The Odyssey is the story of the homecoming of another of the great Greek heroes at Troy, Odysseus. Unlike Achilles, Odysseus is not famous for his great strength or bravery, but for his ability to deceive and trick (it is Odysseus’s idea to take Troy by offering the citizens a large wooden horse filled, unbeknownst to the Trojans, with Greek soldiers). He is the anthropos polytropos, the “man of many ways,” or the “man of many tricks.” His homecoming has been delayed for ten years because of the anger of the gods; finally, in the tenth year, he is allowed to go home.
The story in the reader resumes the Odyssey after Circe adventure. It is at this point that the crew of the odyssey faced the sirens. As instructed by Odysseus, the crew lashed him tight to the ship, and ignored his pleas to be released. Odysseus alone heard the deadly songs of the siren. “ Come this way, honored Odysseus, great glory of the Achaians, and stay your ship, so that you can listen here to our singing,” sang the sirens. In this we find his trial by temptation. Tied to the ship he begs to be released, only to have more ropes tied to his body. In a way he fell for the temptation because he wanted to hear the sirens, but he excised restraint by ordering his men to secure him tightly to the ship before sailing past the sirens.
Moving forward into the maelstrom, Odysseus and his crew come before the Laestrygones, the Scylla and the Charabdys. Against advice from Circe, Odysseus dons his armor and lance as if to battle. In the foray that followed Odysseus lost six of his strongest men to the Scylla. Personally speaking, he lost his sense of judgement to fear by ignoring the prophesies of Circe. For that he had to hear the screams of his mean as they were devoured by the Scylla pleading for help.
As if that tragedy weren’t bad enough, he then, against his own judgement, landed on the island of Helios, the sun god. An island stocked with “fat flocks of sheep and handsome wide-browed oxen.” In the mist of starvation, and ignoring the prophecies of Teiresia the Theband and Aianian Circe, the hungry men feasted on the broad-faced horn-curved oxen. Assuming of course that they could assuage Helios by erecting a temple when they reached home. This all led to a chain of events that brought the furry of Zeus upon their ship, breaking the ship into splinters with a bolt a lightning. Miraculously, Odysseus survived on the bare keel of the ship.
Now, floating about in the chaos, Odysseus manages to construct a makeshift boat using the bare keel and the mast of the boat. From there the winds take him back to the dreaded sea rock of the Scylla and the Charybdis. Of course he survives that event and is brought by the gods to the island Ogygia, home of Kalypso. At this point, Odysseus is offered a choice, much like Achilles’ choice: he may either live on the island with Kalypso and be immortal like the gods, or he may return to his wife and his country and be mortal like the rest of us. He chooses to return, and much of the rest of the work is a long exposition on what it means to be “mortal.” If the Odyssey has a discernible theme, it is the nature of mortal life, why any human being would, if offered the chance to be a god, still choose to be mortal.