Important Quotes in The Odyssey Explained

Quotes

The entirety of The Odyssey is filled with messages, imagery, and concepts. We try our best to understand what Homer was trying to tell us. Yet, it is no easy feat. With all the translations the poem went through, the meaning can simply get lost. This is exactly why we have collected and explained some of the most important quotes from The Odyssey.

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“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.”

Book I

These are the opening lines from The Odyssey and the start of our journey. As was standard with the epic Greek poems of the time, the bard asks the muses for inspiration. And with just these three lines, we gather a fountain of information.From the very first words, we are told what this story is going to be about. Namely, we now know that “the man of twists and turns” is going to be our hero. We also find out that he is going to be “driven time and again off course.” The readers (or listeners) are also given an abbreviated backstory. This man, the hero of the story, took part in the Trojan War – and emerged on the winning side.

“Sleeping, Penelope, your heart so wrung with sorrow?
No need, I tell you, no, the gods who live at ease
can’t bear to let you weep and rack your spirit.
Your son will still come home—it is decreed.
He’s never wronged the gods in any way.”

Book I

Ancient Greek mythology is at the very heart of the poem. The gods play a significant part in the story, and their influence is seen everywhere. Athena’s words to Penelope here may be one of the most telling quotes from The Odyssey.

With her husband still missing and now her son sailing off to sea, Penelope is sick with worry. This alone tells us of the family’s loyalty to one another, how much they love each other. At night, when she is sleeping, Athena appears before her, disguised as her sister. She takes the time to reassure the troubled queen that her family is safe. Odysseus’ kin is under the patronage of the gods, and even Penelope’s tears are the cause for intervention.

“Now Telemachus, here is how the suitors answer you—
you burn it in your mind, you and all our people:
send your mother back! Direct her to marry
whomever her father picks, whoever pleases her.”

Book II

The suitors are the main antagonists of The Odyssey and the source of all the tension back in Ithaca. The goddess Athena inspires the young prince Telemachus to take a stand against them, but they did not leave his speech unanswered.

These words are spoken by the suitor Antinoos to Odysseus’ son after he shames the men for their behavior. Through this quote, we learn just how little the suitors respect Telemachus and his mother. They command the prince and the queen with no regard to their royal status. This also reflects the rising tensions between aristocracy and monarchy in the real world of Homer’s Greece.

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“Just think of all the hospitality we enjoyed
at the hands of other men before we made it home,
and god save us from such hard treks in years to come.
Quick, unhitch their team. And bring them in,
strangers, guests, to share our flowing feast.”

Book IV

Hospitality quotes in The Odyssey showcase one of the main themes of the poem. These lines are spoken by Menelaus. He is the king whose wife’s abduction was the cause of the Trojan War. Telemachus arrives in his kingdom in search of information about his father, Odysseus. The great king immediately offers his guests food and comfort. He showers them with gifts and makes sure to provide the best accommodations.

The simple message behind these words is reflected in the customs of the Ancient Greeks: treat others as you wish to be treated yourself.

“Odysseus, master of many exploits, praised the singer:
I respect you, Demodocus, more than any man alive —
surely the Muse has taught you, Zeus’s daughter,
or god Apollo himself. How true to life,
all too true . . . you sing the Achaeans’ fate,
all they did and suffered, all they soldiered through,
as if you were there yourself or heard from one who was.”

Book VIII

In Homer’s time, poetry was considered to be a gift bestowed by gods. Performances were capable of evoking powerful emotions, enough to bring a listener to tears. As such, this is one of The Odyssey’s quotes that signify the importance of storytelling.

Here we see Odysseus plead with Demodocus to sing the tale of the Trojan War. He mentions how much he respects the bard and that his talent must come from the gods themselves. Indeed, later in the scene, Odysseus bursts into tears listening to the story of suffering and heroism.

“So, you ask me the name I’m known by, Cyclops?
I will tell you. But you must give me a guest-gift
as you’ve promised. Nobody —that’s my name. Nobody —
so my mother and father call me, all my friends.”

Book IX

This deceit quote is perhaps the most striking example of Odysseus’ cunning. The hero’s intellect and wisdom are commented on throughout the poem by everyone, from regular people to the gods. The encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemus demonstrates that these are not just empty words.

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Odysseus tells his captor that his name is ‘Nobody.’ After the giant falls asleep, the hero stabs out his only eye. When Polyphemus wakes up, screaming, other Cyclopes come to check on him, hearing his cries for help. The blind giant informs them that ‘Nobody’ is trying to kill him. Naturally, his brethren calm down and leave him be. Odysseus’ sharp wit distinguishes him from other heroes of his era, who only use strength to overpower their enemies.

“I reassured the ghost, but he broke out, protesting,
“No winning words about death to me, shining Odysseus!
By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man—
some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive—
than rule down here over all the breathless dead.”

Book XI

In The Odyssey, quotes about death show how the Ancients envisioned the afterlife. Following Circe’s advice, Odysseus travels to the Underworld to receive a prophecy about his future travels. While in the realm of the dead, he meets many of his fallen comrades.

Odysseus envies Achilles, a hero of the Trojan War, for his glorious strength and death in battle. Achilles, meanwhile, says that he would do anything to be alive again. Working for a farmer on earth is better than being king of the entire Underworld, he claims. This part of the story compares the Greek concepts of kleos (the glory of dying in war) and nostos (the wish to return home). In The Odyssey, Homer criticizes the former. He uses Achilles as a reminder that early death isn’t something to strive for.

‘Friends … it’s wrong for only one or two
to know the revelations that lovely Circe
made to me alone. I’ll tell you all,
so we can die with our eyes wide open now
or escape our fate and certain death together.
First, she warns, we must steer clear of the Sirens,
their enchanting song, their meadow starred with flowers.
I alone was to hear their voices, so she said,
but you must bind me with tight chafing ropes
so I cannot move a muscle, bound to the spot,
erect at the mast-block, lashed by ropes to the mast.
And if I plead, commanding you to set me free,
then lash me faster, rope on pressing rope.’

Book XII

There is no dispute about Odysseus being a leader. His men follow him to the bitter end, seldom questioning his decisions or judgment. This quote demonstrates his ability to guide his crew.

Odysseus tells his team of Circe’s warning and the fate that waits for them at sea. When they are about to pass by the infamous Sirens, the hero instructs his men to plug their ears. He also tells them to tie him to the mast and hold him back from following the Sirens’ call. His crew follows the instructions perfectly, and they manage to escape. Odysseus becomes the first person ever to hear the Sirens’ song and live.

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“You terrible man,
foxy, ingenious, never tired of twists and tricks —
so, not even here, on native soil, would you give up
those wily tales that warm the cockles of your heart!
Come, enough of this now. We’re both old hands
at the arts of intrigue. Here among mortal men
you’re far the best at tactics, spinning yarns,
and I am famous among the gods for wisdom,
cunning wiles, too.”

Book XIII

There is no shortage of quotes from The Odyssey about Odysseus being a hero. Yet, this one demonstrates just how favorably the gods view him.

After he finally lands on the shores of Ithaca, Odysseus meets with Athena, disguised as usual. He tells her an imaginary tale of his travels, never once revealing himself as the returned king. This pleases the goddess, and she finally reveals herself to him, praising his cunning and intelligence. She compares them to each other, saying that he’s the most ingenious of men as she is of gods. Her words are also indicative of women’s portrayal in The Odyssey as conniving and shrewd.

“Of all that breathes and crawls across the earth,
our mother earth breeds nothing feebler than a man.
So long as the gods grant him power, spring in his knees,
he thinks he will never suffer affliction down the years.
But then, when the happy gods bring on the long hard times,
bear them he must, against his will, and steel his heart.”

Book XVIII

The motive of hubris in The Odyssey is an important one. A large part of Odysseus’ struggles comes as a result of his exaggerated ego. Having learned his lesson, here we see the hero warn the suitors to stay humble before the gods. He is disguised as a beggar and tells the men his made-up backstory. Odysseus imagines that he was once a great warrior, captured by his enemies. While his words serve to maintain his cover, they also have a deeper meaning. One can only prosper when the gods are on their side.

That’s all the quotes we’ve decided to explain! Thanks for reading! If you’re interested in learning more about The Odyssey, check the links below.

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IvyPanda. "Quotes." October 9, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/the-odyssey/quotes/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Quotes." October 9, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/the-odyssey/quotes/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Quotes'. 9 October.