Olympus: Odysseus

September 3, 2010


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Identity: One of the four Heroes.

Description: Red-haired nautical adventurer, usually portrayed aboard ship on one of his numerous voyages.

Symbol: A ship

The Greek Myth

Odysseus was fathered by Sisyphus with Anticleia, wife of Laertes the Argive. He is mentioned as having red hair, a feature in common with the Egyptian Set. The exploits of Odysseus were numerous, and well documented in Homer’s masterpiece The Odyssey, which details the full and exciting advenutes (yawn) of this much travelled Hero.

The stories of Circe and the Sirens are particularly well known. Circe, the enchantress, was the wife of the king of the Sarmatians, who she poisoned. She then built herself a magnificent palace on the isle of Aeaea, and proceeded to cast spells over all who visited her there, turning them into animals. When Odysseus arrived on Aeaea his companions were promptly changed into swine, a fate which the Hero himself escaped through using a herb which Hermes had given him, thus suggesting that the antidote to emotional submission lies in the power of the mind (Hermes).

Odysseus was able to persuade Circe to restore his colleagues to their human form, after which he remained with her for a whole year. When the time came for him to depart and take to his ship again, Circe warned him of the dangers of the voyage in general, but one hazard in particular:

First thou shalt arrive where the enchanter Sirens dwell, they who seduce men. The imprudent man who draws near to them never returns, for the Sirens, lying in the flower-strewn fields, will charm him with sweet song; but around them the bodies of their victims lie in heaps.

And so Odysseus sailed on his way and as his ship came in sight of the rocky islet, he perceived the Sirens and heard their song:

Draw near, illustrious Odysseus, glory of the Achaeans, stop ship and come to us. None has yet passed this isle without having listened to the enchantment of our voices and heard us sing of the mighty deeds done by the Greeks beneath the walls of Troy. For we know all that happens on the fruitful earth.

But the Hero had observed the advice given to him by Circe and had himself lashed to the mast of his ship, while his companions had cautiously stopped their ears with wax. In this way the Sirens were deprived of their prey.

Odysseus was married to Penelope, but as with all the Greek heroes he spread his seed far and wide. His many years of voyaging and wandering eventually ended and he returned to his homeland where he lived to a prsperous old age, surrounded by his family.

Upright Meanings

Fluidity. Sympathy. How one reflects or reacts to what is taking place around one. Emotionally motivated people whose hearts rule their heads, yet who are adventuresome, kind, caring and adaptable.

Upside Down Meanings

Self-centredness. Immaturity. Being easily led; the follower, rather than the leader. Gullibility. Narcissism.

When I was a young girl
I wanted to sail around the world
That's the life for me, living on the sea
Spirit of a sailor, circumnavigates the globe
The lust of a pioneer, will acknowledge no frontier
I remember you by, thunderclap in the sky
Lightning flash, tempers flare,
'round the horn if you dare

I just spent six months in a leaky boat
Six months in a leaky boat

Aotearoa, rugged individual
Glisten like a pearl
At the bottom of the world
The tyranny of distance
Didn't stop the cavalier
So why should it stop me
I'll conquer and stay free
Ah c'mon all you boys
Let's forget and forgive
There's a world to explore
Tales to tell back on shore

I just spent six months in a leaky boat
Six months in a leaky boat

Ship-wrecked love can be cruel
Don't be fooled by her kind
There's a wind in my sails
To protect and prevail

I just spent six months in a leaky boat
Six months in a leaky boat 
~ Split Enz

Did I sign up for this?  The Journey home for Odysseus in the Odyssey


  1. Have you read The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood? It tells the story of Ulysses from the point of view of his wife, Penelope. Very witty and pointed!

  2. OOoooh….thanks for that Debra. There was a copy at the library. I had previously read “Lion’s Honey” a retelling of Samson in this myths series that The Penelopiad belongs to…..have you read that?

  3. I’ve only read 3 others in the Canongate Myths Series — Karen Armstrong’s “A Short History of Myth” (meh), Jeanette Winterson’s “Weight” (good) and Alexander McColl Smith’s “Dream Angus” (good). My clear favourite, though, was Margaret Atwood’s “The Penelopiad.” I had good intentions to read others as they were published, but have now got very far behind!

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