Odysseus Ship – The Greatest Name

The Odyssey is a story of a journey in Odysseus’ boat, as our Hero tried to find his way home following a conquest. Unfortunately for Odysseus, the gods were against him nearly every step of the way.

Without a few friendly interventions, he never would have found his way home to his beloved Penelope or his home of Ithaca. 

A Boat With No Name

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The Odyssey follows Odysseus’s travels, as he moves across the seas with a large crew and a group of ships. Typically in Greek culture of the day, ships were named for women or were given names indicating power and swiftness

In much earlier plays, like Aristophanes’ play, The Birds, ships are typically named. A ship in that play, Salaminia, is named for an island where the sailors had won a major victory. Ships were often named that were used in sacred missions or being sent off to important battles. The work-horse ship Odysseus was sailing to return to Ithaca after the war did not warrant such a grand gesture as a name, at least not one that Homer included in his writing.

Odysseus traveled nearly the entire way from Troy back to his home in Ithaca via ship. The route was entirely by ocean, though he stopped several times along the way in various places. It was during these stops that most of his misadventures took place. It seems that every place Odysseus stopped, he ran into more difficulties. In some places, he lost his men and his ships until he traveled entirely alone by the end of his journey.

What Was The Name Of Odysseus Ship?

So, if the ship had no actual name, how does Homer refer to it? While the Odyssey boat didn’t carry a specific title, it was referred to as a Homeric Galley. The galley was not a cruise ship, but rather a squat thing that rode low in the water, with the bulk of its space below deck where the rowers sat, propelling the ship forward. It is thought that the warriors would have taken turns at the oars, as carrying slaves or others simply to power the oars would have taken up too much of the limited space and resources. 

The ships Odysseus sailed with would have been swift, sleek, ocean-going vessels specifically designed to cut through the waves at a great rate of speed. They were easily taken into shallower waters near shore and just as easily maneuvered away in case of the need for a swift exit. In each instance that Odysseus and his men went ashore, it seems the ships could be brought into a harbor or other safe haven from which to disembark as they pursued their adventures onshore.  

How Many Ships Did Odysseus Have 

Odysseus left Troy with a dozen ships and 600 men. They had just won a victory in Troy, and Odysseus was ready to return to Ithaca, his home. He had been away 20 years, and he wanted nothing more than to return. Odysseus had tired of war and wanted to return to his own kingdom, where he would be welcomed as a hero.

Odysseus’ first stop was at the island of the Cicones. His men went ashore and terrorized the small shoreline village, pillaging and murdering wantonly, acceptable behavior in the time period. Having gained a victory over the helpless natives, they settled in for a night of partying and drunken song. Unfortunately for Odysseus’ men, the Cicones living along the shoreline were not the island’s only residents. The survivors who escaped rushed inland to gain assistance, and they returned in force to drive Odysseus and his men back to their ships, beaten and empty-handed. 

His next stop was in the Land of the Lotus Eaters. Here, he nearly lost his men to the nectar consumed by the Lotus Eaters and the appeal of the lazy lifestyle. He managed to draw them away and continue on their journey. One would think Odysseus would have had enough of islands, but he did not seem to learn. His men were a bit leerier on the next island but found a cave filled with food and drink and treasure, apparently abandoned. There they found themselves trapped by the cyclops Polyphemus. Odysseus managed to blind the cyclops and defeat him, but he brought Poseidon’s wrath on himself and his crew in so doing. Odysseus soon had to sail on with his 12 ships and his remaining crew.

Wrecked

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Odysseus sailed on and landed on Aiolos’ island. He gained a gift of the winds, held in a sack, save for the west wind left loose to drive him onward toward Ithaca. His crew’s greed turned out to be their undoing. With Ithaca in sight, they opened the bag given to Odysseus, thinking it contained a great treasure. The winds were released and drove the ships back out to sea. They returned to Aiolos, but he refused further assistance. Odysseus’ journey, so near to completion, had begun over again. Up until this point, Odysseus had managed not to lose any ships, though he had lost a number of his crew to monsters and vengeful villagers. 

His luck would change again at the land of the Laestrygones. Cautious after so many setbacks, Odysseus ordered his crew to row into the small harbor, while he remained apart and behind, in a sheltered nook. Eleven of the twelve ships drew near to shore, and his crew disembarked. They went to the castle to seek the help of the residents of the land. The Queen met them. She ordered them to wait, and when her husband came home, the dreadful giant snatched up members of the crew and devoured them. The survivors fled to the ships, desperate to escape, but were overtaken and crushed by boulders thrown down upon them by the Laestrygones. The ships, and their entire crews, were destroyed

Ship of Odysseus and Circe

Unlike his ship, Odysseus went by another name. He was also called Ulysses. Therefore Ulysses Ship is the same. Grieving their loss at the hands of the cannibalistic giants, Odysseus and his remaining crew sailed on. Beaten, discouraged and despairing, they came to yet another island. At this point, his men had seen enough of adventure and wanted nothing to do with the island and its inhabitants.

At first, they refused to explore the island or to risk setting foot onshore. Odysseus demanded obedience and told them that their fear was of no use to them. That the loss of their shipmates would be in vain if they gave up now. Eventually, the crew ventured ashore with his encouragement and persuasion, with half of them remaining behind with Odysseus. 

They ventured further onto the island until they reached another castle. There they were invited in, and all but the leader of the small band went in. They were met by a gracious hostess who sat them down to a rich meal. Unfortunately for the crew, their hostess was the witch, Circe, who plied them with enchanted food and drink. The entire crew was turned into swine. 

When they did not return, their leader went back to Odysseus, waiting with their one remaining ship, and reported the disappearance. 

Odysseus, determined not to lose any more men, started inland to try to save his crew. Along the way, he was met by Hermes in disguise. Hermes advised him not to touch the witch’s food and to threaten her with his sword. When she asked him to stay as her lover, he would gain her vow that she would not harm him. Odysseus followed the advice and was able to defeat Circe. He convinced her to release his crew from their curse and remained on the island with her for a year.

A Beef with a God

Eventually, Odysseus turned away from his lover, and at the pleading of his crew, who wanted to return home, moved on. Following Circe’s advice to visit an island where he summoned Teiresias and others from the underworld, he sailed forward.

Following that terrifying experience, he sailed through the sea area occupied by the dreaded Sirens, escaping their entanglement only by tying himself and his crew to the mast of the ship. Facing a decision between a giant whirlpool and a monster who would devour six of his crew, he chose the monster and lost six more men to its clutches. Finally, the crew’s luck seemed to turn, as they landed on a shore with plump cattle to provide them fresh meat. 

Unfortunately for Odysseus, the cattle belonged to the sun god, Helios. For their crime, the entire crew was slaughtered by Zeus, leaving only Odysseus alive. Odysseus, the sole survivor, washes up on an island occupied by the nymph, Calypso. She keeps him prisoner on her island for seven years. During this time, Odysseus crafts himself a replacement for his ship, felling 20 trees and honing the shapes himself with an adze. 

It is not until Athena intervenes with Zeus and asks him to order Odysseus’ release that Calypso agrees to set him free. Sailing once more in his newly-built boat, alone, Odysseus completes the last leg of his journey toward home. Odysseus lands on an island of the Phaeacians, where he relates the entire story to the king. Having gained their benevolence and assistance, he gains their help in returning to Ithaca. 

Throughout his journeys, Odysseus relies upon the crew and his twelve ships until he loses all but one to the cannibal giants. Traveling on alone, he finally loses his crew and even his final ship to Zeus’ wrath. By the time he returns home, his final ship is built of his own two hands over the course of seven years. Perhaps Homer doesn’t name Odysseus’ ships because they are stripped away throughout the course of the tale. The ships with no names were neither sacred nor tools that drove his story forward.

They were not vehicles that would carry him all the way home. Like Odysseus’ pride, cleverness, and arrogance, his ships were removed from him so that when he finally returns to Ithaca, he has been honed into the man who will be needed. His kingdom requires a leader, a Hero who has learned from his travels and adventures, one tempered in the fires of loss and grief.

Odysseus loses everything on his journey: his crew, his ships, and his taste for further adventuring. When he returns to find his wife courted by suitors, his mother dead, and his father retreated, he could have gone back to the sea. Rather than turning away, he pursues the one thing that remains important to him- his home and family. In the end, it wasn’t the ship that was important at all, but the journey home. 

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