Who Is Laertes in The Odyssey?

Instructor: Liz Breazeale
Homer's famous epic ''The Odyssey'' has given us many memorable characters since it was composed, including Laertes. In this lesson, discover who Laertes is and understand his role in ''The Odyssey''. Test your knowledge with a quiz.

Introduction to The Odyssey

Homer, the renowned Greek poet, composed his work The Odyssey sometime in the 8th century BC. Since then, it's captivated audiences with its harrowing plot and memorable characters. Plus, it has a lot of really bizarre monsters in it, too.

The storyline follows Odysseus on his long journey home from the Trojan War, which lasted for ten years. Odysseus is a war hero and has twelve ships under his command on his way home. Unfortunately, this number is winnowed down by...well, all of them by the time Odysseus finally reaches his home, due to the insane number of obstacles and opponents in the way.

Odysseus as a statue

Laertes, Father of Odysseus

Well, as the caption suggests, Laertes is the father of Odysseus. He is super depressed during his son's absence (more on this later), indicating that they had a solid father-son relationship. In Greek mythology, Laertes is an Argonaut and hunts the Calydonian Boar. The hunt for the Calydonian Boar is an important signifier of a manly man, as the Boar was sent by the gods to ravage Calydon. Several men took part in this hunt, but the woman Atalanta wound up winning its hide because she wounded it first.

Man, life really does change when you have kids. Laertes went from seafaring Argonaut and boar hunting guy to Ithacan farmer upon his son's coming of age. He basically retired from Ithacan kinghood and handed the reigns over to Odysseus. Although he supposedly has a nice mansion of his own to live in, for some reason Laertes chooses to live in a farming shack while Odysseus is gone.

The hunt for the Calydonian Boar
Boar hunt

Waiting for Odysseus

While Odysseus is gone for twenty years (ten years at war, then ten years for his journey) Laertes is basically in mourning. He doesn't live in his crazy nice mansion, only a small shack, and he avoids Odysseus's palace like the plague. Laertes is often described as sick, ailing, and weak throughout the time of Odysseus's absence. He grieves not only his son, but his wife who died from her grief.

But something kind of awesome: Penelope, Odysseus's wife, is dealing with a lot of nonsense during her husband's absence. One hundred suitors have planted themselves in her palace, scarfing her food and asking for her hand in marriage. Who wants to deal with that mess? So Penelope designs several tricks to ward off the suitors and buy herself time. One of these tricks is to tell the suitors she's weaving a burial shroud for the sick Laertes, and, when she's finished, she'll choose one and marry. Well, clever Penelope unravels her work every night, meaning she has to start anew on the shroud ever day. Thanks, Laertes!

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