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The Wanderings of Odysseus
First edition cover







Historical era

Greek Bronze Age


Alan Lee

The Wanderings of Odysseus: The Story of the Odyssey is a prose retelling for children of Homer's Odyssey published posthumously in 1995 by Frances Lincoln Limited, with watercolour illustrations by Alan Lee. A 2014 edition was retitled simply The Odyssey. Its companion volume and prequel is Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of the Iliad (1993).


A brief prologue summarises the events of the Trojan War: Helen left Menelaus, King of Sparta, for Prince Paris of Troy; the Greeks under Agamemnon the High King besieged Troy for nine years, finally entering by stealth inside an enormous wooden horse devised by the cunning Odysseus, King of Ithaca, and sacked the city; and having retrieved Helen, the Greek fleet went their separate ways homeward.

Immediately after leaving Troy, Odysseus's twelve ships are blown to Ismarus on the coast of Thrace, a town allied to the Trojans which they sack. The next morning they are attacked on the beach and make a hasty withdrawal to sea. After being blown helplessly for nine days, they land on an island inhabited by the friendly, dozy Lotus Eaters, and Odysseus has to drag his intoxicated scouts away (1).

Seven days later they come to an island where they find flocks of sheep and inhabited caves. The owner proves to be a Cyclops named Polyphemus, a one-eyed giant son of the sea god Poseidon, who closes the cave mouth with a boulder and eats two of Odysseus's scouting party. Odysseus, calling himself Nobody, realises they need Polyphemus alive to open the cave mouth, prepares a sharpened stick, and plies Polyphemus with unwatered wine, and when he falls asleep, stabs his eye out. Then he lashes Polyphemus's sheep together in threes so that his men can escape the cave clinging under the middle sheep as Polyphemus feels them go by. As they sail away (sheep included), Odysseus unwisely taunts Polyphemus in his own name, and Polyphemus calls down the wrath of his sea-god father on Odysseus's head. (2)

Next the fleet comes to the island of Aeolus, the Lord of the Winds, where they pass a pleasant month and are sent on their way with all the contrary winds tied up inside a magic bag. Within sight of Ithaca, their home island, the exhausted Odysseus falls asleep. His curious crew open the mysterious bag and unleash a tempest. Blown back to Aeolus, he drives them off as cursed, and at their next landfall, the king of the island murders Odysseus's scout. The islanders hurl down rocks from the cliffs, sinking all but Odysseus's ship, and Odysseus knows he is indeed cursed by Poseidon. (3)

The survivors take refuge on an island where Odysseus dispatches his kinsman Eurylochus with twenty-two men to investigate the sole sign of habitation in the middle of the forest; Eurylochus alone returns with a story of an enchantress with tame beasts who invited the crew to drink and then turned them into pigs. Odysseus sets out, encountering Hermes, the messenger god, who gives him an antidote to the witch Circe's potions and advises him to threaten her until she agrees to free his men. He obeys, and Circe having sworn friendship and transformed the crew back into men, she invites them back to feast in earnest. (4)

After a leisurely year on Circe's enchanted island, their thoughts turn homeward again, but Circe advises Odysseus that they must sail beyond the edge of the world to the Land of the Dead to consult the ghost of the blind prophet Tiresias. He warns Odysseus that Poseidon is against them, and not to harm the cattle of Hyperion when they encounters them, lest they be destroyed. They speak also with a late comrade, Odysseus's mother, murdered Agamemnon, Ajax, and Achilles, and see other denizens of the underworld: King Minos, Orion the Hunter, thirsty Tantalus, Sisyphus and his boulder. At last, unnerved, they sail back to Circe. (5)

Circe warns Odysseus of how to deal with the impending hazards to shipping, which they duly encounter. First they pass the beautiful island of the Sirens, where Odysseus stops his men's ears with wax but himself listens to their alluring song. Next they must pass through a strait dominated by two monsters, Charybdis who sucks down whole ships, and the lesser evil, six-headed Scylla. Coming exhausted to an island they find the cattle of Hyperion the Sun Lord, which Odysseus forbids them to touch, but after starving through a month-long storm, his men break their word. When they put to sea again, another storm blows up and wrecks their ship, killing all but Odysseus, who is cast up on the island of the nymph Calypso. (6)

Odysseus spends seven years on Calypso's remote isle, as she falls in love with him and will not help him to leave. Meanwhile in Ithaca, Odysseus is presumed dead, and a crowd of obnoxious young men fill his household, seeking to become king by marrying his unwilling wife Penelope (who has been caught stalling on an endless weaving project) and dispossessing their untried son Telemachus. Pallas Athene, a goddess friendly to Odysseus, takes matters in hand by visiting Ithaca in disguise to bring news of Odysseus and send Telemachus to find him. Telemachus visits his father's old comrades King Nestor in Pylos, who can tell him nothing, and Helen and Menelaus in Sparta. They have recently returned from their own long voyage home, and Menelaus has learned from Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea, that Odysseus is alive on Calypso's island, but there is no way to reach him (7).

Hermes descends to tell Calypso that the gods order her to give up Odysseus and send him on his way. She gives Odysseus tools to build a ship and supplies for his journey, but just as he heaves into sight of land, Poseidon sends yet another storm to wreck his ship. Ino, a sea-goddess, lends him her veil to help him swim, and Athene sends a wind to carry him to shore. (8) That night Athene appears to the local princess, Nausicaa, to send her to do laundry at the river mouth where Odysseus has washed up. Hearing the noise of her maidens playing ball, Odysseus staggers into their midst wearing only an olive branch and begs Nausicaa for help. She gives him a bath and clothes and invites him to her parents' palace, but asks him to follow at a distance to preserve appearances. Athene in disguise gives him directions and conceals him in a mist, so that he appears quite suddenly before the queen Arete and king Alcinous. They hear his tale and offer to let him stay and even marry Nausicaa, but promise him a ship to take him home. (9) The next day, as the ship is prepared, the court entertains their guest, who has still not named himself, with songs of the Trojan War at which Odysseus surreptitiously weeps, with athletic contests in which he excels the Phaeacian nobles, and with dancing. Alcinous asks him why he is pained by the songs and Odysseus reveals his identity and his sorrows since setting forth from Troy. The next day, loaded with gifts, he departs for Ithaca. (10)

Odysseus awakes on a misty shore where he is met by Athene in disguise, who after toying with him reveals herself and sends him disguised as a beggar to the farm of the royal swineherd Eumaeus. Then she appears to Telemachus at Sparta to send him home, avoiding a sea ambush by the suitors, to meet Odysseus at the farm. Odysseus reveals himself to his son and instructs him to return to the palace and move the weapons on display there out of reach of the suitors. (11) Odysseus follows him, still disguised as a beggar, and is struck and insulted by some of the suitors. He is recognised by his old hunting dog and his old nurse Eurycleia, but does not reveal himself to Penelope, who after many false hopes is wary of believing that Odysseus is soon to return. He advises her therefore to make her suitors compete for her hand, and she decides to make them attempt Odysseus's old feat of arms, shooting an arrow through the rings of twelve axes with his enormous bow (12). The next day, Penelope sets the challenge to the rowdy suitors, but none are able even to bend the bow. Odysseus asks for a try and accomplishes it easily, while Eumaeus, Eurycleia, and Philoetius the cowherd are quietly locking the suitors inside the palace (13). Odysseus, Telemachus, Eumaeus and Philoetius, holding the doorway of the hall, with the help of Athene slaughter the panicking suitors to a man, not sparing Melanthius the goatherd who carried weapons to the suitors. Penelope, fearing to believe that the newcomer is really Odysseus, tests him by offering to bring out their bed, and he proves his identity by protesting that the bedpost is a rooted olive tree (14). The next day he reveals himself to his retired old father Laertes at his farm. The kinsmen of the dead suitors from Ithaca and the neighbouring islands assemble to attack Odysseus and his men, but Athene inspires Laertes to strike down their leader. She and Zeus intervene to halt the ensuing fight and make peace between Odysseus, his people, and their neighbours (15).


  • Just after leaving Troy: they come to Ismarus and sack it (1)
  • The next day: Ismarus sacks back
  • Nine days' sailing to the island of the Lotus Eaters
  • After seven days' sail, they camp in the bay of the Cyclopes (2)
  • Day 1, they encounter Polyphemus
  • Day 2, they blind Polyphemus
  • Day 3, they escape
  • A month in the palace of Aeolus (3)
  • Nine days' sail to Ithaca
  • Uncounted days blown back to Aeolus
  • Seven days' rowing to the island where the fleet is destroyed
  • Three days on Circe's island (4)
  • Fourth day: they meet Circe
  • A year later: they depart (5)
  • Incalculable days' sail to the underworld
  • A month and six days on Thrinacia (6)
  • Nine days adrift to Calypso
  • Seven years' sojourn on Calypso's island (7)
  • Eighteen days' sail to sight of land (8)
  • Three days' swim to Phaeacia (8)
  • Two days' stay on Phaeacia (9, 10)
  • Nineteen years after leaving Ithaca, Odysseus returns (11)
  • The next day, he meets Telemachus
  • The next day, they return to the palace (12)
  • The next day, Odysseus kills the suitors (13, 14)
  • The next day, they make peace with the suitors' kinsmen (15)


Actors in the Trojan War (prologue)

  • Helen, the golden queen of Sparta, who eloped with Paris and was taken home by Menelaus at the end of the Trojan War. She recognises Telemachus as Odysseus's son (7).
  • Menelaus, the King of Sparta, her husband. After the war he and Helen were blown to Cyprus, Egypt, Phoenicia and Libya, and he wrestled Proteus, who gave him word of Agamemnon and Odysseus (7).
  • Paris, a prince of Troy, who eloped with Helen
  • Agamemnon, the High King, leader of the Greek forces against Troy. He was murdered by his wife and her lover on his return home. They meet him in the underworld (5)
  • Ajax, a mighty warrior whom they meet in the underworld (5)
  • Achilles, the greatest of the Greeks, who tells them in the underworld that he would prefer life as a peasant than to be king of the dead. (5)
  • Nestor, king of Pylos, old (7)
  • Pisistratus, son of Nestor, a veteran of Troy, who drives Telemachus to Sparta and back (7)

Odysseus's men

  • Odysseus, the King of Ithaca, called Odysseus the Resourceful
  • 12 ships set out from Troy
  • 70+ men killed at Ismarus (1)
  • 6 men eaten by the Cyclops (2)
  • 11 ships sunk at the unnamed island (3)
  • Eurylochus, a kinsman of Odysseus's, who first encounters Circe. (4) He leads the men who slaughter Hyperion's cattle (6).
  • 22 men under Eurylochus's command, turned into pigs (4)
  • Elpenor, the youngest crewman, who breaks his neck the morning they leave Circe's isle. His shade begs them to cremate him properly (5), and they do so on their return (6).
  • 6 men eaten by Scylla (6)
  • Everyone except Odysseus, lost at sea after eating Hyperion's cattle (6)

Met en route

  • Maron, priest of Apollo at Ismarus, protected by Odysseus along with his wife and child (1)
  • the Lotus Eaters, peaceful and unambitious (1)
  • Polyphemus the Cyclops, a son of Poseidon (2)
  • Aeolus, Lord of the Winds, with a dozen children married to each other (3)
  • The king of the island, his daughter, and their hulking countrymen who sink the fleet (3)
  • Circe, an enchantress, previously undefeated (4)
    • Circe's four maidens, nymphs (4)
  • Hermes, messenger of the gods in the shape of a beautiful young man (4, 8)
  • The Sirens, with nice singing voices (6)
  • Charybdis, a monster who creates a whirlpool
  • Scylla, a monster with six heads who lives in a cliff cave
  • The cattle of Hyperion, off-limits
  • Calypso, a nymph, who loves Odysseus (6,7)
  • Ino, a sea-goddess who rescues Odysseus from shipwreck (8)
  • Nausicaa, princess of Phaeacia (9)
  • Alcinous, king of Phaeacia
  • Arete, queen of Phaeacia
  • Laodamas, one of their sons
  • A blind bard, who sings about the Trojan War heroes
  • Euryalus, a young Phaeacian athlete who insults Odysseus

Gods off-stage

  • Poseidon, the sea god, father of the Cyclopes, displeased (2)
  • Hades and Persephone, king and queen of the Land of the Dead (5)
  • Hyperion the Sun Lord, big in cows (5)
  • Zeus the All-Father (2), also the Cloud-Gatherer (6)
  • Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea, a shape-shifter, who told Menelaus how to get home; and his daughter who directed Menelaus to catch him (7)
  • Artemis of the Crescent Moon (9)
  • Apollo the Far-Shooter (13)

Odysseus's family and their retainers (7)

  • Penelope, his wife, beset by unwanted suitors (7)
  • Telemachus, his son, who strongly resembles him, but is not old enough to rule Ithaca
  • Laertes, his father, retired to a farm (7).
  • His mother, died of grief during Odysseus's absence (5, 7)
  • Pallas Athene, Odysseus's patron goddess
  • Mentes, an old friend Athene disguises herself as
  • Eurycleia, Odysseus and Telemachus's old nurse (7), who recognises Odysseus by an old scar (12). He enlists her to lock the women of the household in their quarters during the slaughter (13).
  • Eumaeus, an old swineherd, still loyal to Odysseus's family (11). Odysseus reveals himself to him just before the contest (13) and he fights alongside him (14).
  • Phemius, the royal harper, forced to entertain the suitors (11). Odysseus spares him (14).
  • Melanthius, the royal goatherd, sucking up to the suitors, who insults the beggar Odysseus (12). He fetches weapons for the suitors and Odysseus executes him for it. (14)
  • Argus, an elderly neglected hunting-dog who recognises Odysseus and dies (12)
  • Irus, the resident beggar, who challenges the newcomer, unsuccessfully (12)
  • Melantho, one of Penelope's maids (12)
  • Eurynome, the housekeeper (13)
  • Philoetius, the cowherd, who is friendly to the beggar Odysseus (13). He fights alongside him against the suitors (14).
  • A man with second-sight, who prophesies the deaths of the suitors (13)
  • Medon, the herald, whom Odysseus spares (14)
  • Laertes's housekeeper, her husband Dolius, and their three sons, who stand with Odyseus against the suitors' kin (15)

The 108 suitors (11) and their kinfolk

  • Antinous, a leader, who takes a ship to ambush Telemachus (7). He strikes Odysseus in the guise of a beggar (12). He is the first shot by Odysseus (14).
  • Eurymachus, strikes Odysseus in the guise of a beggar (12). The second to be shot (14).
  • Ctesippus, throws something at beggar-Odysseus (13)
  • Antinomus, the third killed, by Telemachus (14)
  • Agelaus, the strongest, leading the suitors' defense (14)
  • Eupeithes, Antinous's father, killed by Laertes (15)


  • Troy, city recently sacked by the Greeks
  • Ismarus, Thrace, allied with Troy, so Odysseus sacks it (1)
  • The island of the Lotus Eaters, "green and gentle" (1)
  • The land of the Cyclops, "an island of rough low hills" with a deep bay and an island in it (2)
  • Aeolus's island, with his clifftop palace (3)
  • An island with a harbour encircled by cliffs, where the fleet is sunk (3)
  • Circe's island, forested and uninhabited save for her house at its centre, where wild animals are tame and time passes unnoticed (4, 5)
  • Olympus, home of the gods (4)
  • The Land of the Dead, beyond the river Oceanus, where the sun never shines (5)
    • The two rivers, at whose confluence Odysseus sacrifices
  • The island of the Sirens, covered in flowers and bones (6)
  • The strait of Scylla and Charybdis, surrounded by the Wandering Rocks (6)
  • Thrinacia, the island where Hyperion pastures his cattle (5, 6)
  • The island of Calypso, remote (6, 7)
  • Ithaca, Odysseus's rocky island home (7)
    • The palace, infested with suitors
    • The cave of the sea-nymphs, where Odysseus lands and hides his treasure (11)
    • Eumaeus's farm (11)
  • Pylos, called sandy, home of Nestor, a day's sail from Ithaca (7)
  • Sparta, a couple of days inland from Pylos, home of Helen and Menelaus
  • Ethiopia, where Poseidon happens to be when Athene sets out to help Odysseus
  • Cyprus, Phoenicia, Egypt, Libya, all visited by Helen and Menelaus on their way home
  • Pharos, an island near the mouth of the Nile, where Proteus naps with the seals
  • Phaeacia, an isolated and peaceful island ruled by King Alcinous, where Odysseus washes up (9)
  • Islands neighbouring Ithaca, homes of some of the suitors (15)


Publication history[]

In English:

  1. The Wanderings of Odysseus: The Story of The Odyssey. Illus. Alan Lee. London : Frances Lincoln, 1995.[1]
    • London : Frances Lincoln, 2001.[2]
    • London : Frances Lincoln, 2005.[3]
    • London : Frances Lincoln, 2008.[4]
  2. The Wanderings of Odysseus: The Story of The Odyssey. Illus. Alan Lee. New York : Delacorte Press, 1996.[5]
  3. The Odyssey. Illus. Alan Lee. London : Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2014.[6]


  1. The Wanderings of Odysseus. Read by Robert Glenister. Cover to Cover Casse, 1998.[7]

In translation:

  1. Odysseus irrfärder : berättelsen om Odysséen. Swedish by Morgan Holm. Illus. Alan Lee. Stockholm : Tago, 1995.[8]
  2. Odyssevs' reiser historien fra Odysseen. Norwegian by Torunn Borge and Henning Hagerup. Oslo : Bonnier Carlsen cop., 1996.[9]
    • Oslo : Antropos, 2001.[10]
  3. Las aventuras de Ulises : la historia de la "Odisea" de Homero. Spanish by José Luis López Muñoz. Illus. Alan Lee. Introduction by Carlos García Gual. Notes, glossary, activities by Manuel Otero. Barcelona : Vicens-Vives, 1998.[11]
    • Barcelona : Vicens Vives, 2010.[12]
    • Barcelona : Vicens Vives, 2015.[13]
  4. Les aventures d'Ulisses : la història de l'"Odissea" d'Homer. Catalan by Esther Sala i Miralles. Illus. Alan Lee. Introduction by Carlos García Gual. Notes, glossary, activities by Manuel Otero. Barcelona : Vicens Vives, 1998.[14]
    • Alaquàs, València : Vicens-Vives, 2009.[15]
  5. Die Rückkehr des Odysseus. German by Astrid von dem Borne. Illus. Alan Lee. Stuttgart : Verl. Freies Geistesleben, 1998.[16]
    • Stuttgart : Verl. Freies Geistesleben, 2005.[17]
  6. Wędrówki Odyseusza. Polish. Illus. Alan Lee. Warszawa : Świat Książki, 1999.[18]
  7. Odyusseusu no bōken : girishia shinwa no monogatari ge. Japanese by Shirō Yamamoto. Tōkyō : Harashobō, 2001.[19]
  8. Troja und die Rückkehr des Odysseus : die Geschichte der Ilias und der Odyssee. [Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus.] German by Astrid von dem Borne. Stuttgart : Verl. Freies Geistesleben, 2004.[20]
    • Stuttgart : Verl. Freies Geistesleben, 2005.[21]
    • München : Taschenbuch-Verl., 2008.[22]
    • München : Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2010.[23]
    • München : Dt. Taschenbuch-Verl., 2013.[24]