Odysseus Tells His Story

When he awoke on the shore, Odysseus heard the laughter of young girls. He had been discovered by a princess named Nausicaa and her maidens. Nausicaa took him to the palace of her father, Alcinous, and there he was given food and rest and clean clothes. That night there was a great feast in Alcinous' palace, and Odysseus was invited. When the guests had finished eating, a bard came forward and sang about the great deeds of the heroes who had fought at Troy. As Odysseus listened, he became so moved -- thinking of all the great and terrible deeds he had seen and done -- that he began to weep.

King Alcinous saw his guest crying and asked, "What is wrong? Do you not like the bard's singing?"

Odysseus replied, "He sings very well. Listening to him, it is as if I were once again standing on the dusty plain before the walls of Troy."

"Are you then one of the heroes of the Greeks?" the king asked. "Tell us your name and how you came to be shipwrecked here, still far from home so many years later."

"My name is Odysseus, son of Laertes, and I was the one who suggested to Agamemnon the trick of the Trojan Horse. When the city had been sacked, and Helen was returned to her husband, I was eager to see my wife and son again, so I set sail immediately with my twelve black ships. We sailed many days, and were blown off-course by a storm, but we arrived safely in the harbor of a strange island.

"I went exploring with six of my companions, and in a cave we found cheese, skins of wine, and many other signs that a prosperous shepherd lived there. We waited for him to return, but when he did, we found that he was not a man, but a horrible giant with a single eye in the center of his forehead. He herded his sheep inside, and rolled a giant stone over the opening so that we could not escape. Since we were trapped, I took the risk of speaking to him, saying that we had come in peace as guests, but he said he did not care about the laws of hospitality. Then he killed two of my men by smashing their heads against the floor and ate them.

"After that he fell asleep, and so the remaining five of us took a giant pike which we found in the cave, heated it in the fire, and blinded the monster in his sleep. He woke screaming, and rushed to the door of his cave. He threw the aside the stone that blocked the doorway and rushed out, eager to escape whatever was attacking him. We ran out after him, and made for our ships as quickly as we could. Then pride overcame me, for as I stood next to my ship I shouted at the crazed monster, 'Cannibal! It is I, Odysseus, who blinded you in punishment for what you did to my men.'

"Many times since that day I have regretted that bragging. The monster was a son of the sea god Poseidon, and he called down the curses of his father against us once he knew my name. Poseidon sent storms after us and drove us from our course. We had many more adventures as Poseidon drove us from place to place. Once we nearly reached home, with the help of Aeolus, the master of the winds. We feasted with him on his island, and he tied all the winds up for me in a leather bag except the one that we needed to reach home. When we left his island we sailed swiftly for home. But then one night as I slept, when Ithaca was nearly in sight, the sailors (who thought there was some treasure hidden in the bag) opened it and released the winds. A horrible storm came up, with the wind blowing every way at once, and we were blown far away and sent wandering again.

"Then we came to the island of the witch Circe, who turned half my men into pigs. At last I was able to persuade her to turn them back, and we sailed on. Next we had to sail past the island of the sirens, beautiful women with haunting voices who sing to all the ships that pass. Their song is so beautiful that sailors try to land on their island. But the island is surrounded by jagged rocks, and any one who tries to land his ship there is wrecked. I had to plug the ears of my sailors with wax so that they would not hear the singing. But I wanted to hear this wonder for myself, so I had my sailors tie me to the mast (lest I should be overcome by their singing and try to swim to shore) and I listened to their song, which surely is the most beautiful in all the world.

"But our luck turned even worse. We landed on the island of Helios, the god of the sun, where he keeps his sacred cattle. I had warned my men that they must never touch these animals, but they were so hungry that when I was not looking they killed them and roasted them for dinner. The god was so furious that when we left the island he sent against us an even greater storm than we had yet seen, and all my ships were wrecked, and all my men drowned. I was the only man spared, because I was the only one who had not eaten the cattle. Alone, I washed up on the island of Calypso. She took me in and gave me food and clothes, but she fell in love with me and would not let me leave, until a messenger from Zeus told her that she must.

"At last, I built a raft and sailed away. But Poseidon still hated me, and he sent a storm against me. And that is how I came to be wrecked upon your shores, good king, and was found by your daughter."

When Odysseus finished his story the king and all his subjects were amazed. And they felt so sorry for Odysseus, who had been kept from his home for so many years, that the king commanded that a ship be made ready that very night to take Odysseus back to Ithaca.

Odysseus was grateful, but he was also tired. He stepped onto the ship and soon fell asleep. As dawn broke, the ship reached Ithaca, and the king's sailors set Odysseus ashore. Athena met them there, and she blessed them and sent them homeward, promising to take good care of Odysseus.

For recommendations on other re-tellings of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, click here.

Go back to: Elementary Program: Volume One

Next Story: The Hero Returns

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