Page 52. " came to our rescue with some ambrosia "

 Ambrosia was the special food of the gods.

Page 55. " Instead, the immortals will send you to the Elysian Fields at the world’s end "

The Elysian Fields, by Arthur B. Davies
Public DomainThe Elysian Fields, by Arthur B. Davies - Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The Elysian Fields were a mythical place where certain souls may reside after death. Both Homer and Hesiod refer to Elysium as a distant isle in the ocean, according to Homer at ‘world’s end’. Later, the Elysian Fields were understood to be a part of the Underworld. Though later mythology defines the Elysian Fields as an eternal, heaven-like place of reward for the heroic and the virtuous, Homer’s afterlife is a much bleaker picture. Even the great Achilles, as we will see later, is not admitted to Elysium, but endures a grey existence with the rest of the dead. Menelaus, we are told, is only allotted this kinder fate because he is the husband of Helen, and so son-in-law of Zeus.

Page 55. " to join auburn-haired Rhadamanthus "

 Rhadamanthus was the son of Zeus and Europa, brother of Minos, and in one account king of Crete before Minos. In some traditions, he is said to be a judge of the Underworld alongside his brother Minos.

Page 56. " made by Hephaestus himself "

Hephaestus, by Rubens
Public DomainHephaestus, by Rubens - Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Hephaestus was the god of blacksmiths, metal, artisans and craftsman, fire and volcanoes.

Page 61. " or is he dead by now and down in Hades’ Halls? "

Hades and Persephone
Creative Commons AttributionHades and Persephone - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons
Hades was the god of death and ruler of the Underworld, so by ‘Hades’ Halls’, Penelope means the Underworld. In Homer’s epics, the Underworld seems to be portrayed as a dreary place and the afterlife a depressing existence. In most accounts, it is split into three main sections: Tartarus, where terrible sinners are punished, the Elysian Fields, where the heroic and the virtuous go, and the Meadows of Asphodel, where the average person would reside. In Homer’s account, the Elysian Fields appear to have been reserved for only very special people, such as those related to Zeus.

Page 63. " When Dawn had risen from the bed where she sleeps beside illustrious Tithonus "

Eos pursuing Tithonus, Red-figure Oinochoe, 470-60 BC
Public DomainEos pursuing Tithonus, Red-figure Oinochoe, 470-60 BC - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons
 Tithonus was a Trojan prince and the mortal lover of Eos (Dawn). Eos asked Zeus to bestow immortality on her beloved, but forgot to ask for eternal youth. Tithonus lived forever but continued to age, so that he soon came to see his immortality as a terrible curse rather than a gift.

Page 64. " Calypso was singing with her beautiful voice as she went to and fro at her loom, weaving with a golden shuttle. "

Women’s chores and pastimes in ancient Greece included household tasks such as mending and cleaning clothes, sewing and weaving. Ancient Greek looms were large frames to which vertical threads were attached, with weights at the ends to hold the threads taut. These vertical threads are called the warp. A shuttle was then used to pull horizontal lengths of thread (the weft) through the warp, weaving in and out. This is called a warp-weighted loom. Click here for more information on weaving in mythology.

See an ancient loom depicted on a Greek vase, and learn more about ancient weaving from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Page 66. " You are outraged if a goddess sleeps openly with a man "

The corpse of Orion, painting by Daniel Seiter
Public DomainThe corpse of Orion, painting by Daniel Seiter - Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Calypso’s complaint about double-standards amongst the gods is an observation that holds a lot of truth. In mythology, male gods often react with anger, scorn or distaste when the female goddesses take mortal lovers, and will sabotage the relationship if possible. In the two examples given here, Dawn’s lover Orion and Demeter’s lover Iasion both ended up dead.

Page 66. " At nights, it is true, he had to sleep with her "

Greek mythology is full of unfortunate mortals who dared to bring down on themselves the displeasure of the gods. (For just a few of the hundreds of examples, see Wrath of Artemis). Odysseus knows it is a bad idea to upset a goddess!

Page 69. " the Pleiads, or watched the late-setting Bootes slowly fade, or the Great Bear "
The Big Dipper (or the Plough), part of The Great Bear (Ursa Major) constellation
Public DomainThe Big Dipper (or the Plough), part of The Great Bear (Ursa Major) constellation - Credit: Gh5046/Wikimedia Commons

These are all star constellations. Odysseus is using the position of the stars to help guide his path. Click here for more information on how to navigate using the stars.

Page 70. " Three and four times blessed are those countrymen of mine who fell long ago on the broad plains of Troy "

The fall of Troy, red-figure kylix, ca.490 BC
Public DomainThe fall of Troy, red-figure kylix, ca.490 BC - Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons
A glorious death in battle, and the fame that such a death would bring to the individual and his family, was considered a good death for a Greek hero. Achilles was famously given a choice between living a full life as a nobody, or dying at Troy but winning eternal fame in the process. Achilles chose the latter. Odysseus now thinks he is about to drown, lost at sea. An anonymous death such as this, without even a proper burial or friends and family to mourn his passing, would have been considered a terrible and ignoble death for a hero such as Odysseus. This does not mean that Odysseus regrets being alive, simply that if he is to die, he would rather it were a good death.