The Odyssey tells the tale of Odysseus and the trials he endures to return to his wife and home. Many believe, mistakenly, that the plot of the epic centers around Odysseus’ voyage from Troy and the gods and monsters he encounters along the way. This is not so. True, many of the most memorable episodes are found in this section of the story. However, it makes up less than a third of the poem and is told in flashback as well.

No, The Odyssey tells the story of the difficulties a wife and son must face after their protector and provider disappears without a trace. They like Odysseus must endure great sorrows even in the one place where a family should feel safest, for a gang of suitors has taken over their home. Thinking that Odysseus has vanished forever, this rabble has trespassed on the property consuming its riches and abusing Odysseus’ faithful wife Penelope and his inexperienced son, Telemachus.

Throughout the first four chapters, the story of Agamemnon is told time and time again. While Agamemnon was fighting in the war, a man named Aegisthus took control of his home and seduced his wife. Agamemnon returning after a long voyage expected a warm welcome and is instead met with treachery. He is brutally murdered, leaving his son, Orestes, to take revenge. The reader is aware that a similar fate may await Odysseus should he find his way to Ithaca. Having survived the raging sea, he may in the end be slaughtered by the jealous, greedy suitors.

However, hope is not yet lost. Athena in the guise of Mentor inspires Prince Telemachus to overcome his grief and fears and undertake a voyage to learn the fate of his father. At the same time, Penelope, Odysseus’ wife holds strong even when pressured by her unwanted suitors. If this family, though separated, can hold together in spirit they may overcome the trials they face. But if they fall whether to treachery or temptation a dreadful fate awaits them.

Throughout the first four books, Odysseus remains but a specter, only a dream or a fear that may or may not return. Hearing the praises and stories told of this hero, our curiosity mounts. Who is this man? Is he the one who will liberate Telemachus and Penelope from their situation? Does he even have the power to do so? At this point the questions remain unanswered.