Nostos (Return, or Homecoming) Nostos (Return, or Homecoming)




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Nostos (Return, or Homecoming)

  • Nostos (Return, or Homecoming)

  • Invocation (1.1-25).



Primary Epic:

  • Primary Epic:

    • No single author (each is a product of the oral tradition)
    • Written down after centuries of oral transmission — e. g., Beowulf and The Iliad/ The Odyssey
    • Secondary Epic:
      • A single, gifted poet such as Virgil or Milton composes a work that imitates a folk epic. The Aeneid and Paradise Lost, for example, involved considerable research and have the style of earlier epics.


The Telemachy (adventures/wanderings of Telemakhos, Odysseus’ son) (Books 1-4)

  • The Telemachy (adventures/wanderings of Telemakhos, Odysseus’ son) (Books 1-4)

  • The Homecoming of Odysseus from Troy to Ithaka (Books 5-8, 13.1-13.187)

  • The Great Wanderings of Odysseus (narrated by Odysseus himself)

  • (Books 9-12)

  • 4) Odysseus on Ithaka (Books 13.187-24).



Important epithets: resourceful Odysseus, thoughtful Telemakhos, circumspect Penelope (careful).

  • Important epithets: resourceful Odysseus, thoughtful Telemakhos, circumspect Penelope (careful).

  • Recurring themes: xenia (foreigner, the sacred guest); metis (tricky intelligence).

  • Role of the gods: much diminished from the Iliad. Poseidon hinders Odysseus, Athena helps him; other minor deities help or hinder him.

  • Odysseus’ timeline: 10 years fighting at Troy, 10 years trying to get home. (wandering hero)



Odysseus’ oikos (family) is in big trouble. Over 100 aristocratic men are besieging his wife and eating up his wealth.

  • Odysseus’ oikos (family) is in big trouble. Over 100 aristocratic men are besieging his wife and eating up his wealth.

  • Penelope mourns for her lost husband.



Book 1 sets up important themes that we will see throughout the epic:

  • Book 1 sets up important themes that we will see throughout the epic:

  • Homecoming (nostos)

  • Family (oikos)

  • Hospitality (xenia)

  • Marriage



In the Odyssey, Zeus sounds the theme of human moral responsibility.

  • In the Odyssey, Zeus sounds the theme of human moral responsibility.

  • “Oh for shame, how mortals put the blame on us gods, for they say evils come from us, but it is they, rather, who by their own recklessness win sorrow beyond what is given.”

  • Context of the quote: Zeus is thinking about Aigisthos, whom he had warned not to kill Agamemnon, but who had done so anyway, thus bringing about his own murder by Orestes (Agamemnon’s son).



Hermes goes to Kalypso to tell her to let Odysseus go as Athena travels to Telemakhos in disguise.

  • Hermes goes to Kalypso to tell her to let Odysseus go as Athena travels to Telemakhos in disguise.

  • Athena characterizes the suitors.

  • The first four books set up Odysseus’ eventual return and need for revenge.



What does Telemakhos think has happened to his father?

  • What does Telemakhos think has happened to his father?

  • What does the disguised Athena tell Telemakhos he must do?



Archetype! Telemakhos must leave boyhood behind and become a man before his father returns. The story of how a boy grows up and becomes a man has remained since The Odyssey in the form of a principal story type in Western literature.

  • Archetype! Telemakhos must leave boyhood behind and become a man before his father returns. The story of how a boy grows up and becomes a man has remained since The Odyssey in the form of a principal story type in Western literature.

  • In Book 2, we get the assembly of the Ithakans and the departure of Telemakhos.



This is the first assembly called in 20 years.

  • This is the first assembly called in 20 years.

  • Telemakhos throws down scepter, bursting into tears (86-90)

  • We hear of Penelope’s trick (demonstrates her metis).

  • Telemakhos threatens divine retribution against the suitors (omen of eagles fighting).

  • Halitherses predicts Odysseus’ return and the slaughter of the suitors.

  • Suitor response: 2.119-137.



Athena has appeared three times so far to help Telemakhos; while Odysseus is lost at sea, she never appears.

  • Athena has appeared three times so far to help Telemakhos; while Odysseus is lost at sea, she never appears.

  • What are the people doing in Pylos when Telemakhos arrives?

  • How does Telemakhos react when the boat lands? What does Athena tell him to do? (3.15-29)

  • How do the Pylians receive him?



Nestor sings his own nostos (homecoming), the sorrow of the Greeks at Troy, and what happened to Agamemnon (2nd mention in the epic, mentioned briefly twice then told in full at 274-337).

  • Nestor sings his own nostos (homecoming), the sorrow of the Greeks at Troy, and what happened to Agamemnon (2nd mention in the epic, mentioned briefly twice then told in full at 274-337).

  • Nestor tells of Odysseus’ close relationship with Athena (235-241).

  • Nestor holds out the example of Orestes, a young man raised without his father, who nevertheless was “man enough” to kill his father’s killer. What does he imply?



What does Nestor tell Telemakhos to do next?

  • What does Nestor tell Telemakhos to do next?

  • When does Telemakhos realize that Mentor was really Athena? (3.402-3.412)



What are the Spartans doing when Telemakhos arrives, and how do they receive him? Why is this important?

  • What are the Spartans doing when Telemakhos arrives, and how do they receive him? Why is this important?



Helen slips a drug that dulls pain into the wine.

  • Helen slips a drug that dulls pain into the wine.

  • Who tells tales of Odysseus, and what kinds?

  • Helen (O. in disguise as beggar in Troy)



To counter Helen’s claim to have helped Odysseus in his Trojan-killing, Menelaos praises O. for keeping the Greeks inside the horse from responding when Helen imitated their wives’ voices!

  • To counter Helen’s claim to have helped Odysseus in his Trojan-killing, Menelaos praises O. for keeping the Greeks inside the horse from responding when Helen imitated their wives’ voices!



Parallels Odysseus’ tale on a smaller scale.

  • Parallels Odysseus’ tale on a smaller scale.

  • He tells us info he received from Proteus (Ancient of the Sea):

  • Death of Lesser Ajax (Aias)

  • Death of Agamemnon (3rd time, from Proteus’ p.o.v.)

  • Odysseus’ fate on Kalypso’s island.



What gift does Menelaos offer Telemakhos? What does Telemakhos ask for instead? What does this tell us?

  • What gift does Menelaos offer Telemakhos? What does Telemakhos ask for instead? What does this tell us?

  • Meanwhile, back at the ranch: what are the suitors planning?



  • Motif: woman as hinderer

  • Hermes tells her to let Odysseus go; she allows him to build a raft and sail off.

  • Poseidon notices him, sends a storm, shipwrecks him.

  • Odysseus is rescued by Ino-Leukotheia.



In mythic terms, the Odyssey is the story of a man who returns from the dead. Odysseus is trapped at the ‘navel of the sea,’ where our world meets the next. Kalypso’s name means ‘concealer,’ and Hades, the ‘unseen,’ conceals the dead underground.

  • In mythic terms, the Odyssey is the story of a man who returns from the dead. Odysseus is trapped at the ‘navel of the sea,’ where our world meets the next. Kalypso’s name means ‘concealer,’ and Hades, the ‘unseen,’ conceals the dead underground.

  • Kalypso’s offer of eternal life = an eternal death for a man who loves experience & his family (his oikos; this is not a romance).



Odysseus returns to life on the island of Skheria.

  • Odysseus returns to life on the island of Skheria.

  • What does Athena tell Nausikaa to do?

  • How do Odysseus & Nausikaa meet?

  • How does Odysseus show his metis here?



What does Athene do to Odysseus?

  • What does Athene do to Odysseus?

  • Is Nausikaa a good host?

  • What does Nausikaa tell Odysseus to do?



Alkinoos and Arete have a special relationship. Queen as judge.

  • Alkinoos and Arete have a special relationship. Queen as judge.

  • The Phaiakians are conducting a ritual when Odysseus arrives.

  • Odysseus begs Arete for a ride home.



Arete and Alkinoos are good hosts, honoring and helping Odysseus. Alkinoos wishes that Odysseus could marry Nausikaa.

  • Arete and Alkinoos are good hosts, honoring and helping Odysseus. Alkinoos wishes that Odysseus could marry Nausikaa.



Disguised Athena rouses the Phaiakians to go learn about Odysseus.

  • Disguised Athena rouses the Phaiakians to go learn about Odysseus.

  • Alkinoos calls an assembly, tells of Odysseus’ request for passage home, announces a feast.



Of what does the bard sing?

  • Of what does the bard sing?

  • How does Odysseus react?

  • When Alkinoos notices this reaction, what does he do in response?



When one of the Phaiakian young men challenges and insults Odysseus, Alkinoos summons Demodokos again, who sings of the love between Ares and Aphrodite (tale of a deceptive wife!).

  • When one of the Phaiakian young men challenges and insults Odysseus, Alkinoos summons Demodokos again, who sings of the love between Ares and Aphrodite (tale of a deceptive wife!).



The Phaiakians give Odysseus gifts of friendship (stuff to take back to Ithaka to restore his wealth & honor).

  • The Phaiakians give Odysseus gifts of friendship (stuff to take back to Ithaka to restore his wealth & honor).

  • Nausikaa says goodbye to Odysseus - he replies gently (8.457-468).

  • What song does Odysseus ask Demodocus to sing? How does he react when he hears the song?

  • Alkinoos asks Odysseus his identity and story (8.535-586).



In these books the 3 major themes of identity, homecoming, and hospitality dominate in almost every episode.

  • In these books the 3 major themes of identity, homecoming, and hospitality dominate in almost every episode.



In chronological order:

  • In chronological order:

  • Departure from Troy

  • 1) Kikonians 7) Underworld

  • 2) Lotus-Eaters 8) Sirens

  • 3) Cyclopes 9) Skylla & Kharybdis

  • 4) Aiolos 10) Herds of Helios

  • 5) Laistrygonians 11) Phaiakia

  • 6) Circe Return to Ithaka



He comments on the two goddesses who wished to marry him:

  • He comments on the two goddesses who wished to marry him:

  • They “could never persuade the heart in me. So it is that nothing is more sweet in the end than country & parents ever, even when far away one lives in a fertile place, when it is in an alien country, far from his parents” (9.33-36).



In Book 9, Odysseus tells us how Poseidon came to hate & persecute him.

  • In Book 9, Odysseus tells us how Poseidon came to hate & persecute him.

  • Odysseus takes one ship to explore the richness of the Cyclopes’ island.

  • The 12 men who accompany him into Polyphemos’ cave beg to take some cheese and run; Odysseus refuses because he wants rich gifts.



Do not follow Zeus’ laws, do not abide by the rules of xenia.

  • Do not follow Zeus’ laws, do not abide by the rules of xenia.

  • One would know this, even if Odysseus didn’t tell us at once, by Polyphemos’ immediate questions:

  • “Who? Where? Why?”



In this pivotal event, Odysseus shows both his strength and his weakness (metis vs. greed).

  • In this pivotal event, Odysseus shows both his strength and his weakness (metis vs. greed).

  • How does Polyphemos learn Odysseus’ name? Who is Polyphemos’ father?



Aiolos & the bag of winds.

  • Aiolos & the bag of winds.

  • This story shows us how Odysseus’ men don’t trust him.

  • When they sail within sight of Ithaka, he falls asleep and they open the bag.



In this episode, Odysseus loses all but one ship and crew of men.

  • In this episode, Odysseus loses all but one ship and crew of men.



Circe, daughter of Helios, is a powerful sorceress.

  • Circe, daughter of Helios, is a powerful sorceress.

  • With the help of Hermes, Odysseus turns her into a helper. He lives with her for a year until his men prod him to leave.



Circe tells Odysseus he must visit Hades to consult Teiresias, & gives him directions.

  • Circe tells Odysseus he must visit Hades to consult Teiresias, & gives him directions.



Odysseus draws the shades to him by animal sacrifice (they are drawn to the blood).

  • Odysseus draws the shades to him by animal sacrifice (they are drawn to the blood).

  • He meets Elpenor, who had died but remained unburied. Requests burial.



Odysseus speaks with Teiresias, who tells him not to harm the herds of Helios; if he does so, he’ll return home with nothing to find the suitors courting Penelope. Tells him to take a journey after his nostos to appease Poseidon. Teiresias foretells Odysseus’ death.

  • Odysseus speaks with Teiresias, who tells him not to harm the herds of Helios; if he does so, he’ll return home with nothing to find the suitors courting Penelope. Tells him to take a journey after his nostos to appease Poseidon. Teiresias foretells Odysseus’ death.



Odysseus asks his mother how she died, about his father and son, and about Penelope.

  • Odysseus asks his mother how she died, about his father and son, and about Penelope.

  • She responds to his questions in reverse order, knowing perhaps he is most worried re what Penelope is up to; the tale of her death, placed last, is more powerful. She died of grief for him.



In a scene that greatly influenced later Western literature, Odysseus tries to hug the shade of his mother:

  • In a scene that greatly influenced later Western literature, Odysseus tries to hug the shade of his mother:

  • “Three times I started toward her, and my heart was urgent to hold her, and three times she fluttered out of my hands like a shadow or a dream, and the sorrow sharpened at the heart within me” (205-208).



Persephone sends the shades of the wives and daughters of princes for Odysseus to question (a mini-catalogue).

  • Persephone sends the shades of the wives and daughters of princes for Odysseus to question (a mini-catalogue).

  • We get a break, here: the Phaiakians are astounded at Odysseus’ ability to tell a tale - he is a great aoidos. Although he says he’d like to rest, they beg him to continue. They want to know if he met Trojan War heroes.



Odysseus meets the psyche of Agamemnon, who, weeping and wailing, tries to embrace him.

  • Odysseus meets the psyche of Agamemnon, who, weeping and wailing, tries to embrace him.

  • Agamemnon himself tells the tale of his own nostos. He tells Odysseus that a bad nostos will not happen to him, because of Penelope’s virtue; yet warns him to watch out, nevertheless.



Achilles, together with his friends Patroklos, Antilochus and Aias, stops to speak with Odysseus.

  • Achilles, together with his friends Patroklos, Antilochus and Aias, stops to speak with Odysseus.

  • Odysseus tells him: “No man before has been more blessed than you, nor ever will be.”

  • Achilles responds shockingly.



“Never try to console me for dying. I would rather follow the plow as thrall to another man, one with no land allotted to him and not much to live on, than be a king over all the perished dead.”

  • “Never try to console me for dying. I would rather follow the plow as thrall to another man, one with no land allotted to him and not much to live on, than be a king over all the perished dead.”



Achilles expresses worry about his father and son.

  • Achilles expresses worry about his father and son.

  • Odysseus tells Achilles that his son fought bravely and was alive when he left Troy. About Peleus, he knows nothing.

  • Odysseus tries to make up with Aias, blaming their fight on Zeus, but Aias refuses to speak with him.



Odysseus sees the punishments of men who offended against the gods.

  • Odysseus sees the punishments of men who offended against the gods.

  • He also sees the image of Herakles (his mortal bits), who actually resides with the gods on Olympus.



Odysseus returns to Circe, who tells him about the dangers that lie ahead and how to survive them.

  • Odysseus returns to Circe, who tells him about the dangers that lie ahead and how to survive them.

  • The Sirens represent the power of song and the danger/price of knowledge.



Wanting to hear the Sirens’ song, Odysseus instructs his men to tie him to the mast, while they themselves have wax in their ears.

  • Wanting to hear the Sirens’ song, Odysseus instructs his men to tie him to the mast, while they themselves have wax in their ears.

  • To hear the Sirens usually means death.



These monsters have become part of our own cultural vocabulary, used to express the situation of being between a rock and a hard place.

  • These monsters have become part of our own cultural vocabulary, used to express the situation of being between a rock and a hard place.



Circe tells Odysseus that Kharybdis is death for all, but that Skylla will kill only six as the boat passes.

  • Circe tells Odysseus that Kharybdis is death for all, but that Skylla will kill only six as the boat passes.

  • Skylla and Kharybdis seem to be the mythological representation of the perilous straits of Messina between Italy’s boot & Sicily.



Folktale motif of the violated prohibition. Helios hardly ever appears in myth, except as a witness to oaths. Perhaps Homer got this tale type from the Egyptians.

  • Folktale motif of the violated prohibition. Helios hardly ever appears in myth, except as a witness to oaths. Perhaps Homer got this tale type from the Egyptians.

  • Tale of the “Shipwrecked Sailor” survives from the second millenium BC, in which a sailor lands on the island of Ra, the sun god.

  • 350 cattle may stand for the roughly 350 days of the year.



Odysseus falls asleep in the hills as his men eat the cattle, just as he fell asleep on board the ship while his men opened the bag of winds.

  • Odysseus falls asleep in the hills as his men eat the cattle, just as he fell asleep on board the ship while his men opened the bag of winds.

  • His men fear death by hunger when they are stranded on the island; they kill and cook the cattle.

  • Horrible omens: the skins crawled, the meat bellowed. The men feast. When the wind stops, they set sail, only to be shipwrecked by a storm.



Surviving by clinging to the keel, Odysseus lands on Kalypso’s island, where he is held for 7 years.

  • Surviving by clinging to the keel, Odysseus lands on Kalypso’s island, where he is held for 7 years.

  • Odysseus finishes his tale, leaving his audience “stricken with silence, held in thrall by the story.”



The Phaiakians give Odysseus a wealth of gifts, making up for the lost Trojan booty.

  • The Phaiakians give Odysseus a wealth of gifts, making up for the lost Trojan booty.

  • They give Odysseus magical transportation back to Ithaka; he falls asleep onboard.

  • They leave him asleep near a cave of the nymphs with his gifts, at dawn by an olive tree.

  • As punishment, Poseidon turns the ship to stone just as it reenters the Phaiakian harbor. He forbids them from having any further interaction with the outside world.



Homer shows a good grasp of the lay of land in Ithaka:

  • Homer shows a good grasp of the lay of land in Ithaka:

  • He describes the harbor bounded by 2 steep headlands, and just off it a cave of the nymphs - this matches well the modern harbor of Vathy on eastern Ithaka.

  • In another cave near the harbor, pieces of 13 bronze tripods were found, which seem to have been set up on the late 9th c. BCE. In the 3rd c. we know the cave was a shrine to Odysseus.



Odysseus meets Athene, disguised as a youth.

  • Odysseus meets Athene, disguised as a youth.

  • Odysseus begins his “lying tales,” set in a post-heroic world, featuring everyday acts of treachery, murder, piracy, and commerce.

  • Narrative patterns in the rest of the Odyssey: disguises, recognitions, revelations, reunions.



13.287-310; 330-344.

  • 13.287-310; 330-344.

  • Athene helps him hide the Phaiakian gifts and together they sit down to plot the suitors’ destruction.

  • Athene uses her divine powers to make Odysseus look like a beggar before she leaves to fetch Telemakhos from Sparta.



In Book 13, we saw the reunion of Odysseus and Athene, and the disguise of Odysseus.

  • In Book 13, we saw the reunion of Odysseus and Athene, and the disguise of Odysseus.

  • Book 14 is all about the start of Odysseus’ testing of the Ithakans. Eumaios the swineherd is first.

  • Is Eumaios a good host? What does Odysseus learn from him? What does Odysseus tell Eumaios, and how does Eumaios react to it?

  • What object is Odysseus trying to get from Eumaios?



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