Characters in the Odyssey: A Varied List of Significant Ones
Characters in the Odyssey are numerous, but the most significant ones include Odysseus, the Greek hero, around whom the story revolves; Penelope, his loyal wife; Telemachus, their son; the adversaries that were both suitors and monsters; however, they also had the gods behind the divine interventions, who rescued them, gave them hope, and even showed their rage. Continue reading to discover more about the characters and the roles they played!
The Characters in the Odyssey
There are many characters in the epic novel and below is the list of some of the Odyssey characters in no particular order, but all these characters have a part in the story and how the story turned out.
Odysseus is the main and the most spoken of character in the epic novel, The Odyssey. He is one of the Greek heroes from the Trojan War. The novel recounts his journey from Troy to Ithaca, where he resides with his wife, Queen Penelope, and their son, Telemachus.
Odysseus, as he is characterized in the poem, is both a strong and valiant warrior and a cunning person. He had the goddess Athena to support him. She frequently provided Odysseus with heavenly assistance, so he was able to overcome all of the obstacles, including those posed by Poseidon.
As with the typical main protagonist in a story, Odysseus is described as a stand-out leader who has power, bravery, nobility, a desire for glory, and a commanding presence. However, what really sets him apart the most is his intellectual abilities.
His fast-thinking abilities of Odysseus have gotten him out of some really difficult circumstances. An example was when he and his men escaped from the Cyclops‘ cave by clinging to the bellies of the sheep so that Polyphemus was not able to detect them. Another instance was when he commanded the minstrel to play a wedding song to cover up his killing of the suitors.
In addition, he is an effective public speaker, which means being a king, he is used to speaking in front of crowds and his people. He was able to utilize this talent when he spoke with Nausicaa on the island of Scheria. Overall, Odysseus was able to gain Nausicaa’s trust with his classy demeanor and soothing manner.
Telemachus in the Odyssey is the only son of the Greek hero Odysseus and his wife, Penelope. He is one of the key characters in the novel. Although he was still a baby when Odysseus left to join the Trojan War. At the start of the narrative, Telemachus is estimated to be around twenty years old. The first four books of the Odyssey focused on Telemachus and his pursuit of information regarding his father, who has not yet returned home.
Being the only son, he was the only one who came in between her mother and the suitors who came in to vie for his mother’s hand. However, he lacked the confidence and power to do so, and the book also showed the development of his character.
Athena, who favored Odysseus, was also looking after Telemachus. She appeared in the form of Mentes and advised Telemachus to travel to Pylos and Sparta to search for his father. What happened was he heeded this advice, and when he returned to Ithaca, he soon discovered that his father was already there.
He did not recognize Odysseus at first because he was disguised as a beggar. Only when he revealed himself did Telemachus get to know him. Together, they plotted to kill and get rid of the suitors.
Being the wife of Odysseus and mother of Telemachus, Penelope is one of the three main characters in the Odyssey. She was the daughter of the Spartan King Icarius and Periboea, a Naiad nymph.
In The Odyssey, she is depicted as a loving and faithful wife to Odysseus who continues to patiently wait for her husband despite the vague chance of Odysseus coming back. She is a bit impulsive and animated but smart and wise, as demonstrated by how she deceived all of her suitors.
Penelope gained a lot of accumulated suitors in the twenty years that her husband was gone, however, she is still talked about because she continued to be loyal to her husband. In fact, she had no plan of marrying any of her suitors, as she even devised multiple strategies to put them off, and she was known because of one of them: Penelope’s shroud.
She created it during a time when the pressure to choose another husband was huge. As she was the queen of Ithaca, she understood that she had a responsibility to her people, and choosing a suitable husband to replace the king who has not returned yet was one of them.
In order to pacify the people waiting for her decision and the suitors, she announced that she would only choose a husband once she finished the burial cloak for her father-in-law. She weaves it during the day, but, unknown to all, she unravels it during the night, giving her a chance to have ample time and further delay her remarriage. She was able to continuously do this for three long years until one of the slaves in the palace saw her unraveling it at night and told the suitors.
Athena in The Odyssey had a very significant role, to elaborate further, if not for her, Odysseus probably wouldn’t be able to return home safely. Known to be the Greek goddess of knowledge, military strategy, and feminine arts, Athena went out of her way to use her divine abilities to help both Odysseus and Telemachus. The goddess favored Odysseus because they possessed similar traits.
There were many instances where Athena stepped in to help Odysseus. The most notable was when Athena stood in front of the council of Olympian gods to convince her father, the supreme god Zeus, to set Odysseus free.
Athena also took it upon herself to ensure the safety of Odysseus’ family. She often appeared in Penelope’s dreams to reassure her that Odysseus is fine and will return to her someday, and she provided the wife with hope. Athena appears in the form of a mentor and advises the young Prince Telemachus to go and look for his father.
Furthermore, Athena helped Odysseus to be free from Calypso, made sure that Nausicaa would help him, and gave him the idea to disguise himself so he could safely go back to the palace and get his wife back.
Odysseus remained stranded on Calypso’s island of Ogygia, where the immortal goddess Calypso met and fell in love with the Greek hero. She took Odysseus captive for seven long years, hoping that he would also fall in love with her.
She even offered immortality once Odysseus agreed to be her husband. However, the Greek hero could not be persuaded and was miserable. With the help of Athena, who convinced her father Zeus to interfere, Calypso was compelled to release Odysseus after Hermes, the messenger of the gods, came to her and delivered Zeus’ orders.
One of the two nymph lovers of Odysseus, Circe is a sorceress who is capable of transforming people into animals. She did this to Odysseus’ men, whom she transformed into pigs. She also fell in love with Odysseus and was about to subject him to her spell, too.
Fortunately for Odysseus, Hermes gave him an herb called molly, such that the potion that Circe gave him would not have an effect. By doing so, Odysseus was not only prevented from being under Circe’s spell, but he was also able to persuade Circe to turn back his men into their human forms.
Odysseus and together with Circe lived in luxury for a year, and when it was time for Odysseus to sail away, Circe even provided him with all of his needs, such as food and water.
In the epic novel, Poseidon is the main antagonist of Odysseus. The majority of the difficulties, such as storms and encounters with monsters, are because of the god of the Sea. It was because Odysseus had an unfortunate encounter with one of Poseidon’s sons, which enraged Poseidon. The god of the sea made sure that Odysseus would have a hard time getting home. There was not even a single man left from his troops.
The king of the gods, Zeus, served as a mediator in all the disputes in the Odyssey. Even though he has the power to grant life and death to each of the characters, he only meddles in their affairs if he is asked.
An example was when Odysseus’ men slaughtered the prized golden cattle of the sun god, Helios. The enraged god went to Zeus and requested to punish Odysseus and his men. With one strike of his thunderbolt, Zeus killed all of Odysseus’ men but spared Odysseus. This was how powerful and almighty Zeus was.
Antinous in the Odyssey refers to one of the well-known suitors of Penelope. His character is that of a violent and arrogant suitor who made a bold move to usurp the throne. In addition, he even tried to kill Telemachus in order to make sure that there would be no other heir to the throne.
In Greek mythology, Eurymachus is described as an Ithacan nobleman. He is the son of Polybus and one of the leading suitors vying for Peneope’s hand in marriage, as she was away from her husband, he did all he can, to attain her.
Similar to Antinous, Eurymachus was cunning, dishonest, and deceitful, so much that he even set up Telemachus to die. However, his scheme fell through and he was later killed by Odysseus, along with all the other suitors.
In contrast to the two well-known cunning suitors of Penelope, Amphinomus is the opposite. As a monarch himself as the son of King Nisos, the prince of Dulichium, Amphinomus is regarded as the most well-behaved of all the suitors.
Even Odysseus himself, while still in disguise, gave Amphinomus a warning that King Odysseus would soon be returning home, so it was better for him to leave and go back to his own country. However, Amphinomus did not listen, and he was also killed in the massacre of the suitors.
Eurycleia in the Odyssey refers to Odysseus’ wet nurse, who was the one who primarily raised him and later his son Telemachus. Eurcycleia has been with Odysseus’ family since she was a little girl. She was bought by Odysseus’ father and was treated as a wife, but their relationship was never consummated as a sign of respect to Anticleia, Odysseus’ mother.
Since Eurycleia knew Odysseus very well, she was able to recognize him even if he was still in disguise. This was due to a distinguishing mark above his knee. Odysseus warned her not to tell anyone. Later on, however, she informed Penelope, but the queen did not believe her. Penelope only believed that her husband had returned when she put him to a test and revealed the secret that only the two of them knew, as much as she had hope in his return.
Now, who is Melanthius in the Odyssey, is one of the queries of this book, hence he is a minor yet significant character in the novel. He is Odysseus’ goatherd who provides the best goats for the suitors in the palace. He is even preferred by many of the suitors as he serves them during feasts.
When Odysseus returned to Ithaca, he met Melanthius outside of town. Given that Odysseus was in disguise, he was not recognized by Melanthius. Instead, the goatherd proceeded to insult him and even kick him.
He also made fun of him in the palace, but later on, when the massacre of the suitors was over, Melanthius was brought into the courtyard. His ears and nose were severed as punishment for being a traitor, and his genitals were torn and fed to the dogs. Telemachus and the other two herdsmen also chopped off both of his hands and feet.
Also read How are the Suitors Described in The Odyssey: Everything You Need to Know
She is a sister of Melanthius, a servant in the palace, and one of Penelope’s favorite slaves. The queen treats Melantho like her own daughter, but Melantho still betrayed them. She is having an affair with Eurymachus, one of Penelope’s suitors. She also mistreated Odysseus when the king went to the palace as a beggar. Later on, she was killed by hanging as ordered by Odysseus.
Polyphemus is the cyclops whom Odysseus blinded, thus triggering Poseidon’s hatred. He was a giant with one eye on his forehead who ate anyone who unluckily came across his island. When Odysseus and his troops got stranded on his island, Polyphemus imprisoned Odysseus and his men in his cave and sealed them inside by putting a large stone to block the cave’s entrance.
Laertes is Odysseus’ father and Telemachus’ grandfather. He was depicted in the novel as an old man living on an island and barely maintaining his fields. In fact, Penelope even started to prepare a burial cloak for him.
Nestor was the ruler of Pylos, a city on the Peloponnesian peninsula. This is where Telemachus went to seek out information about the whereabouts of his father. Given that Nestor was a fellow soldier in the Trojan War, Telemachus assumed that he had knowledge as to what happened to his father. However, Nestor has little to no information.
King Menelaus, Agamemnon’s brother, and Helen’s husband, is a significant character from the Iliad as he was a commander in the Trojan War. He has a history with Odysseus, having fought together at Troy. Having known this, Telemachus, who was in pursuit of finding information about his father and went to meet Menelaus, who in turn helped him to find Odysseus.
Nausicaa was a young and attractive Phaeacian princess who was mentioned in the novel as a prospective love interest for Odysseus. However, the two never had a romantic relationship. However, some stories say Nausicaa and Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, ended up together.
Odysseus and Nausicaa had an encounter when the stranded Odysseus approached Nausicaa while the latter was doing laundry at the beach.
Alcinous is a Phaeacian king who is the father of Nausicaa. He welcomed Odysseus to his kingdom and showed him hospitality. He gave him a safe ride back to Ithaca after feeding him a feast and giving him priceless gifts.
There are many characters in the Odyssey, but all of them are typically unchanging, except for Odysseus and Telemachus. Let us recap what we have learned, which can help us in Odysseus’s character analysis:
- There are three main characters, namely, Odysseus, Telemachus, and Penelope. Although the story focused more on Odysseus, there were also snippets of what was happening to both his wife and son.
- There are four gods who have significant roles in the novel: Athena, Poseidon, Zeus, and Hermes. All four of them greatly contributed to the outcome of the events.
- Odysseus blinded the cyclops Polyphemus, which provoked Poseidon’s wrath for him. This made his sea voyage considerably more challenging than it actually was.
- The nymphs Circe and Calypso became Odysseus’ lovers, while Nausicaa was the young Phaeacian princess who was assumed to be another love interest for Odysseus, but they did not have any romantic relationship.
- Antinous and Eurymachus were two of the most well-known suitors of Penelope. They both plotted to usurp the throne by marrying the queen of Ithaca and killing Telemachus. Amphinomus, on the other hand, is the most well-behaved of all the suitors.
The mix of the different characters in the Odyssey makes the novel grader and more interesting. Unlike other contemporary novels with characters who do not evolve in the course of the story, The Odyssey showed the evolution of Telemachus and Odysseus’ characters, from which readers can learn a thing or two.