Ulysses in Ithaca, a journey through time
  • Europe /
  • Greece /
  • Ithaki

We retrace the steps of Ulysses on his return from one of the world's most famous journeys: the Odyssey.

The Return of the king
transformation by Athena - painting by Giuseppe Bottani, 1775 (by Sailko, CC BY 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)
The return of Odysseus
(by Renata Testa, Flickr)
(by Renata Testa, Flickr)
(by Renata Testa, Flickr)

transformation by Athena - painting by Giuseppe Bottani, 1775 (by Sailko, CC BY 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Upon his awakening, the goddess Athena transformed him into an old beggar. In these clothes, Odysseus walked towards the hut of Eumeus, the guardian who remained faithful to him even after so many years. After dining together, Odysseus told his peasants and labourers a false story of his life. He narrated that he was a native of Crete and that he had led a group of his countrymen to fight at Troy alongside the other Greeks, spending seven years at the court of the king of Egypt before travelling here.

Meanwhile, Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, sailed home from Sparta, and after landing on the coast of Ithaca, he, too, went to Eumaeus’ hut. So finally, father and son met: Odysseus revealed himself to Telemachus (but not yet to Eumaeus), and together they decided to kill the Suitors. The Suitors were 108 young noblemen from Ithaca and neighbouring islands and territories who aspired to the throne of Odysseus, vying for the hand of Penelope, the king’s (Odysseus’) bride. 

After Telemachus returned to the palace first, Odysseus, accompanied by Eumaeus, returned to his home but still incognito. In this way, he observed the violent and overbearing behaviour of the Suitors and devised a plan to kill them. He first met his dog Argos who recognised him and, after a last gasp of joy, died happy to see his master again. He then also met his wife Penelope, who did not recognise him. He tried to understand her intentions by also telling her that he was Cretan and that he had met the brave Odysseus one day on his island. Urged on by Penelope’s anxious questions, he also said that he had recently heard about Ulisse’s most recent adventures in Thesprotia.

The old nurse Euriclea realised Odysseus’ true identity when he undressed to take a bath, showing a scar above his knee that he had gotten during a hunting trip, and he forced her to swear him secrecy. The next day, at the suggestion of the goddess Athena, Penelope urged the Suitors to organise a competition to win her hand: it was a contest of archery skills, and the participants had to use Odysseus’ bow, which no one but Odysseus himself ever managed to draw. As expected, none of the pretenders managed to pass the test and at that point, to general hilarity, what they thought was an old beggar asked to take part in turn. Odysseus naturally surprised everyone and drew his weapon, winning the race. Odysseus then pointed his bow at the Suitors and, with the help of Telemachus, killed them all. So it was that Odysseus was finally able to reveal himself to Penelope: the woman, despite her hesitation, did not believe his words but was soon convinced after Odysseus perfectly described to her the bed he had built for their wedding.

The next day, together with Telemachus, Odysseus met his father, Laertes, on his farm. Still, even the old man only accepted the revelation of his identity after Odysseus described the orchard that Laertes himself had once given him. However, in the meantime, the inhabitants of Ithaca followed Odysseus intending to avenge the killings of the Suitors, their sons. The leader of the outrageous crowd pointed out to everyone that Odysseus was the cause of the deaths of two whole generations of men in Ithaca, first the sailors and those who had followed him into the war of whom none survived, then the Suitors whom he killed with his own hands. At this point, however, the goddess Athena intervened in the dispute and persuaded them all to desist from their intentions of revenge. It was only then that Ulisses took his throne back and wore the king’s clothes once again. 

We can therefore imagine here, among these ancient ruins, the palace of Odysseus, where the mythological hero returned. This place, a short walk above the village of Stavros, has long been known as the School of Homer, but recent archaeological digs have revealed that they may well belong to the long-lost palace of Odysseus himself.


1. Landing in Ithaca

2. The Return of the king

3. A romantic farewell