From Gerald R. Lucas

The Odyssey is one of the most well-known and beloved works of Western literature, largely due to its memorable characters. From the wily and cunning Odysseus to the fierce and loyal Penelope, each character in the Odyssey plays a vital role in the epic poem’s enduring legacy.

One of the most compelling aspects of the characters in the Odyssey" is their depth and complexity. They are not one-dimensional, but rather fully realized individuals with distinct personalities, desires, and flaws. The gods and goddesses are not infallible beings but are capable of jealousy, anger, and betrayal. The mortal characters are not just heroes, but also flawed individuals who must face their own challenges and temptations.

 note: This is an overview of the main characters in the Odyssey. See also the breakdown of the books of the poem for more discussion of the characters and the List of Homeric Characters.


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At the heart of the Odyssey is the epic hero, Odysseus. He is the king of Ithaca and a skilled warrior who fought in the Trojan War. His intelligence, resourcefulness, and cunning are central to the plot of the Odyssey. After being away from his home for 20 years, he returns disguised as a beggar and must navigate a series of obstacles to reclaim his throne and reunite with his wife and son. Odysseus is a complex character who is both heroic and flawed. His arrogance and tendency to underestimate his foes lead to many of the challenges he faces on his journey home.


Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, is another important character. She is known for her intelligence, cunning, and devotion to her husband. While Odysseus is away, Penelope is besieged by suitors, who try to win her hand in marriage and claim Odysseus’ kingdom. Despite their pressure and attempts to woo her, Penelope remains loyal to Odysseus and devises clever strategies to keep them at bay, such as promising to choose a suitor once she finishes weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law. Penelope’s steadfastness and cleverness make her a model of female virtue in ancient Greek society.


Telemachus, the son of Odysseus and Penelope, is also a significant character in the Odyssey. He is portrayed as initially weak and immature, but through his journey to find his father, he grows into a strong and capable young man. Telemachus is essential in keeping his mother and their home safe from the suitors and learns valuable lessons about the importance of hospitality and respect for the gods from the various people he encounters on his journey in the first four books of the Odyssey.

The Gods

The gods and goddesses also play a significant role in the Odyssey.

  • Athena, the goddess of wisdom, is one of the most prominent. She takes an interest in Odysseus and helps him on numerous occasions, including disguising him as a beggar and aiding him in his battle against the suitors.
  • Poseidon, the god of the sea, is Odysseus’ primary adversary and punishes him for blinding his son, the Cyclops Polyphemus.

Other gods, such as Hermes, the messenger god, and Zeus, the king of the gods, also make appearances and influence the events of the story.

The Adversaries

These antagonists, among others, serve to test Odysseus’ strength, cunning, and resourcefulness on his journey home, and contribute to the epic’s themes of heroism, loyalty, and the struggle to overcome obstacles.

  • Polyphemus: A Cyclops who imprisons Odysseus and his men in his cave, intending to eat them. Odysseus manages to blind him with a hot poker, which infuriates Polyphemus and prompts him to curse Odysseus and his crew.
  • Circe: A witch who turns Odysseus’ men into pigs and holds them captive on her island. Odysseus is able to resist her powers with the help of the god Hermes and convinces her to turn his men back into humans.
  • The Sirens: Beautiful, dangerous creatures who lure sailors to their deaths with their enchanting singing. Odysseus orders his men to plug their ears with wax and tie him to the mast so he can hear their song without being lured to his doom.
  • Scylla and Charybdis: Two sea monsters who pose a deadly threat to Odysseus and his crew. Scylla is a six-headed monster who snatches six men at a time from Odysseus' ship, while Charybdis is a giant whirlpool that threatens to swallow the entire vessel.
  • The suitors: A group of 108 men who are courting Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, in his absence. They have taken over his palace and are wasting his wealth and resources. When Odysseus returns, he must defeat them in order to reclaim his kingdom.