Odysseus has the defining character traits of a Homeric leader: strength, courage, nobility, a thirst for glory, and confidence in his authority. His most distinguishing trait, however, is his sharp intellect. Odysseus's quick thinking helps him out of some very tough situations. He is also a convincing, articulate speaker and can win over or manipulate his audience with ease. When he first addresses Nausicaa on the island of Scheria, for example, his suave, comforting approach quickly wins her trust.Like other Homeric heroes, Odysseus longs to win kleos ("glory" won through great deeds), but he also wishes to complete his nostos ("homecoming"). He enjoys his luxurious life with Calypso in an exotic land, but only to a point. Eventually, he wants to return home, even though he admits that his wife cannot compare with Calypso. He thinks of home throughout the time he spends with the Phaeacians. Sometimes his glory-seeking gets in the way of his home-seeking, however.
Just an infant when his father left for Troy, Telemachus is still maturing when the Odyssey begins. He is wholly devoted to his mother and to maintaining his father's estate, but he does not know how to protect them from the suitors. After all, it has only been a few years since he first realized what the suitors' intentions were. His meeting with Athena in Book 1 changes things. Aside from improving his stature and bearing, she teaches him the responsibilities of a young prince. He soon becomes more assertive. He confronts the suitors and denounces the abuse of his estate, and when Penelope and Eurycleia become anxious or upset, he does not shy away from taking control. Telemachus never fully matches his father's talents, at least not by the Odyssey's conclusion. He has a stout heart and an active mind, and sometimes even a bit of a temper, but he never schemes with the same skill or speaks with quite the same fluency as Odysseus.
Though she has not seen Odysseus in twenty years, and despite pressure the suitors place on her to remarry, Penelope never loses faith in her husband. Her cares make her somewhat flighty and excitable, however. Though her love for Odysseus is unyielding, she responds to the suitors with some indecision. She never refuses to remarry outright. Instead, she puts off her decision and leads them on with promises that she will choose a new husband as soon as certain things happen. Her astute delaying tactics reveal her sly and artful side. The notion of not remarrying until she completes a burial shroud that she will never complete cleverly buys her time.
As goddess of wisdom and battle, Athena naturally has a soft spot for the brave and wily Odysseus. She helps him out of many tough situations, including his shipwreck in Book 5. She does not merely impart sense and safety to her passive charge, however. She takes an interest in Odysseus for the talents he already has and actively demonstrates. She has the most affection for Odysseus. Athena is confident, practical, clever, a master of disguises, and a great warrior, characteristics she finds reflected in Telemachus.
The beautiful nymph who falls in love with Odysseus when he lands on her island-home of Ogygia. Calypso holds him prisoner there for seven years until Hermes, the messenger god, persuades her to let him go.
The aged and loyal servant who nursed Odysseus and Telemachus when they were babies. Eurycleia is well informed about palace intrigues and serves as confidante to her masters.
A manipulative, deceitful suitor. Eurymachus's charisma and duplicity allow him to exert some influence over the other suitors.
The most arrogant of Penelope's suitors. Antinous leads the campaign to have Telemachus killed. Unlike the other suitors, he is never portrayed sympathetically, and he is the first to die when Odysseus returns.
King of Pylos and a former warrior in the Trojan War. Like Odysseus, Nestor is known as a clever speaker. Telemachus visits him in Book 3 to ask about his father, but Nestor knows little of Odysseus's whereabouts.
Odysseus's aging father, who resides on a farm in Ithaca. In despair and physical decline, Laertes regains his spirit when Odysseus returns and eventually kills Antinous's father.
King of Sparta, brother of Agamemnon, and husband of Helen, he helped lead the Greeks in the Trojan War. He offers Telemachus assistance in his quest to find Odysseus when Telemachus visits him in Book 4.
Wife of Menelaus and queen of Sparta. Helen's abduction from Sparta by the Trojans sparked the Trojan War. Her beauty is without parallel, but she is criticized for giving in to her Trojan captors and thereby costing many Greek men their lives. She offers Telemachus assistance in his quest to find his father.
Former king of Mycenae, brother of Menelaus, and commander of the Achaean forces at Troy. Odysseus encounters Agamemnon's spirit in Hades. Agamemnon was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus, upon his return from the war. He was later avenged by his son Orestes. Their story is constantly repeated in the Odyssey to offer an inverted image of the fortunes of Odysseus and Telemachus.
The beautiful daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete of the Phaeacians. Nausicaa discovers Odysseus on the beach at Scheria and, out of budding
King of the Phaeacians, who offers Odysseus hospitality in his island kingdom of Scheria. Alcinous hears the story of Odysseus's wanderings and provides him with safe passage back to Ithaca.
Queen of the Phaeacians, wife of Alcinous, and mother of Nausicaa. Arete is intelligent and influential. Nausicaa tells Odysseus to make his appeal for assistance to Arete.