How Did the Odyssey Really End? A Scandalously Epic Ending to One Hero’s Journey By Carly Silver Ancient/Classical History Expert

[ My intention with my blog is to simply collect articles of interest to me for purposes of future reference. I do my best to indicate who has actually composed the articles. NONE of the articles have been written by me. – Louis Sheehan ]

Posted but not written by: Lou Sheehan

Odysseus and friends approach Circe.

What happened to the eponymous hero of the Odyssey and his family after the poem was over? Homer’s masterpiece finished off on a happy note with the king of Ithaca, his son, Telemachus, and his wife, Penelope. But that wasn’t the last we heard of them. It turns out that Odysseus had an epic rest of his life—and so did his kids. Yes, that’s kids, plural.

The Trojan War canon was more fluid in antiquity than it is today; it was comprised of various traditions and other traditions. For example, in Proclus’s Chrestomathia, written in the fifth century B.C., the author mentioned multiple stories about Troy. One such text—Eugammon of Cyrene’s Telegony—has not survived. Eugammon. This poet, who was was in his heyday in the sixth century B.C., wrote the two-book Telegony. It didn’t survive, though one Church Father, Clement of Alexandria, even accused Eugammon of stealing another poet’s rhymes .

Thankfully, Proclus wrote a synopsis of the poem for posterity, so we know what happened in the Telegony . After returning home and burying Penelope’s suitors (who competed for her hand while Odysseus was trying to get back to Ithaca for twenty years) , Odysseus didn’t stick around. In fact, he went on another world tour and married another woman! He wed Callidice, queen of the Thesprotians, and led his new countrymen into a war.

Eventually, Odysseus went home to Ithaca, while his son with Callidice, Polypoetes, became king of the Thesprotians. At this point, Telegonus, son of Odysseus and his sorceress mistress Circe, came searching for his father. Telegonus attacked Ithaca, but “Odysseus [came] out to defend his country, but [was] killed by his son unwittingly.” That fulfills the end of the prophecy Teiresias made in Book XI of the Odyssey to Odysseus: “As for yourself, death shall come to you from the sea…”

Once he realized what he’d done, Telegonus took Odysseus’s body to Circe’s home of Aeaea, and Penelope and Telemachus came along for the ride. Circe made them all immortal, but, in a disturbing marital alliance, Telegonus married his stepmother Penelope, while his half-brother, Telemachus, wed Telegonus’s mother, Circe.
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This ending might be a complete surprise to longtime fans of the Odyssey, but it isn’t the only representation of this unusual tradition. Odysseus’s secret love children are mentioned throughout antiquity and were given various names and lineages. In his Theogony, the poet Hesiod listed Odysseus’s extramarital kids: “And Circe the daughter of Helius, Hyperion’s son, loved steadfast Odysseus and bare Agrius and Latinus who was faultless and strong: also she brought forth Telegonus by the will of golden Aphrodite. And they ruled over the famous Tyrenians, very far off in a recess of the holy islands.” In contrast, the twelfth-century A.D. commentator Eustathius called Telegonus “Teledamas,” Odysseus’s son by Calypso. But the general consensus has Telegonus as Circe and Odysseus’s son, though he was but one of the Ithacan king’s children.

Hyginus, a first-century A.D. writer who chronicled hundreds of myths in his collection Fabulae, recounted Odysseus’s adventures with Circe, of whom he said in Chapter 125, “She herself lay with him, conceived, and bore two sons, Nausithous and Telegonus.” Two chapters later, Hyginus filled in some of the blanks regarding Telegonus himself.

Hyginus stated that Telegonus was “driven by hunger” to ravage the island. When Odysseus and Telemachus saw this attacker, they went into battle against him. Telegonus, of course, didn’t know who his father and half-brother really were, so he took up arms to defend himself. Although Odysseus had even been warned “by an oracle to beware of death at his son’s hands,” he didn’t bother asking Telegonus who he was, so, once they engaged in combat, the boy killed his father.

Minerva—a.k.a. Athena in the Greek pantheon–told Telegonus to handle the situation by going back to Aeaea with his stepmother and half-brother. As it turned out, Odysseus’ descendants went on to found two illustrious civilizations, or so Hyginus said: “From Circe and Telemachus Latinus was born, who gave his name to the Latin language; from Penelope and Telegonus Italus was born, who called the country Italy from his own name.” So, in short, the Latin languages and the Italian peninsula got their names from Odysseus’s scandalous affairs and his family’s bizarre intermarriages. That’s one happy ending to a scandalous journey, a legacy that is sure to live on for all time.


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Louis Sheehan
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