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Glossary of Homeric Expressions

Between Scylla and Charibdes or between a rock and a hard place: Facing two equally unpleasant, dangerous, or risky alternatives, where the avoidance of one ensures encountering the harm of the other.


 I was between Scylla and Charybdis, for if I didn’t take out another loan—and go deeper into debt—I could not pay off the debts I already owed.

The police knew with certainty he had drugs in his car, so he became trapped between Scylla and Charybdis: either lie to the police, or admit that the drugs belonged to him.

To cross the Strait of Messina, Ulysses had to navigate between two inescapable hazards – Scylla, a six-headed sea monster, and Charybdis, a lethal whirlpool. He chose to confront Scylla, but still suffered considerable losses. Despite the magnitude of the migration challenge, the EU should never give the impression of being the lesser of two evils.​

Lotus eaters: a) any of a people in Homer’s Odyssey subsisting on the lotus and living in the dreamy indolence it induces b): an indolent person

Being an EU resident does not come with the requirement to forget where you come from, at least for progressive forces in Europe. The EU has never aspired to be an island of lotus eaters where, just like Ulysses and his crew, people lose their memory and will to go home after eating the lotus flower.

Phaeacians: Europeans are very much like the legendary Phaeacians that Homer refers to in his Odyssey: relatives to the Gods, the Phaeacians had developed an advanced but peaceful civilisation and they were very hospitable. They were so moved by Ulysses’ story that they offered him safe passage home in the end.


My name is nobody: In Homer’s Odyssey, when the Cyclops asks Odysseus what he is called, he replies, “My name is Nobody. My father and mother call me Nobody, as do all the others who are my companions.”’ (9.366-367) This is another example of Odysseus’s intelligence when he outsmarted Polyphemus by telling the Cyclops his name was “Nobody.” He also had the plan to carve a giant stake out of a tree in order to blind the Cyclops, thus enabling him and his men to be freed from Polyphemus’s cave via being tied to the underbelly of the Cyclops’s sheep. Polyphemus shouted in pain to the other Cyclopes of the island that “Nobody” was trying to kill him, so no one came to his rescue. This quote shows how Odysseus uses his cunning to trick the cyclops into thinking his name is nobody.

Ambrosia: In the Odyssey and the Iliad, Homer uses the word ambrosia for three things: the food of the Olympians, a salve used to treat corpses, and as a perfume to cover up the smell of uncured seal skins. Some scholars have identified ambrosia as honey while others feel that a type of hallucinogenic mushroom was meant in the myths. Regardless of all this confusion, the word is now used metaphorically to mean anything so fragrant, so delicious that it seems divine.

Siren song: the enticing appeal of something alluring but potentially dangerous

In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous creatures, who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and singing voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. Odysseus has been warned by the witch Circe to plug his crew’s ears with earwax, and that if he wants to hear their song he must be restrained to prevent his going to them. The hero’s famous curiosity prevails and he orders his crew members to tie him to the mast. Their song has the power to lure Odysseus away from his home and loving wife, to bring to destruction to himself and his crew.


Be patient, my heart: for you have endured things worse than this before: from the Odyssey, Book 20, verse 18.  The situation:  Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, is patiently enduring the suitors’ abuse; he knows that, in good time, he will kill every one of them. He reminds himself that he’s suffered much worse in the past. It is an expression of Odysseus’ self-restraint when confronted with the infuriating suitors. He persuades himself to keep his anger in check.

Odyssey: a long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune

In its depiction of Odysseus’ journey, “The Odyssey” is a survey of the Ancient Greek practice of xenia—reciprocal hospitality. But it also depicts the exile’s anxiety in a world in which the principle of xenia is threatened, in which the stranger’s welcome is in doubt. Odysseus asks himself many times about the inhabitants of the unknown islands: “Savages are they, strangers to courtesy? Or gentle folk who know and fear the gods?” Today, this set of questions from an ancient work has surfaced again. What is the morally appropriate way to respond to a stranger in need, a person from a distant land who arrives on your shore in need of aid and shelter? What obligations do civilized people owe to the destitute stranger in a world aflame with slaughter and destruction? And how are we to think about those who refuse to acknowledge any such obligations?


Passing Between the Clashing Rocks:   the deadly rocks (or islands) that stood at the narrow passage between the Propontis (Sea of Marmara) and the Euxine (Black Sea). The Clashing Rocks is a dangerous area of ocean and would clash together whenever any living thing tried to pass between them. Circe tells Odysseus to just avoid it altogether and stay out of its way because if he does not, there is no escape. The Clashing Rocks represent death. Circe stated that no one, not even birds could escape the clashing rocks, in the same way that nothing and no one can escape death; it is inevitable. Although they can avoid the rocks for a period of time, death will capture all of them eventually.

The dangerous sea and land crossings that Syrian refugees are making to Europe can be compared to passing between the Clashing Rocks.


resourceful Odysseusskilled at solving problems and making decisions on your own, able to overcome difficulties or to cleverly make do with what is available to create a solution

Odysseus finds himself in situations where his life is endangered. It takes multiple tests of his restraint and resourcefulness for him to finally return home to Ithaca and receive a hero’s homecoming. Odysseus proves to be very resourceful when he hatches the brilliant idea to offer the citizens of Troy a large wooden horse, filled unknowingly to the Trojans, with Greek soldiers. Throughout his journeys, Odysseus resourcefulness gets him out of some very tough situations, like when he escapes from the cave of the Cyclops in Book IX .

At the same time, refugees have shown extraordinary resourcefulness in the search to end their marginalization and find spaces for inclusion. Necessity is the mother of invention.


The more resourceful you are, the better able you are to deal with unexpected situations.

He was a resourceful leader, able to develop new and innovative strategies.

Refugees are re-inventing the Odyssey on their way to Europe, surpassing the courage and resourcefulness of Homeric Ulysses.

The Journey to Ithaca: the Odyssey is about Odysseus’s ten-year struggle to return home from the Trojan War. This return is a kind of scaffolding for making a value statement about human life. The island kingdom of Ithaca becomes a symbol of completion and value, and the attempt to return should be the purpose of life. Odysseus is driven by a powerful longing for his home, a longing that ends with his arrival there. Reaching the island of Ithaca is Odysseus’ optimal achievement.  That is what keeps him alive while he faces all these dangers.  Therefore, Ithaca acts symbolically as a representation of the achievement of the goals people set in their lives.  Consequently, the quest for reaching Ithaca stops being just a fantastic voyage full of extraordinary and unrealistic incidents.  Instead, it can now be thought as everybody’s quest in their lives to make their dreams come true.

Suitors: During Odysseus’ long absence, unmarried men start to suspect that Odysseus died in Troy or on the journey home. Under the pretense of courting Penelope, these unmarried men, called “the suitors”, take up residence in Odysseus’ home and vie for her hand in marriage. Rather than simply rejecting the suitors, Penelope devises a plan to delay their courtship. She claims she will choose a husband after she has finished weaving a funeral shroud to present to Odysseus’ father, Laertes. For three years, Penelope weaves the shroud during the day and unravels it at night, awaiting her husband’s return. Hospitality, or the lack of it, affects Odysseus throughout the epic, and the reader can judge civility by the degree of hospitality offered. Odysseus’ own home has been taken over by a horde of suitors who crudely take advantage of Ithaca’s long-standing tradition of hospitality. Telemachus and Penelope lack the strength to evict them, nor can they hope for much help from the community because the suitors represent some of the strongest families in the area.

Telemachus: The son of Odysseus and Penelope. His name means “far from battle”

Embarking on a mission to find his father, he matures from a child to a strong, single-minded adult. Throughout the poem, Telemachus finds his place in the world and becomes a more well-rounded person. Although Telemachus never quite matches his father Odysseus in terms of wit, strength, agility, his resilience does develop throughout the text. In the epic, The Odyssey, by Homer, the young boy Telemachus changes from an insecure teen into a confident and poised young man as he travels the seas in search for his father, whose bravery and intelligence proves to be comparable to his own. Telemachus was one of the few who believed in his father’s survival, and sought to protect Odysseus’ kingdom from those that would corrupt it. Eventually, Telemachus set out to find his father and in doing so embarked on a symbolic quest for truth, a quest for self. In his father’s absence, Telemachus is left to defend his household and the honour of his mother Penelope from 108 ‘suitors’ who vie relentlessly for her affections, all the while draining the dwindling inheritance left to the poor son. We can liken the siege of Telemachus’ house to the refugee crisis threatening the world right now, as well as the wider political spectrum in Europe. Telemachus’ evolution from a shy, bookish boy uncertain in his own abilities to a confident, authoritative man in command of his own destiny can hopefully happen with the refugees.

Poseidon’s blows/ the wrath of Poseidon: Poseidon plays a very important part in the Odyssey. He is first introduced into the story as a god who is out to sabotage Odysseus’ journey home. He’s angry with Odysseus and his men because they blinded his son, Polyphemus, who is a Cyclops. Poseidon also known as Neptune in his Roman form, brother to Zeus and Hades, is a strong and powerful god who rules the seas as well as earthquakes. His moods changed as often as the ocean tides. A symbol often associated with Poseidon is a three pronged fork called a trident. Poseidon could be very ruthless, moody and vengeful. Poseidon is the most noticeable representative of the theme of vengeance. If he was insulted or let down in any way, he would make sure to hold that grudge against that person for their entire lifetime. Since he was the dweller of the sea, he was responsible for many natural and supernatural events that took place in the sea. Many sailors before setting on a voyage would try to appease Poseidon by sacrificing animals or through prayers, so that their journey is favorable.
Tell me, Muse: Homer is asking for inspiration from Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry. In Greek mythology, the Muses were the goddesses who provided inspiration for musicians, artists, philosophers, writers and other creative thinkers. Moreover, this invocation elicits one of the major themes of Homer’s epic poem: man and his relationship to a higher power. Today, a muse may be one’s special creative spirit.

The unfolding events in Europe and the Mediterranean have brought the plight of refugees and immigrants before us in new ways in recent days.  Homer’s invocation might seem appropriate to those who find themselves fleeing their homelands.

Savages are they, strangers to courtesy? The Odyssey is a survey of the Ancient Greek practice of xenia—reciprocal hospitality. Xenia was more than just being polite to strangers. It was a set of rules and customs that defined the guest-host relationship between two individuals, two groups of people, or an individual and a group.  Some basic rules of this relationship were that the guest could not insult the host, make demands, or refuse xenia. Additionally, the host could not insult the guest, fail to protect the guest, or fail to be as hospitable as possible. It was also customary for gifts to be given to the guest, or for a gift exchange to be conducted between guest-friends.

The refugees are faced with a world in which the principle of xenia is threatened, in which the stranger’s welcome is in doubt. What is the morally appropriate way to respond to a stranger in need, a person from a distant land who arrives on your shore in need of aid and shelter? What obligations do civilized people owe to the destitute stranger in a worldaflame with slaughter and destruction? And how are we to think about those who refuse to acknowledge any such obligations?

‘You barbarian’, ‘how can any man on earth come visit you after this?’ Odysseus’ adventures develop away from the welcoming seas or from civilized humans.  He is  to  encounter  barbarian  populations,  fruit-eaters(Lotus-eaters)   or   man-eaters  (Cyclops   and   Laestrygonians),   monsters(Scylla  and  Charybdis),arbitrary  gods  (Eol),  sorceresses  (Circe),  guileful maidens  (Sirens)  or  jealous  ones  (Calypso). The Phaeacians are a god-fearing people who aid strangers along their way; this attribute separates them from the savage, arrogant attitude that the Cyclopes have towards strangers. The Phaeacians respect the will of Zeus, who is the god of strangers, and help strangers, like Odysseus, when they arrive to their island. In juxtaposition, in their savagery, the Cyclopes denounce their duty to Zeus, and in turn, their duty to strangers. Only a barbaric culture like the Cyclopes’ would have the gall to refuse to assist a stranger and to repudiate the power of Zeus. In contrast, the Phaeacians try to make Odysseus feel as homely as possible in their kingdom before sending him on his way. Arete provides him graciously with a bed furnished with the finest of garments and blankets; additionally, he is given food, a bath, and cheerful company.

Refugees aren’t “barbarians”, Europe isn’t ancient Rome, and refugees aren’t armies. Sensational media coverage sometimes ignites hatred towards imaginary barbarians attacking the Continent.

“For a friend with an understanding heart is worth no less than a brother”

“Be strong, saith my heart; I am a soldier; On the battlefield, Odysseus, who led 12 shiploads of men from Ithaca and the surrounding islands, demonstrated courage to the point of fearlessness. Even more so, however, he employed eloquence and wile to defeat his enemies. Odysseus may have not fought for the freedom of his land but he did fight for his family and his life. This resembles a soldier in so many different aspects. Soldiers do not get accused of murder for every battle they participate in, instead they are known as heroes for fighting for their land. Odysseus was an amazing leader, although he didn’t make it home with all of his men, he fought for them.

“A man who has been through bitter experiences and travelled far enjoys even his sufferings after a time”


“Much have I toiled in perils of waves and war”: Odysseus shows courage by always being the first willing to fight.  He never lets anything scare him away. His sharp intellect has saved him and his crew from many disastrous situations. While Odysseus puts his will towards vengeance on display at the end of the Odyssey, he remains a hero defined by intelligence, a sense of duty and perseverance. This phrase is the response of a normal human being living under extreme conditions.

“Can one come home again, especially after years of bloody war?”

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