natural bay
The monastery of Taxiarhes is another famous monastery of Ithaca from the 17th century. It was destroyed in an earthquake in 1953 and its main temple had to be rebuilt.
At a distance of 3 km from Vathi is another remarkable place, the Cave of the Nymphs. It is the place where, according to tradition, Odysseus hid the treasure of Theaca.
Although Ithaca is a relatively small island, it has numerous beaches for all tastes, both pebbly and sandy.
If you are staying in the capital of Ithaca, Vathi, the nearest organized beach is located at Filiatro Cove, 3 km from the island’s capital: white pebbles, crystal water and surrounded by lush green vegetation.
If you like sand, you can head to Dexa beach, also very close to Vathi. Loneliness lovers will love the beach of Gidaki, 5km northeast of the island’s capital.
In Ithaca there are a lot of small, sheltered coves
Agios Ioannis is one of the most beautiful sandy beaches of Ithaca, located 9km from Vathi. The fine golden sand and the emerald-colored water are the main features of this beach.
For vacationers in Stavros, the beach Polis can be recommended as one of the best beaches in the north of Ithaca.
There is no problem with beaches on Ithaca, and wherever you go on your trip around the island, there is sure to be a great cove nearby that will suit you.