What Happened After the Iliad Leaves Off? - "The Odyssey" Books I - X by Homer
What Happens After Hector's Death?
Here are some of my insights from Books I - X from The Odyssey. Mostly I am interested in finding out what happened to the heroes from The Iliad after the war ends, so I tried to put the pieces together here since it's not exactly straight forward in the book. I can certainly see why people have loved this book for ages. Personally, I still feel as though I have enjoyed The Iliad more, but this is certainly an amazing work as well. I do have to say that this was such an incredible story opener. Odysseus' son, Telemachus, has grown up from being a baby at the beginning of the war. It's ten years after the war has ended, and he father still isn't home. Suitors are plaguing their home and consuming all their food and drink. And so Telemachus, guided by Athena, sets off to find out what has happened to his father. He goes in pursuit of the whispers and rumors that have come around. Along the way as he encounters Nestor and Menelaus he begins to put the pieces together. What a way to begin an adventure, to set out pursuing leads and whispers in order to rescue one's father from the belly of the whale, so to speak!
"'But the great leveler, Death: not even the gods can defend a man, not even one they love, that day when fate takes hold and lays him out at last.'" 1
What Happened After the Iliad Ends?
So The Iliad ends a bit abruptly with Hector being buried. We aren't told how Achilles dies, how the Achaeans finally break into and sack Troy, nor when they pack up and sail home. The Odyssey picks up ten years after the end of the battle with his son and wife waiting for him to return while their house is being overrun with suitors consuming their food and wine. As The Odyssey begins and continues in the story line of Odysseus trying to make it home, we do get some details of what happened after The Iliad left off.
The Fall of Troy
Surprisingly, the details about the actual fall of Troy and the Trojan horse are so sparse. We do, though, have Helen and Menelaus retell the story. Odysseus had disguised himself as a slave by whipping himself, covering himself with dirt, and donning ragged clothing. Under disguise he was able to slip into the city of Troy with no one recognizing him as the great Achaean fighter. Helen, alone, recognized him in the city and supplied him with clothes and sword, swearing not to tell anyone who he was. Odysseus had gotten all the information needed, and the killed several Trojans on the way out of the city back to his ship. Then the Trojan Horse was sent to Iliam filled with the best Achaean fighters.
"'What a piece of work the hero dared and carried off in the wooden horse where all our best encamped, our champions armed with bloody death for Troy ... when along you came, Helen -- roused, no doubt, by a dark power bent on giving Troy some glory, and dashing Prince Deiphobus squired your every step. Three times you sauntered round our hollow ambush, feeling, stroking its flanks, challenging our fighters, calling each by name -- yours was the voice of all our long-lost wives! And Diomedes and I, crouched tight in the midst with great Odysseus, hearing you singing out, were both keen to spring up and sally forth or give you a sudden answer from inside, but Odysseus damped our ardor and reined us back. Then all the rest of the troops kept stock-still, all but Anticlus. He was hot to salute you now but Odysseus clamped his great hands on the man's mouth and shut it, brutally -- yes, he saved us all, holding on grim-set till Pallas Athena lured you off at last.'" 2
Later in Book 8 another account is given:"Sing of the wooden horse Epeus built with Athena's help, the cunning trap that good Odysseus brought one day to the heights of Troy, filled with fighting men who laid the city waste. Sing that for me true to life as it deserves-and I will tell the world at once how freely the Muse gave you the gods' own gift of song." Stirred now by the Muse, the bard launched out in a fine blaze of song, starting at just the point where the main Achaean force, setting their camps afire, had boarded the oarswept ships and sailed for home but famed Odysseus' men already crouched in hiding-in the heart of Troy's assembly dark in that horse the Trojans dragged themselves to the city heights.
Now it stood there, looming . . . and round its bulk the Trojans sat debating, clashing, days on end. Three plans split their ranks: either to hack open the hollow vault with ruthless bronze or haul it up to the highest ridge and pitch it down the cliffs or let it stand--a glorious offering made to pacify the gods-and that, that final plan, was bound to win the day. For Troy was fated to perish once the city lodged inside her walls the monstrous wooden horse where the prime of Argive power lay in wait with death and slaughter bearing down on Troy. And he sang how troops of Achaeans broke from cover, streaming out of the horse's hollow flanks to plunder Troy-he sang how left and right they ravaged the steep city, sang how Odysseus marched right up to Deiphobus' house like the god of war on attack with diehard Menelaus. There, he sang, Odysseus fought the grimmest fight he had ever braved but he won through at last, thanks to Athena's superhuman power." 3
After the battle was over, there was a disagreement between the two Atrides brothers, Agamemnon and Menelaus. They called an impromptu meeting, and the soldiers were split about the two plans to return home. Menelaus wanted to set sail at once, while Agamemnon wanted to hold back until all the proper sacrifices were completed. And so the next morning, half of the men left following Menelaus and half stayed behind with Agamemnon. The men who left in the morning faced some rough seas, and so Odysseus and his crew turned back to Agamemnon. Others kept sailing, though. Nestor, Diomedes, and the warriors of Achilles all made it home relatively fast. Menelaus was separated from them, though, as one of his crewmates died, and they had to stop to bury the man. When they picked up again, they were hit with a hurricane and their crew of ships was scattered. Menelaus was set on a course to foreign lands.
Agamemnon did make it home on time, but only to find a trap laid for him. While he was gone a man named Aegisthus had been seducing his wife. A bard had been left to guard her, but this man exiled the bard. Finally he broke her down and took Agamemnon's royal place. He lay in wait for Agamemnon's return, so as to secretly cut him down in an ambush. For eights years he ruled Mycenae after killing Agamemnon, until Agamemnon's son Orestes finally returned from out of town and killed the disgusting Aegisthus. Here's Menelaus' retelling:
He somehow escaped that fate; Agamemnon got away in his beaked ships. Queen Hera pulled him through. But just as he came abreast of Malea's beetling cape a hurricane snatched him up and swept him way off course-groaning, desperate driving him over the fish-infested sea to the wild borderland where Thyestes made his home in the days of old and his son Aegisthus lived now. But even from there a safe return seemed likely, yes, the immortals swung the wind around to fair and the victors sailed home. How he rejoiced, Atrides setting foot on his fatherland once more-he took that native earth in his hands and kissed it, hot tears flooding his eyes, so thrilled to see his land! But a watchman saw him too- from a lookout high above-a spy that cunning Aegisthus stationed there, luring the man with two gold bars in payment.
One whole year he'd watched . .. so the great king would not get past unseen, his fighting power intact for self-defense. The spy ran the news to his master's halls and Aegisthus quickly set his stealthy trap. Picking the twenty best recruits from town he packed them in ambush at one end of the house, at the other he ordered a banquet dressed and spread and went to welcome the conquering hero, Agamemnon, went with team and chariot, and a mind aswarm with evil. Up from the shore he led the king, he ushered him in-suspecting nothing of all his doom-he feasted him well then cut him down as a man cuts down some ox at the trough! Not one of your brother's men-at-arms was left alive, none of Aegisthus' either. All, killed in the palace.'" 4
When Menelaus was set off course by the hurricane, he ended up wandering the world for eight years before finally arriving back home, right after Orestes had killed the wicked Aegisthus. "Eight years out, wandering off as far as Cyprus, Phoenicia, even Egypt, I reached the Ethiopians, Sidonians, Erembians - Libya too ..." 5. Menelaus, though, did bring his wife Helen back with him, and so the whole point of the Trojan campaign was ultimately fulfilled. Once he was leaving Egypt he had to trick and capture Poseidon, who told them they had not offered the proper sacrifices, and so they had to return to Egypt, offer the sacrifices, and then they would make it home finally. Menelaus also receives from Poseidon a prophecy about his life. "But about your own destiny, Menelaus, dear to Zeus, it's not for you to die and meet your fate in the stallion-land of Argos, no, the deathless ones will sweep you off to the world's end, the Elysian Fields, where gold-haired Rhadamanthys waits, where life glides on in immortal ease for mortal man; no snow, no winter onslaught, never a downpour there but night and day the Ocean River sends up breezes, singing winds of the West refreshing all mankind. All this because you are Helen's husband now--the gods count you the son-in-law of Zeus.'" 6
Ajax, such a larger than life figure in the battle against Troy, meets his fate sailing home, taken out by a storm and his own pride. "Ajax, now, went down with his long-oared fleet. First Poseidon drove him onto the cliffs of Gyrae, looming cliffs, then saved him from the breakers - he'd have escaped his doom, too, despite Athena's hate, if he hadn't flung that brazen boast, the mad blind fool. 'In the teeth of the gods,' he bragged, 'I have escaped the ocean's sheer abyss!' Poseidon heard that frantic vaunt and the god grasped his trident in both his massive hands and struck the Gyraean headland, hacked the rock in two, and the giant stump stood fast but the jagged spur where Ajax perched at first, the raving madman --- toppling into the sea, it plunged him down, down in the vast, seething depths. And so he died, having drunk his fill of brine." 7
Since most of the book is following Odysseus' fate, I will not recount it here, just a brief sketch. One interesting note is that both the Cyclops and Circe had been told by Hermes years before that someone named Odysseus would cross their path, hinting that Odysseus' fate had been sealed for a long time. We first are brought to Odysseus after he has been held captive on the island of the Nymph Calypso for several years. He had been shipwrecked and barely made it washed up on her island alone. Hermes, though, by the favor of the gods, goes to Calypso and tells her to let him go free. So she sets him off on a makeshift boat, again he encounters a storm and almost drowns, barely holding on to a piece of wood as he washes up on another island. It is here that he encounters the king and queen's daughter, and is taken to their halls where he is revived and sits down to tell the story from the beginning. He sets off on this explanation in Book 9 verse 20.
-They sack the Cicones' after leaving Troy and escape before a back up army takes them out.
- They get blown off course and end up on an island of "lotus-eaters" where they encounter people eating apparently a drug inducing plant. They escape again.
- They reach the land of the Cyclops and go sack the den of Polyphemus (including funny passages about being named "Nobody" and then taunting the giant after destroying his eye.
- Then they the island of the Aeolians who were ruled by an incestuous family. And yet the king had a gift to control the wind, which he gave to Odysseus in a bag. But the crew became jealous and opened the bag, having them lose control of the wind and being swept back to the Aeolians, who turn them away due to their ill-luck.
- Then they row more and end up on an island of giants who are also cannibals. All of the squadron's ships except Odysseus' were destroyed.
- Then they reach the island of a nymph-witch named Circe. She turns his men into pigs, but Hermes steps in and makes Odysseus immune to the potions. Odysseus traps her and makes her swear to the gods not to hurt them any longer. They stay there for a year, but she prophecies that in order for them to reach him, they must go down to the underworld and consult "the ghost of Tiresias, seer of Thebes."
Athena's Role And Random Thoughts
One last point that I would like to very briefly make is that I have noticed that of all the gods, it is Athena in these two works of Homer that plays the biggest role in the gods interactions with men. She inspires Telemachus to seek out his father. She helps Odysseus in different parts of his journey. It's interesting that she stands out as the main god of all of them in the works that we have extant. As a funny note, I was amused how Homer describes people frequently as "appeared as as deathless god." I guess that's the compliment you want to receive, and what a compliment it is, hah! Here's another quote that I really liked: "And may the good gods give you all your heart desires: husband, and house, and lasting harmony too. No finer, greater gift in the world than that ... when man and woman possess their home, two minds, two hearts that work as one. Despair to their enemies, a joy to all their friends. Their own best claim to glory." 8
1 - Book III 270
2 - (Bk 4 300-320)
3 - (Bk 8 555 - 585)
4 - (Bk 4 575 - 600)
5 - (Bk 4, 90-95)
6 - (Bk 4 630 - 642)
7 - (Bk 4 560-575)
8 - (Bk 6 195-205)