18

It's been a long time since I've read it, maybe 20 years. Of course, Odysseus survives, but does anyone else? How many sailors did he start with, and how many made it home with him (or safely departed along the way)?

23

The entire crew died, excepting Odysseus, fairly early in the Odyssey at the hands of Zeus by request of Helios. Pretty early on, Odysseus warns the crew not to eat the sheep on Helios' island (XII 417-422, Robert Fagles):

‘My friends, in our ship we have meat and drink,
so let’s not touch those cattle, just in case
that causes trouble for us. For these cows
and lovely sheep belong to Helios,
a fearful god, who spies out all there is
and listens in on everything as well.’

...but they do. So Zeus blows Odysseus' ship to smithereens (XII 544-549, Fagles):

The blow from Zeus’ lightning made our boat
shiver from stem to stern and filled it up
with sulphurous smoke. My crew fell overboard
and were carried in the waves, like cormorants,
around our blackened ship, because the god
had robbed them of their chance to get back home.

Nobody had left Odysseus' crew up until this point, so it appears the entirety of the crew was killed (or deemed too insignificant to bother mentioning as alive). It's also only through divine intervention that Odysseus lived at all.

It ends up being Alcinous, King of the Phaecians, who orders a ship to take Odysseus back to Ithaca.

As for how many crew members Odysseus had at the outset, the exact number is never conveyed by the poem. The Odyssey was largely a word-of-mouth story. It's speculated that Homer wasn't really the author of the Odyssey, and merely compiled the story. If ever a number of crew members was written down, Homer didn't transcribe it.

  • 1
    Woe is me for calling Book 12 "early in the odyssey"... – Aza Jan 19 '17 at 11:42
  • 2
    I was thinking they all died, but it had been so long since I'd read any of it. good answer – DForck42 Jan 19 '17 at 16:08
  • 3
    "Nobody had left Odysseus' crew up until this point" — four sailors from Odysseus' ship are mentioned as being killed and eaten by Polyphemus (9:290–315) and one by the Laestrygonians (10:116). – Gareth Rees Aug 12 '18 at 17:09

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