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Odysseus and his companions blind Polyphemus. Detail of a proto-Attic amphora by the Polyphemus Painter , around 650 BC. BC, Museum of Eleusis, Inv. 2630.

The Odyssey ( ancient Greek ἡ Ὀδύσσεια hē Odýsseia ), next to the Iliad, the second epic attributed to the Greek poet Homer , is one of the oldest and most influential poems in Western literature . The work was first published in writing, probably around the turn of the 8th to 7th century BC. Chr. Held. It depicts the adventures of King Odysseus of Ithaca and his companions on their return home from the Trojan War . In many languages the term “odyssey” has become synonymous with a long odyssey .

The content of the odyssey

The odyssey begins with the invocation of the muse . The introductory verses are reproduced here in ancient Greek, in romanization and in the German translation by Johann Heinrich Voss from 1781, which in turn is considered to be classic :

Ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ
πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσε ·
πολλῶν δ 'ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω,
πολλὰ δ 'ὅ γ' ἐν πόντῳ πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κάτα θυμόν,
ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων.
ἀλλ 'οὔδ' ὣς ἑτάρους ἐρρύσατο ἱέμενός περ ·
αὐτῶν γὰρ σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὄλοντο,
νήπιοι, οἳ κατὰ βοῦς Ὑπερίονος Ἠελίοιο
ἤσθιον αὐτὰρ ὃ τοῖσιν ἀφείλετο νόστιμον ἦμαρ.
τῶν ἁμόθεν γε, θεά, θύγατερ Διός, εἶπε καὶ ἡμῖν.
Ạndra moi ẹnnepe, Moụsa, polỵtropon, họs mala pọlla
plạnchthē, epeị Troiẹ̄s hierọn ptoliẹthron epẹrse:
pọllōn d 'ạnthrōpọ̄n iden ạstea kaị noon ẹgnō,
pọlla d 'ho g' ẹn pontọ̄ pathen ạlgea họn kata thỵmon,
ạrnymenọs hēn tẹ psychẹ̄n kai nọston hetaịrōn.
ạll 'oud' họ̄s hetaroụs errhỵsato hịemenọs per;
aụtōn gạr spheterẹ̄sin atạsthaliẹ̄sin olọnto,
nẹ̄pioi, hoị kata boụs Hyperịonos Ẹ̄elioịo
ẹ̄sthion; aụtar ho toịsin apheịleto nọstimon hẹ̄mar.
tọ̄n hamothẹn ge, theạ, thygatẹr Dios, eịpe kai hẹ̄min.
Tell me, muse, the deeds of the wandering man,
Who erred so far after the destruction of St. Troy,
Of many people have seen cities and learned the custom,
And suffered so much unspeakable suffering on the sea,
To save his soul and return his friends.
But he does not save his friends, how eagerly he strove;
For they themselves prepared their ruin through iniquity:
Fools! which the cattle of the high sun ruler
Slaughtered pigs; behold, God took away the day of their return from them.
Tell us a little about this, too, daughter of Kronion.

In 24 chants consisting of 12,110 hexameter verses , the Odyssey tells how the King of Ithaca, after the ten years of the Trojan War, lost his way through adverse winds while driving home, wandered around for another ten years and finally returned home as a beggar after many adventures . He finds his house full of aristocratic suitors who are consuming his property, persuading his wife Penelope that he is dead and trying to force her to marry one of their own. In a final adventure, Odysseus has to take up the fight with these suitors. A parallel plot, the "Telemachie", tells how Odysseus' and Penelope's son Telemachus goes in search of the missing father.

The 24 chants

Roman fresco on the Odyssey (today in the Vatican's Bibliotheca Apostolica ), approx. 150–100 BC Chr.
Pieter Lastman , Odysseus and Nausicaa , oil portrait, 1619 , Alte Pinakothek , Munich

In order to keep the tension going, Homer uses a very complex narrative style. He works, for example, with parallel plots, flashbacks, insertions, changes of perspective and narrator. The plot is not told chronologically, but begins shortly before Odysseus' return to Ithaca. It is structured as follows:

  • 1st to 4th song
The council of gods decides to allow Odysseus to return home. The messenger of the gods Hermes asks the nymph Calypso to let Odysseus, whom she held back on her island for seven years, go away. Meanwhile, the goddess Athena goes to Odysseus' homeland Ithaca, where his wife Penelope is urged by numerous suitors to marry one of them. In the form of her father's friend Mentes , Athene persuades Odysseus' son Telemachus to go in search of the missing father. He then sails to Nestor in Pylos and then goes to Menelaus in Laconia to get information about his missing father. In the meantime, the suitors are planning an assassination attempt on Telemachus and preparing an ambush on the island of Asteria, between Ithaca and Same.
  • 5th to 8th song
Odysseus Kalypsos leaves the island of Ogygia on a self-made raft . But when the Phaiakenland was already in sight on the 18th day, his adversary, the sea god Poseidon , caused a storm that damaged the raft badly and caused it to capsize. With the support of the nymph Ino Leukothea Odysseus saves with his last strength swim to the coast Scherias , home of the Phaeacians . On the beach he meets the king's daughter Nausicaa , who shows him the way to her parents' palace. They received Odysseus hospitably.
  • 9th to 12th song
In the central part of the epic, Odysseus tells the story of his wanderings in the house of the Phaiac King Alcinous ( see below: Odysseus' wanderings ).
  • 13th to 16th song
Now the two storylines, the telemachy and the actual odyssey , are brought together. Odysseus returns to Ithaca with the help of the Phaiacs, but has to hide in the house of the loyal shepherd Eumaios until he can dare to fight the suitors. In the meantime Telemachus is leaving Sparta. Without spending the night with Nestor, he goes straight to his ship after he reaches Pylos in the evening and returns to Ithaca. He can avoid the attack by the suitors, against which Athena warned him. He goes to Eumaios and meets his father Odysseus there.
Odysseus shoots his opponents
  • 17th to 20th song
For his protection, Athene gives Odysseus the shape of a beggar. As such, he returns to his house after 20 years, where he is initially only recognized by his old, dying dog Argos , and later by the old maid Eurycleia . Odysseus secretly prepares for the fight with the suitors.
  • 21st and 22nd song
During an archery fight , Odysseus reveals himself and with the help of Telemachus and Eumaios kills the suitors as well as the maidservants who have proven to be unfaithful.
  • 23rd and 24th song
After 20 years, Odysseus sees his wife Penelope again. But only after she has put him to the test with a ruse does she recognize him as her husband. Then Odysseus visits his old father Laërtes . In the underworld, Achilles and Agamemnon , Odysseus' comrades-in-arms before Troy, praise his victorious homecoming. The goddess Athena settles the dispute between Odysseus and the relatives of the slain suitors.

Odysseus' wanderings

Chants 9 to 12 play a central role in the epic, in which Odysseus describes his adventures up to his arrival with the Phaiacs. This rather fairytale part is believed by many researchers to be the original epic, which was later expanded to include the introductory telemachy and the detailed account of the suitor's murder at the end.

Kikonen, lotophages and Cyclopes

Odysseus hands the Cyclops Polyphemus a bowl of strong wine
Odysseus and his companions blind Polyphemus . Laconic - black-figure bowl of the horseman painter , approx. 565–560 BC Chr.

After leaving Troy on twelve ships, Odysseus and his companions attack the Thracian Kikonen , allied with the Trojans, but are driven out by them. While the ships sail around Cape Malea , the southern tip of the Peloponnese , on their way to Ithaca , a strong north wind comes up and drives them past the island of Kythera into the open sea. Eventually they end up in the land of the lotophages , the lotus eaters. Three companions that Odysseus sends to the lotophages as scouts taste the fruit that makes them forget their homeland and the desire to stay in the land of the lotophages forever. They must then be brought back to the ships by force.

Then Odysseus and his companions land on an island where many wild goats live. The next day they cross over to the nearby opposite coast, which is populated by giants , the Cyclops . One of them, the one-eyed Polyphemus , captures Odysseus and twelve of his companions who have invaded his cave. He kills and eats a total of six of them and threatens to also eat the others and Odysseus one after the other. Since the Greeks do not have enough strength to move the rock with which Polyphemus blocked the cave entrance, they cannot kill the Cyclops, but have to outsmart him. Odysseus, when asked for his name by Polyphemus, introduces himself as Oudeís in a play on words. The Greek Οὐδείς (or Οὖτις / Oútis) is on the one hand a nickname for Odysseus and on the other hand means nobody . He manages to get Polyphemus drunk and then blind him with a glowing stake . When other Cyclopes rush to Polyphems cries of pain, the latter calls out to them, "Nobody" has done anything to him, so that they turn back again. In order to let his sheep out to pasture, Polyphemus rolls away the stone in front of his cave in the morning, but feels the backs of the animals to prevent the Greeks from mingling with the herd. By always tying three sheep together, each with a man clinging to the peritoneum, Odysseus and his companions can still escape. When Polyphemus notices they are fleeing, he hurls rocks in the direction he suspects the ships are in, but misses them. Odysseus proudly reveals his true name to Polyphemus. In his anger, he asks his father Poseidon to let Odysseus perish at sea or at least to delay his return home for a long time.

Aiolos, Laistrygonen, Kirke

Kirke hands the drinking cup to Odysseus. Painting by John William Waterhouse (1891)

The wind god Aiolos , whose island he is next to visit, gives Odysseus a leather hose in which all winds are locked, except for the west wind, which is supposed to drive his ships safely to Ithaca. But when Odysseus' unsuspecting companions open the hose out of curiosity shortly before their destination, all the winds escape and their ships are driven back to the island of Aiolos. This then refuses any further help.

Next, Odysseus and his people get to Telepylos to the Laistrygonen , a giant people-eating people . When their king impales one of two scouts, the Greeks try to flee, but their ships are smashed through boulders in the harbor, which stretches far into the country, from the Laistrygons hurrying in from all sides. Only Odysseus managed to escape with his ship and its crew, because as a precaution he did not allow it to enter the harbor. All other ships are lost.

With his last ship, Odysseus reaches the island of Aiaia , where the goddess and sorceress Kirke lives with some servants. At their property there are enclosures with tame lions and wolves, in truth people who were enchanted by Kirke. Kirke also uses a magic potion to transform half of Odysseus' men, whom he has sent to explore the island, into pigs. Only Eurylochus , who out of caution did not enter Kirkes house, escapes to the ship. When Odysseus then goes to Kirke alone, he meets Hermes , the messenger of the gods , who gives him the herb Moly . With its help, he succeeds in resisting the magic. In addition, Odysseus forces Kirke to take the oath not to harm him or his companions any more. She transforms her companions back into people and shares her bed with Odysseus. After a year, Odysseus, at the urging of his companions, decides to continue the journey home despite Kirke's courtship.

The sorceress advises him to first ask the soul of the seer Teiresias in the house of Hades , Homer's name for the underworld , about his future fate. There Odysseus makes a sacrifice and the souls of his mother, who has since died, appear to him, of fighters from the Trojan War and of his companion Elpenor, who died on Aiaia. The seer Teiresias gives him advice on how to continue.

Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis

After visiting the underworld, Odysseus and his companions first return to the island of Kirke to bury Elpenor , who fell to his death immediately before leaving for Hades. Kirke gives Odysseus advice on the journey home, points out the dangers of Scylla and Charybdis as well as a no less dangerous alternative route through the plankton and warns him - as Teiresias before - not to slaughter the cattle and sheep on the island of Helios . Then Odysseus and his companions leave Aiaia. The journey first leads past the island of the sirens , who with their beguiling singing lure seafarers to the cliffs and thus to their deaths. In order to be able to listen to them safely, Odysseus, on Kirkes advice, has himself handcuffed to the mast tree, but his companions' ears sealed with wax. Then they pass a strait whose banks are ruled by two sea ​​monsters , namely the six-headed, human-devouring Scylla and Charybdis, which creates a vortex in which entire ships sink. Odysseus lets his companions row past Charybdis as far as possible and thus close to Scylla, which devours six of them.

Helios, Calypso and the Phaiacs

The Companions of Odysseus Rob the Cattle of Helios ( Pellegrino Tibaldi )

Exhausted, they soon reach Thrinakia , the island of the sun god Helios . Adverse winds prevent them from continuing for a month, and after their supplies run out they begin to starve. Therefore, despite Odysseus 'warning, the companions slaughter Helios' sacred cattle. As punishment, they perish after their departure in a storm that Zeus sent at the urging of Helios. Only Odysseus, sitting on the keel of his ship , can save himself to the island of the nymph Calypso , Ogygia.

Calypso holds Odysseus for seven years and only lets him go again at the behest of the gods. With her help he builds a raft and after 17 days he can see the coast of Scherias, the land of the Phaiacs. When Poseidon sees Odysseus, he kindles a storm that badly damages the raft and capsizes it. The nymph Ino Leukothea, however, notices the shipwrecked man and feels sorry for him. She gives him a veil to tie around and advises him to leave his unmanoeuvrable raft. Carried by the veil, he reached the coast by swimming and with great difficulty.

There Nausicaa, the daughter of King Alcinous, finds him naked on the beach. She provides Odysseus with clothes and shows him the way to her parents' palace. He succeeds in winning the favor of Alcinous and his wife Arete, who promise to have him taken to Ithaca in one of their ships. The Phaiacs hold games in his honor and give him rich presents. When the singer performs Demodokos songs about the Trojan War, Odysseus cannot hold back his tears. Alcinous notices this and asks the guest to reveal his identity and the cause of his grief. Then Odysseus reports on his experiences. Finally, Odysseus, with other precious gifts, is escorted to the ship that will take him to Ithaca.

The "stories of lies" of Odysseus

In addition to the detailed description of his wanderings among the Phaiacs, Odysseus also tells a few fictional stories after his return to Ithaca in order to conceal his true identity - mostly out of caution.

Opposite Athena, whom he met shortly after landing on Ithaca in the form of a young man, Odysseus stated in the 13th song that he came from Crete. There he killed Orsilochus, the son of Idomeneus . He went into the Trojan War, but not under Idomeneus' leadership, but with his own companions. Orsilochos wanted to rob him of all the booty from Troy after his return. Therefore he ambushed Orsilochus at night and killed it with a spear. Then he immediately went to a Phoenician ship and offered the Phoenicians part of his booty in exchange for bringing him to Pylos or Elis . However, off the west coast of the Peloponnese , the wind carried them away and they reached Ithaca. While Odysseus slept on the bank, the Phoenicians unloaded his treasures and sailed to Sidon without him.

In Canto 14, Odysseus tells Eumaius, the sow-shepherd, an initially similar, but then very different and longer tale of lies, which also takes into account the time lag between the fall of Troy and his arrival on Ithaca: Again Odysseus claims to come from Crete and leader of a Cretan contingent to have been in the Trojan War. He pretends to be the son of a rich man and a slave who was loved by his father as much as his legitimate sons. After the death of his father, he (Odysseus) was resigned from his half-brothers with only a very small part of the inheritance and a house, but thanks to his ability and courage in battle he had achieved respect and wealth. He preferred fighting and sea voyages with companions from the hinterland to domestic work, and he was very successful in raids. Therefore, alongside Idomeneus, he was appointed leader of the Cretans against Troy. After returning from Troy, he was drawn into the distance again after a month and he went to Egypt in a few ships. Contrary to his orders to wait and send scouts, his companions began to loot, abduct women and children, and kill Egyptian men. Thereupon an Egyptian king gathered an army in a nearby city, attacked the Greeks at dawn and defeated them. Odysseus reports that he threw himself at the king's feet. He forgave him and in the following seven years he made great fortune in Egypt. After that a deceitful Phoenician persuaded him to come with him to Phenicia. After staying in Phenicia for a year, this man lured him onto a ship bound for Libya under a pretext, with the intention of selling him there. After the ship passed Crete, it capsized in a storm. Odysseus goes on to say that he clung to a mast and was driven to the Thesprot coast after ten days . The thesprotischen King Pheidon took him in and instructed his companions to take him by ship to Dulichion to see King Akastus . The thesprotischen sailors, however, planned the bondage for Odysseus, stripped him of his clothes and rags and tied him up. During a stopover on Ithaca, he managed to free himself and hide on the island until the thesprots drove on. Odysseus also tells in this story of lies that Pheidon hospitably welcomed Odysseus, who then went to Dodona to ask the Zeus Oracle there about the best way to get home to Ithaca. Odysseus has been away for a long time since then.

In Canto 19, Odysseus, still in the form of a beggar, serves up a story of lies for his wife Penelope: he claims his name is Aithon, comes from Crete and is the younger brother of Idomeneus. When Idomeneus was already on his way to Troy, Odysseus and his ships were stranded on the coast of Crete. He had entertained him and his companions for eleven days, as northern winds had prevented Odysseus from continuing, and Odysseus prepared gifts as he drove on towards Troy. After Penelope put the supposed Aithon to the test and he truthfully told her the robes of Odysseus as well as the appearance and name of his herald Eurybathes , Penelope wept bitterly for the husband she believed to be dead. Odysseus then tells her not to cry, claiming that he has learned that Odysseus is still alive. The latter had lost his ship and all his companions before Thrinakia , but had come to Thesprotia, richly presented by the Phaiacs, as he learned from King Pheidon. In the following, the story resembles the one he told Eumaios.

In the 24th song just before he reveals himself to his father Laertes, Odysseus says, out of the city Alybas in Sikanien to come to welcome Eperitos and to have been slyly with his ship to Ithaca. He claims that Odysseus was in Sicania and left there five years ago on a ship for his homeland.

Creation of the great epic

Bust of Homer; Roman copy of a Hellenistic original from the 2nd century AD .
British Museum , London

The plot of the Odyssey belongs to the saga of the Trojan War and follows on from the Iliad . Therefore, the first oral versions of the epic could have been written as early as the late Mycenaean period, i.e. after the events that could have formed a real core of the legends about the fall of Troy . Different original versions of the Odyssey were probably performed for centuries by singers - first by the Aoids , later by the Rhapsodes - and repeatedly changed by oral tradition . The metrical rhythm of the verses served the performing singer as a memory aid.

The opinion is generally accepted by research today that various previously existing short epics were poetically combined in the Odyssey . Originally at least two different stories were likely to have circulated: on the one hand, that of Odysseus, who returned from Troy, killing the suitors who took advantage of his absence; on the other hand, there are adventurous stories in the style of the nostoi (sing: nostos, literally: return trip), the fairy tales told by seafarers returning home, which themselves come from various sources and were only later attributed to Odysseus. In a pre-Homeric original version, the Odyssey probably described the hero's wanderings, his homecoming and the suicide in a simple chronological sequence.

When the Odyssey was first written down in the form known today, however, is highly controversial. A part of the research community assumes an emergence around 730/720 BC. Another part dates the first version to around 670/660 BC. Only then could the third story line have been added: the introductory chants of Telemachy , the story of Telemachus' search for his father. It served the purpose of increasing the tension and - by describing the conditions on Ithaca - presenting Odysseus' later revenge on the suitors as justified.

Probably in the 6th century BC A continuation of the Odyssey, which is ascribed to Eugamon from Cyrene and only survives in a few fragments, was created: Telegonie tells of Odysseus' last adventures and of his death in a fight with Telegonus , his unknown son, whom he fathered with Kirke.

Text transmission

Book 5, verses 319–350 of the Odyssey (with Scholia ) in the manuscript Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana , Vaticanus Palatinus graecus 7, fol. 46v

The transmission of the text as it was used by the poet of the Odyssey in the late 8th or 7th century BC B.C. is not entirely certain for antiquity . Both the Odyssey and the Iliad were likely to have been in circulation shortly after they were written down. The high esteem that Homeric texts were accorded early on, however, led to the fact that text-critical reconstructions of the original version were repeatedly made; in the Athens of the tyrant Peisistratos at the end of the 6th century BC This happened even at state expense. Until the early Hellenistic period, however , papyri had text versions that differed from each other and from the Athens version.

This only changed after the foundation of the Alexandria library by Ptolemy I Soter in 288 BC. The scholars Zenodotos of Ephesus , Aristophanes of Byzantium and above all Aristarchus of Samothrace , the sixth head of the library , created canonical versions of both epics through comparisons and text-critical methods, which probably corresponded to the Athenian versions. Although the writings of the three library managers were largely lost in the course of time, the copies of both epics up to the end of antiquity and their current textual form go back to their work with some certainty.

This is mainly due to the already mentioned veneration of Homer throughout the ancient world. The Odyssey and Iliad belonged to the core of the ancient educational canon , and since the work of the Alexandrian librarians, care has been taken to pass on the texts faithfully. However, complete copies of both works from antiquity have not survived.

The oldest fragmentary text documents include the London Homer papyrus from the first half of the 2nd century and the Berlin Homer papyrus from the 3rd century. In July 2018, the Greek Ministry of Culture announced that German and Greek archaeologists had found a clay tablet with 13 verses from the 14th song of the Odyssey in ancient Olympia , which, according to initial estimates, could date from the Roman period before the 3rd century.

The oldest surviving manuscript of Homer's complete works comes from Constantinople in the 12th century. The Greek humanist Demetrios Chalkokondyles obtained the first edition of the epics in Florence in 1488. The publisher Aldus Manutius from Venice had this incunable followed by another printed edition in 1504. Almost 2000 years passed between the first written fixation of the Homeric epics and the earliest text versions, which have been fully preserved to this day. Nevertheless, research assumes that, thanks to the preparatory work of ancient scholars, the current versions essentially correspond to Homer's version.

The question of authorship

Modern Homer research began with the publication of the work Prolegomena ad Homerum by Halle classical philologist Friedrich August Wolf in 1795. The so-called Homeric questions that have arisen since then are still controversial today: Did Homer give the entire epic its present-day form or just edit what was already there? Did he just add telemachy? Was he even the poet of the Odyssey ?

Since the episode about Polyphemus occurs in similar traditions of different ethnic groups and Homer's version is not classified as the oldest, Homer is out of the question as the "inventor" at least for the core of the Polyphemus episode.

Some researchers point to the time lag between the Iliad and the Odyssey as well as the discrepancies in content - here war epic with a realistic background, there fairytale adventures - to justify why Homer could not have been the author of both works at the same time. Due to the stylistic similarities between the two epics, others consider it quite possible that the Odyssey is an old work by the Iliad poet.

What is certain is that the Odyssey poet was stylistically closely based on the Iliad and adopted many of its formulations, so that he can at least be assigned to Homer's environment. Even researchers who consider the Iliad and Odyssey to be works by two different authors refer to both as "Homeric epics".

As early as 1795, Goethe scoffed at attempts to dissect the Iliad and Odyssey in a text-critical manner:

“The idea may be good, and the effort is respectable, if only these gentlemen, in order to cover their weak flanks, did not occasionally have to devastate the most fertile gardens of the aesthetic realm and turn them into tiresome entrenchments. In the end there is more subjective than you think in all this stuff. "

Attempts to locate the random walks

Even if there are still discussions about Troy in research , it has been proven since Heinrich Schliemann's excavations that the Iliad has a real core, at least as far as the existence of Troy or Ilion is concerned. The wanderings in the Odyssey, on the other hand, have fairytale-like features over long passages . Therefore, all attempts, some of which were made in ancient times, to assign real locations to it were always controversial. As early as the 3rd century BC The geographer Eratosthenes made fun of such attempts. Apart from a few passages in the text in which the poet actually mentions existing landscapes and places - for example Thrace, Cape Malea, Kythera, Ithaca - such attempts at localization have always remained speculation.

Absurd theories by people outside the field made it easier for scientists to dismiss the attempts at localizing the Odyssey as a whole as wrong or nonsensical, hopeless undertaking. However, this attitude has been criticized to the extent that the many absurd attempts to solve a problem do not turn the problem itself into a fantasy.

In ancient times, the land of the lotus eaters was often localized on the island of Djerba off Tunisia , first by Eratosthenes in the 3rd century BC. In the 5th century BC Herodotus reported about lotophages east of the Triton Sea , although he did not explicitly associate them with the lotophages of the Odyssey. Uvo Hölscher refers to Herodotus and says that the land of the lotophages was part of the geographical conceptions of the time and is to be found in the south of the Mediterranean. In Sicily some ancient and modern authors are the Cyclopes lived in the opinion. Thucydides reports that Cyclops (and Laistrygons) were considered to be the oldest inhabitants of Sicily. In Virgil's Aeneid the Cyclops and Polyphems Caves are located in the northeast of the island, near Aetna . Other ancient authors as well as some modern researchers, e.g. B. Gustav Lang adopted the region around the Aetna as the home of the Cyclopes. In the far west of Sicily, near Marsala , Ernle Bradford located the Cyclops and identified Favignana with the goat island. However, the Cyclops were also sought in other places. Bérard identified the goat island with Nisida , west of Naples and the coast of the Cyclops near Pozzuoli . Also on the North African coast, e.g. B. in what is now Tunisia, attempts were made to localize the Cyclops. Aiolia, the island of the wind god Aiolos , has already been assigned to one of the Aeolian Islands by several ancient authors , which is why they are often called the Aeolian Islands . Among other things, Bérard joined this and thought Stromboli for the Aiolos island. In addition, Aiolia has been identified with Ustica and Malta , among others . In ancient times, the sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis were mostly suspected to be in the Strait of Messina . According to a modern theory, the Laistrygons lived on the southern tip of Corsica . In the Maltese island of Gozo , some scholars wanted to recognize the ogygia of the nymph Calypso, while others, like Strabo, located Ogygia in the Atlantic. A promontory in Lazio bears the name Monte Circeo to this day , but whether this mountain range or one of the offshore islands was the home of the sorceress Kirke is just as controversial as anything else.


The Odyssey is not only one of the oldest, but also one of the most edited works in Western literary and cultural history . Both the subject matter - fantastic wanderings and adventures - as well as the hero - the cunning but lonely sufferer who returns home after many years and cannot find his familiar world - are repeatedly taken up in literary, dramatic or musical works, right up to modern film been.

The philosophers Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer saw Odysseus as the first modern type of person in literary history: he was the first character who did not surrender to the gods and fate , but - sometimes denying his identity  - successfully fought against both and with it becomes the ruler of his own destiny. According to Adorno and Horkheimer, the denial of identity is revolutionary insofar as it is the first time that the animistic , identity-forming character of one's own name is overcome. Modern man, like Odysseus, must be able to give up his identity in order to preserve it.


Since the Renaissance, the Odyssey has been translated into modern languages ​​time and again. The first translations include those of Salomon Certon in French in 1604 and those of George Chapman (1616) and Alexander Pope (1713) into English.

In the German-speaking world, the metric translation by Johann Heinrich Voss from the 18th century is itself a classic. Her linguistic influence on German is compared to Martin Luther's translation of the Bible . In the 20th century, Thassilo von Scheffer presented a new translation that received much attention. The best-known prose transmission is that of Gustav Schwab from the 19th century. The more modern versions by Dietrich Mülder , Gerhard Scheibner and Wolfgang Schadewaldt are also kept in prose . The Heidelberg classical archaeologist Roland Hampe (with a detailed register of names) and the Swiss classical philologist Kurt Steinmann (with a comment) have submitted more recent metric translations into German . In recent decades, several retellings, mostly shortened in terms of content, have been presented specifically for children and young people (see below: Retellings for children ).

From 1926 to 1956, the Swiss dialect author Albert Meyer translated all 24 chants of the Odyssey into Bern German hexameters. In May 2008, Professor Henri Muller presented his six-volume translation of the Odyssey into Luxembourgish .

The Odyssey, translated into Bavarian , was performed by actor Rüdiger Hacker on October 11, 2010 in the Munich Metropolitan Theater . In the 1980s, the philologist Otto Kuen did not choose the Voss translation from 1781 as a template, but instead translated the original from archaic ancient Greek into Bavarian.

Literary adaptations

James Joyce: Ulysses . Cover of the first edition (1922)

The series of works that were inspired by the Odyssey begins in antiquity. The Roman poet Virgil - sometimes referred to as the "second Homer" - took it as a model when he created the Roman national epic , the Aeneid . In it he describes the fate of the Trojan hero Aeneas , who, after the destruction of the city, also ended up in all corners of the world, before he settled in Italy and became the mythical progenitor of the Romans .

Mediated through cultural contacts with the Persian Sassanid Empire , elements of the Odyssey found their way into the oriental stories from the Arabian Nights in late antiquity . Their influences can also be seen in the Arab fairy tales about Sinbad the Navigator .

The figure of Odysseus was understood by many poets as the archetype of the human being: Curious, cunning and always looking for knowledge and experience, he succeeds time and again in overcoming dangers. On the other hand, at the mercy of natural hazards and the gods, he has to “endure indescribable suffering”. Odysseus is therefore considered the literary model for characters as diverse as Goethe'sFaust ” or Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, whose Latin name (German: “Nobody”) is taken from the Cyclops episode.

The novel Ulysses (English for "Odysseus") by James Joyce is considered to be the most sophisticated modern adaptation of the subject . The stylistically groundbreaking work, published in 1922, is considered one of the most important novels of the 20th century. It depicts a day, June 16, 1904, in the life of the advertising salesman Leopold Bloom , who wanders through Dublin and experiences everyday things - but which correspond exactly to Odysseus' adventures - and who returns to his wife Molly late at night.

In Germany, after the Second World War, homecoming dramas such as Wolfgang Borchert's Outside the Door took up the central theme of the Odyssey again. At that time, two redesigns of the Odyssey material by Ernst Schnabel received a lot of attention: his three-part radio play, The sixth song , directed by Gert Westphal with music by Hans Werner Henze , which he described as a “novel for funk” or “funk novel” , which was released in 1955 / 1956 was broadcast by NWDR and SWF, and his novel of the same name, published in 1956 by S. Fischer .

The Austrian photographer Erich Lessing received the French photo book price Prix ​​Nadar in 1967 for his photo book L'Odyssée , in which he followed the stages of the odyssey with the camera .

The odyssey in opera, theater and film

Also opera composers and film directors have the substance of the Odyssey and the character of their hero served again and again. Popular themes were the hero's return to Penelope, for example in Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria ( The Homecoming of Odysseus , Venice 1641) by Claudio Monteverdi , and the episode with the sorceress Kirke, e. B. in Charpentier's incidental music for Circé (Paris 1675). Georg Friedrich Handel's last opera Deidamia (London 1741) deals with an episode from Odysseus' life before the Trojan War.

The composer August Bungert created a similar tetralogy with four operas under the title Homeric World with the four parts Kirke, Nausicaa, Odysseus 'Homecoming and Odysseus' Death based on the model of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen after the Odyssey in the years 1898–1903 .

Odysseus' patiently waiting wife plays the main role in Gabriel Fauré's opera Penelope , as well as in Rolf Liebermann 's opera semiseria of the same name . More recent are Luigi Dallapiccola's opera Ulisse (Odysseus) , which premiered in 1968, and Odysseus auf Ogygia by Klaus Michael Arp , premiered in Koblenz in 1988 .

The number of film adaptations of the Odyssey or of materials based on it can hardly be determined with certainty. The first versions were shot in the silent film era. Mario Camerini created the monumental film The Journeys of Odysseus in 1954 with Kirk Douglas in the title role, which came up with considerable special effects and trick techniques for the time. - In 1968 the 4-part television series The Odyssey was produced. Directed by Franco Rossi , the main actors were Bekim Fehmiu as Odysseus and Irene Papas as Penelope , while Leonard Steckel was involved as narrator. - A current adaptation of the material is Andrei Konchalovsky's The Adventures of Odysseus from 1997, which has been enriched with fantasy elements.

Jean-Luc Godard's The Contempt (1963) plays on the set of a film adaptation of an Odyssey by Fritz Lang (played by Fritz Lang) and uses numerous motifs from Homer's epic.

Stanley Kubrick's science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) based on the novel of the same name by Arthur C. Clarke does not follow the storyline of the epic in chronological order, but is a free, sometimes highly alienating arrangement with numerous allusions to the original. Kubrick's Odysseus is all of humanity, whose journey through the time after the first war and the invention of the first weapon begins. The humming sound of the monolith in the film corresponds to the enticing siren song in the Odyssey , the eye of the computer HAL corresponds to that of the Cyclops Polyphemus. The name of the astronaut Dave Bowman (= bow man) alludes to Odysseus as a skilled archer.

Also the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? by Ethan and Joel Coen takes up elements of the Odyssey , e.g. B. the sirens or the one-eyed giant.

The progressive metal band Symphony X set to music on their sixth studio album The Odyssey of 2002, the odyssey of Ulysses in the 24-minute title track.

The Markus Zohner Theater Compagnie brought the play "Odyssey" to the stage in 1999. The piece has been touring around the world since its premiere in Lucerne .

In 2012, directed by Robert Wilson at the National Theater Athens dramatization of the epic by Simon Armitage, entitled [ Οδύσσεια ]. This production was also shown at the Piccolo Teatro di Milano from April 2013 and was resumed there in October 2015.

The Odyssey as a radio play

In 1959 the SDR produced a five-part radio play with a total length of 315 minutes. The radio play adaptation came from Wolfgang Schadewaldt and the direction was directed by Gustav Rudolf Sellner .

In 1998 the director and author Isabella Mamatis , the dramaturge Lutz Gübel and the sound artist Peter Tucholski produced the nine-part series 'The Adventures of Odysseus' for children from six years of age. The DRS acted as the leading cooperation partner . Gümbel and Mamatis removed language from the Homeric hexameter and reworked it for young listeners. The dialogues were recorded in the DRS radio play studio with well-known actors. The audio system works without noise, exclusively with P. Tucholski's sound instruments, and creates sound spaces in which the language is embedded in the situation.

The odyssey in painting and as a comic

Scenes from the Odyssey were popular objects in painting even in ancient times. European artists have taken up the subject again since the Renaissance, such as the baroque painters Peter Paul Rubens , Claude Lorrain , Jacob Jordaens , Pieter Lastman and Gerard de Lairesse . In the age of classicism , the odyssey became a popular repertoire of motifs for visual artists. As part of the Weimar Prize Tasks , Johann Wolfgang von Goethe called for scenes from the Odyssey to be illustrated. The Odyssey Halls in the Munich Residenz were unique in German painting at the time . On behalf of King Ludwig I of Bavaria , Ludwig Michael Schwanthaler and Johann Georg Hiltensperger created 24 murals analogous to the 24 songs of the Odyssey . From the 18th to the 20th century, u. a. Artists like Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein , William Turner , Johann Heinrich Füssli , Herbert James Draper , Lovis Corinth or Ernst Marow works that are inspired by the Odyssey.

The French draftsman Georges Pichard (1920–2003) took up the adventures of Odysseus in a frivolous comic version of the Homeric epic entitled Ulysse . The scenario and the texts are from Jacques Lob . This rather free interpretation of the Homeric material was originally commissioned by the Club Français du Livre , but because of the - for the time - permissive design, the work initially only appeared in the Italian comic magazine Linus . It was not until 1969 that Charlie Mensuel magazine dared to reprint the work in French. Four years later, the story was featured in the comic journal Phénix . This gave this graphic novel the intellectual consecration that prompted press czar Pierre Lazareff to take the bold step in 1974 to include Ulysse as a serial in the daily newspaper France Soir . The first part was published in 1974 by Editions Dargaud in Paris as a comic album, the second part in 1975 and the complete edition in 1982 by Editions Glénat in the Mythology Collection . Ulysse appeared in German in the magazine Pip International in 1972 (2nd volume: No. 5 - Odysseus on the island of the sirens , No. 6 - Odysseus with the lotophages , No. 7 - Odysseus with the flocks of the sun god ). Ulysse reissued the New York comic magazine Heavy Metal in November 2006.

Homer's Odyssey was also adapted in the comic book series Illustrierte Klassiker (Issue No. 60), drawn by Alex A. Blum (1889–1969). The original German edition of the series was published by Bildschriftenverlag (BSV) between 1956 and 1972. The reprints of the series that are still available today were published from 1991 to 2002 by Hethke Verlag , Cologne. The American original edition was published in the 1940s by Gilberton Publications in New York, in the Classics Illustrated and Classic Comics series . The series was intended to convey the most valuable works of world literature to children and young people in a vivid way - more information can be found in the book Understanding Classics Illustrated by Dan Malan at The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide (23rd Edition), published by Robert M. Overstreet , Avon Books (1993).

In 1973/74 the Dessau artist and caricaturist Benno Butter published his two-part comic parody of the Iliad (slapstick about Helena) and Odyssey (men's party to Ithaca) , in which he explores themes from the everyday life of a soldier in World War II , including autobiographical motifs with the ancient Epic has connected.


Critical text editions

  • Homeri Odyssea cum potiore lectionis varietate edidit Augustus Nauck . Pars prior. Berlin 1874.
  • Homeri Odyssea recensuit Arthurus Ludwich . Volume prius. Editio stereotypa editionis primae (MDCCCLXXXIX). Stuttgart / Leipzig 1889.
  • Homeri opera recognovit brevique adnotatione critica instruxit Thomas W. Allen . Tomus III. Odysseae libros I – XII continens. Editio altera (first edition 1908, second edition 1917), Oxford 1965.
  • Homeri opera recognovit brevique adnotatione critica instruxit Thomas W. Allen. Tomus IV. Odysseae libros XIII – XXIV continens. Editio altera (first edition 1908, second edition 1919), Oxford 1975.
  • Homeri Odyssea recognovit P. von der Muehll . Editio stereotypa editionis tertiae (MCMLXII) (first edition 1946), Stuttgart 1984.
  • L'Odyssée "Poésie Homérique". Tome I: Chants I – VII. Texts étable et traduit by Victor Bérard . Cinquième édition. , Paris 1955 (with translation into French).
  • Omera Odissea. Volume I (Libri I-IV). Introduzione generale di Alfred Heubeck e Stephanie West. Testo e commento a cura di Stephanie West. Traduzione di G. Aurelio Privitera. Milan 1981 (with translation into Italian).
  • Homeri Odyssea recognovit Helmut van Thiel . Hildesheim / Zurich / New York 1991.
  • Homeri Odyssea. Recensuit et testimonia congessit Martin L. West . (Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana). De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2016.

Bilingual editions (ancient Greek, German)

Interlinear translations

Online editions


Wikisource: Οδύσσεια  - Sources and full texts (Greek)




Especially for children and young people

Using photographs


Web links

Commons : Odyssey  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Οδύσσεια  - Sources and full texts (Greek)
Wiktionary: Odyssey  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Quoted from Homeri Odyssea recensuit Arthurus Ludwich . volume prius. editio stereotypa editionis primae (MDCCCLXXXIX), Stuttgart / Leipzig 1998 and completed to the letter with lengths and rhythmic accents.
  2. With the Greek (lower) letters for the individual chants α: 444; β: 434; γ: 497; - δ: 847; ε: 493; ζ: 331; - η: 347; θ: 586; ι: 566; - κ: 574; λ: 640; µ: 453; - ν: 440; ξ: 533; ο: 557; - π: 481; ρ: 606; σ: 428; - τ: 604; υ: 394; φ: 434; - χ: 501; ψ: 372; ω: 548.
  3. The original Greek text does not explicitly mention their one-eyedness, but presupposes it, according to Luca Giuliani : Bild und Mythos. History of picture narration in Greek art. CH Beck, Munich 2003, p. 107 ISBN 3-406-50999-1 . In art, however, two- and three-eyed representations of the polyphem can also be found, see on the question also Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher: Cyclops 2 . In: Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher (Hrsg.): Detailed lexicon of Greek and Roman mythology . Volume 2.1, Leipzig 1894, Col. 1682–1687 ( digital copy ).
  4. Homer, Odyssey 13: 256-286.
  5. Homer, Odyssey 14,192-359.
  6. Homer, Odyssey 24, 303-314.
  7. Odysseia . In: Kindlers Literatur-Lexikon , Vol. 5. Kindler, Zurich pp. 6896–6899, here p. 6897.
  8. Dieter Hertel : The walls of Troia: Myth and history in ancient Ilion. CH Beck, 2003, p. 5 names well-known representatives of both opinions.
  9. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-greece-archaeology-odyssey/oldest-known-extract-of-homers-odyssey-discovered-in-greece-idUSKBN1K01QM
  10. ^ Wilhelm Grimm : The saga of Polyphemus . Royal Acad. Of Sciences, 1857, p. 1 ( google.com [accessed January 17, 2018]).
  11. ^ Jo Ann Conrad: Polyphemus and Tepegöz Revisited . In: Fabula . tape 40 , no. 3/4 , 1999, p. 1 ( proquest.com [accessed July 15, 2019]).
  12. Julien d'Huy: Polyphemus (Aa. Th. 1137): A phylogenetic reconstruction of a prehistoric tale. In: Nouvelle Mythologie Comparée . tape 1 , no. 1 , 2013, p. 9 (Fig. 3), 10 (Fig. 4) ( archives-ouvertes.fr ).
  13. ^ Letter to Friedrich Schiller of May 17, 1795. In: Goethe's works (Weimar edition). Section 4: Goethe's letters . Vol. 10: August 9, 1792 - December 31, 1795 (= vol. 103 of the complete edition). Weimar 1892. p. 269 f.
  14. cit. at Strabo, Geography 1, 2, 15.
  15. Uwe Walter: Armin Wolf: Homer's Journey: You have to know how to unravel sailor's yarn . February 18, 2010, ISSN  0174-4909 ( faz.net [accessed March 6, 2019]).
  16. quoted in Pliny , Naturalis historia 5,41.
  17. Herodotus, Histories 4,177 f.
  18. Uvo Hölscher: The Odyssey. CH Beck, 1989, p. 141 ff.
  19. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 6,2,1; see. in addition Strabo, Geography 1,2,9.
  20. Virgil, Aeneis 3,569 ff.
  21. ^ Gustav Lang, Studies on the Geography of the Odyssey , Verlag der Hofbuchhandlung Friedrich Gutsch, Karlsruhe 1905, p. 70.
  22. Ernle Bradford, Reisen mit Homer , revised edition 1976, p. 64 ff. And p. 184 ff.
  23. Victor Bérard: Les phéniciens et l'Odyssée, Volume 2. Paris 1902, p. 114 ff.
  24. Armin Wolf: Homer's journey: in the footsteps of Odysseus. Completely revised new edition. Böhlau, Cologne, Weimar, Vienna 2009, p. 38 ff.
  25. u. a. Antiochus of Syracuse FGrH 555 F 1 Thucydides The Peloponnesian War 3.88; Pausania's description of Greece 10,11,3.
  26. ^ Ernle Bradford, Reisen mit Homer, revised edition 1976, pp. 79 ff.
  27. Armin Wolf: Homer's journey: in the footsteps of Odysseus. Completely revised new edition. Böhlau, Cologne, Weimar, Vienna 2009, p. 29 ff.
  28. Ernle Bradford, Traveling with Homer, revised edition 1976, pp. 166 ff. And 106 ff.
  29. ^ Ernle Bradford, Traveling with Homer, revised edition 1976, pp. 206 ff.
  30. Strabo, Geography 1,2,18.
  31. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno: Odysseus or Mythos and Enlightenment. In: Dialectic of Enlightenment . S. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1969, reprinted as paperback 1988, ISBN 3-596-27404-4 .
  32. ^ Odyssey in Luxembourgish
  33. Wakiko Kobayashi: Entertainment with a claim. The radio play program of the NWDR Hamburg and NDR in the 1950s. Lit, Münster 2009, ISBN 978-3-8258-1507-3 . P. 291.
  34. ^ Matthias Memmel: The Odyssey Cycle by Ludwig Michael Schwanthaler for the Munich Residence . (LMU publications / History and Art Studies, No. 32). Munich 2008.
  35. www.lambiek.net/artists/p/pichard.htm
  36. lambiek.net/artists/b/blum_alex.htm