Who Are the Suitors in The Odyssey?

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  • 0:02 Intro to ''The Odyssey''
  • 0:42 The Suitors
  • 1:55 Penelope the Trickster
  • 2:54 The Return of Odysseus
  • 3:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Breazeale
Homer's classic work 'The Odyssey' centers on Odysseus and his journey home from the Trojan War, but it also follows his wife Penelope and son Telemachus as they deal with their own complications on the home front. In this lesson, learn about Penelope's suitors and the havoc they wreak, and test yourself with a quiz.

Intro to The Odyssey

Homer, the Greek poet, is commonly regarded as the author of the epic poem, The Odyssey. It's thought to have been composed late in the 8th century BC, and tells the tale of Odysseus, a hero of the Trojan war, as he attempts to find his way home to Ithaca.

Of course, the gods can't allow things to be easy for a hero. Odysseus navigates his way through countless obstacles and loses all of his comrades on his perilous odyssey. In fact, his journey back to his family in Ithaca takes as long as the Trojan War itself: ten years. So, what was happening on the home front during all that time? What was the family of Odysseus doing during his absence?

The Suitors

Well, the wife and son of Odysseus - Penelope and Telemachus, respectively - were busy fending off a group of ill-mannered, piggish men Homer refers to as the suitors. There are over a hundred of these guys appearing at the home of Penelope and Telemachus while Odysseus is gone. Because everyone believes Odysseus is dead, they fight for the hand of Penelope.

They're commonly referred to as the suitors as a whole throughout the story, perhaps because this makes them seem like more of an oppressive force that Penelope and Telemachus have to unite against. The reader only learns the names of a few of the suitors, and these are the ones who play the biggest role. For example, Amphinomus seems like the most decent of the group; he attempts to warn Odysseus to stay away when he returns. Another Suitor, Antinous, wants to overthrow Telemachus and take over the palace.

Basically, the suitors run rampant through Odysseus' mansion, eating all of the food, slaughtering the livestock, and harassing Penelope for her hand in marriage. Remember, poor Penelope and her son have to deal with this for years and years. Shockingly, Penelope doesn't want to marry any of these upstanding, classy gentleman, and staves them off as best she can. But how?

Penelope the Trickster

Penelope never stops believing her husband is alive and that he'll come home, despite all the evidence to the contrary; also, can you blame her for not wanting to marry the losers now inhabiting her home and eating all of her food? She and her son Telemachus wish to keep their autonomy. The only way to do this, since twenty-year-old Telemachus doesn't have the experience or gumption to throw the suitors out, is to be cunning.

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