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Invitation to World Literature

The Odyssey – Map & Timeline

The twisting, turning journey of Odysseus.
© 2010 Map Resources, All rights reserved.

This map shows Odysseus’ journey after he left Troy. While his encounters were fictional — there were no Lotus Eaters, Sirens, or Cyclopes in the ancient Mediterranean — his ports of call were real. As you can see from the names of the modern nations, the bards who sang of Odysseus sent him to very real places in the Greek world. At a time when little of the world was fully mapped, it was not so far-fetched to believe that in some unknown corner of Italy or Tunisia there might be wonderful and terrible creatures waiting to catch the unwary traveler.

1200 BCE

Trojan War. Mycenean Greeks at this time had a complicated script for writing that was only used by scribes and that died out when Mycenae fell.

1100s BCE

Oral stories of the Trojan War and Odysseus are first told.

1100s-700s BCE

The “Dark Age” of Greece, about which we know very little.

700s-600s BCE

First use of the Phoenician alphabet in Greece. Each letter stands for a sound, but with no punctuation, spaces between words, or distinction between capital and lower-case letters.

Late 700s - early 600s BCE

Accomplished oral poets first commit the epics of Troy and Odysseus to writing. They write on papyrus rolls. One hypothesis is that the twenty-four books of the written epic result from the fact that the story took this many parchment rolls to write out.

400-300s BCE

Alexandrian scholars copy the stories in the great library founded by Alexander the Great in Egypt.

330-1453 CE

The Odyssey is copied and preserved by scholars of the Byzantine Empire.

1453 CE

Byzantium falls and its manuscripts of The Odyssey travel west into Europe, where few scholars are able to read ancient Greek.

1700s CE

European scholars launch a debate over whether Homer was literate.

1700s-1800s CE

The Odyssey is translated into English.

1800s CE

European scholars of the new field of linguistics study ancient Homeric texts.

1920s CE

Based on research among oral bards in Serbia, Milman Parry demonstrates that oral poets can indeed sing thousands of lines of poetry by improvising on a well-established topic.