‘The Odyssey’ is a Greek epic still read and cherished today for its crazy plot and fascinating characters. One of these characters is Eurycleia. Learn more about Eurycleia, then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Introducing The Odyssey

The Odyssey is a Greek epic written sometime in the late 8th century B.C. An epic is a very long, narrative poem that usually tells of a hero’s deeds. The poet Homer is commonly given credit for writing this particular epic.

The epic tells of the journey of Odysseus, a famous hero of the Trojan War. After the war, which lasts an entire decade, Odysseus must make his way back to his home of Ithaca. Not only did the war last a decade, but so did his journey home. That’s right: his journey lasted ten whole years. Remember this next time you think your commute home takes forever!

Who Is Eurycleia?

Odysseus isn’t the only character of importance in this epic, though. Eurycleia is a maid in the palace of Odysseus and was bought as a slave by Odysseus’ father, Laertes. Laertes treated her as a wife, but they never consummated their relationship because Laertes didn’t want to dishonor his actual wife, Anticleia.

Eurycleia, besides being a maid, was also a wet nurse, a woman who nurses a baby when the baby’s mother is unable to do so, or unwilling. It’s not clear which is the case with Anticleia, Odysseus’ mother, but it could also be that this was simply the ‘in’ thing to do as a woman of nobility at the time. Regardless, Odysseus was nursed and basically raised by Eurycleia, and they developed a very strong bond.

Without Odysseus

While Odysseus is off war-heroing and journeying for twenty years, things get pretty chaotic around his palace. Penelope, his wife, is the object of much desire, due to her general beauty as well as the fact that she’s believed to be a widow with a ton of money and a palace to her name. This leads to over one hundred suitors making themselves at home in said palace, abusing the servants (including Eurycleia), acting like a horde of toddlers, destroying everything within reach, and eating all the food.

During this time, Eurycleia tries to do her part on behalf of the family she’s served for her entire adult life. She nurses Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, and helps raise him. She also keeps an eye out for poor behavior from the other servants, tallying which ones conspire with the suitors and which ones remain loyal to Penelope. When Telemachus is older and wants to go out searching for information about his father’s whereabouts, Eurycleia gets his provisions from the storehouse and swears not to tell Penelope for twelve days that Telemachus is chasing news of his father on the sea.

The Hero’s Return

Eventually Odysseus does come home – and not a moment too soon. The suitors have reached their last straw with Penelope’s constant refusals to choose one of them to wed, and things look pretty dire. Finally, here comes Odysseus, disguised as a beggar by Athena, the goddess of wisdom. He arrives at a hidden harbor of Ithaca and meets up with Telemachus, just returning from his journey to discover the whereabouts of his father. Odysseus reveals his identity to Telemachus, and the two head to the palace, Odysseus still disguised as a beggar.

Aside from his son, to whom Odysseus has revealed his identity, not a single person recognizes Odysseus. That is, besides Eurycleia. Wouldn’t you recognize someone you’d raised and known since childhood? The moment of recognition happens when the old beggar enters the palace – Eurycleia takes pity on him and begins to wash his feet. She notices a scar above the man’s knee that looks just like the one Odysseus got from a boar as a kid. And hooray! She is elated to learn that the old beggar is actually Odysseus. He swears her to secrecy about his identity. Eurycleia tries to tell Penelope anyway, but she refuses to believe the maid.

The situation culminates when the disguised Odysseus wins a contest for his wife’s hand in marriage and then slays the other suitors competing for Penelope as well as the servants who had betrayed him. He then throws off his disguise to reveal his identity to everyone.

Lesson Summary

The Odyssey is a Greek epic, or long poem telling of a hero’s deeds. It follows the war hero Odysseus on his ten-year journey home to Ithaca as well as the goings-on of Ithaca while he’s away. In his absence, his old wet nurse, Eurycleia, must deal with the suitors fighting over Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, and taking over the palace. Eurycleia is the only person to recognize Odysseus by an old scar when he returns disguised as a beggar.