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Odysseus' False Identities

"You speak with art, but your intent is honest/ The Argive troubles, and your own troubles, / you told as a poet would, a man who knows the world." (11.404-406)

"Whoever gets around you must be sharp
and guileful as a snake; even a god
might bow to you in ways of dissimulation.
You! You chameleon!
Bottomless bag of tricks!" (13.342-346)

Book 9.380-384

The simplest of his false identities -- he calls himself "Nobody".

Book 13. 300-337 

He claims to be a Kretian, who bringing half his fortune, fled to Ithaca after he killed a courier of Idomeneus'.  Idomeneus had tried to confiscate his plunder from the Trojan war in part because the speaker had not courted his favor during the war. He is proud of this sudden act of killing.  He makes his escape by bribing a Phoenician captain to take him to Elis Town.  The rowing was hard work; from there they went to Sidon and now Ithaca.

Book 14. 213-399

Again, he claims to be a Kretian, son of a wealthy man and a concubine.  He was treated well growing up, but when the father died, the legitimate sons gave him only a small amount to live on.  Nonetheless, he won for himself a rich wife.  He claims he excelled in battle and never much cared for farming.  He lead out in nine prosperous raids before the Trojan war.  He served in command with Idomeneus.  In the tenth year, the army finally sacked Troy.  After he had only been home one month, desiring new adventures, he lead a group of men on a raid into Egypt.   They raid in the Nile delta until soldiers arrived from the capital.  Zeus helped the Egyptians defeat his men.  He begged for mercy from the king and prospered for seven years under the Egyptians.  In the eighth year, he bought into a scheme by a Phoenician captain, was shipwrecked off the coast of Krete, and ended up ashore off the Greek mainland.  He was taken in by Pheidon the king of Thesprotia who spoke of   Odysseus and showed him treasure.  He set sail with a company bound for Doulikhon, who enslaved him.  But he escaped overboard near the coast of Ithaka.

Book 14. 519-567

He continues his tale, recalling how he ranked just below Odysseus and Menelaus.  One cold night on the battlefield, he complains to Odysseus that he has no cloak to stay warm with.  Odysseus tells the young men he has had a dream that someone should go to tell Agamemnon to reinforce the ranks.  Odysseus gives the cloak of the one who volunteers to him to stay warm in.

Book 17.482-516

He repeats the portion of the story where they raid Egypt and are oppossed by Zeus.  But here he says that he was enslaved and given to Dmetor of Cyprus.

Book 19. 175-218, 239-270285-334

He praises Krete and claims to be a son of Deukalion.  He claims to have showed Odysseus hospitality for twelve days.  He recalls Odysseus' broach and shirt, both items given him by Penelope.  He gave him gifts of hospitality -- a bronze sword and a cloak.  He also recalls Odysseus' herald, Eurybates.  He then claims that he has heard from King Phaidon that Odysseus is among the Thesprotians, having been given gifts by the Phaiakians.

Book 24. 253-289, 314-326

He again pretends to be someone else in order to gently rebuke his father for the squalor he is living in.  He pretends to not know that this is Ithaka.   He claims to have entertained Odysseus five years ago, including sending him off with great gifts of hospitality.  He names himself Quarrelman, son of King Allwoes from Sicily.


  1. What does Odysseus' propensity to tell stories reveal about him?
  2. Is anything in his stories true?
  3. For what purposes does he construct false identities?
  4. How much can we trust what he recalls of his "actual" wanderings?

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding