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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)?

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3 Answers 3

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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.

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  • 1
    Woe is me for calling Book 12 "early in the odyssey"...
    – user80
    Jan 19, 2017 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, 2017 at 16:08
  • I have found that there were 12 ships and 600 men, so Odysseus had at least 50 men at the point of Polyphemus's house. They must have eaten at least half of his food because it says his men were hungry.
    – AJ2361
    Mar 1, 2023 at 17:42
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The whole crew dies, except Odysseus. He started off to the Trojan war with a whole fleet of ships. Odysseus won the victory. Then he landed on the Achaeans land, allies of Troy. He lost 72 men there. Then he came to the island of the Lotus eaters. Where three of his men were 'drunk' from eating the flower and wanted to stay, but Odysseus tied them to his ship. Then they went to the Cyclopes where he lost six men to Polyphemus the Cyclops. That's when Polyphemus cursed Odysseus so that Odysseus would be the only one to return home. Then his fleet gets smaller and smaller until only Odysseus and 45 men are left. Then they land on Helios's island where his sacred cattle is. Odysseus's men eat the cattle except him, and they all die. Only Odysseus reaches home. No man was left behind, they were killed off. That's what I had learned.

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Here’s a summary of the relevant events, as told by Odysseus to the Phaeacians. We might bear it in mind that Odysseus is a notorious liar, so who knows how much of this we are intended to credit, but since we have no other account of the voyage, we can only proceed on the basis of Odysseus’s.

When Odysseus arrived at the island of the Cyclopes, his fleet consisted of twelve ships:

νῆες μέν μοι ἕποντο δυώδεκα, ἐς δὲ ἑκάστην
ἐννέα λάγχανον αἶγες: ἐμοὶ δὲ δέκ᾽ ἔξελον οἴῳ.

The ships that followed me were twelve, and to each nine goats fell by lot, but for me alone they chose out ten.

Homer. Odyssey 9.159–160. Translated by A. T. Murray (1919). Perseus Digital Library.

Previously six men from each ship had been killed by the Cicones:

ἦμος δ᾽ ἠέλιος μετενίσσετο βουλυτόνδε,
καὶ τότε δὴ Κίκονες κλῖναν δαμάσαντες Ἀχαιούς.
ἓξ δ᾽ ἀφ᾽ ἑκάστης νηὸς ἐυκνήμιδες ἑταῖροι
ὤλονθ᾽: οἱ δ᾽ ἄλλοι φύγομεν θάνατόν τε μόρον τε.

But when the sun turned to the time for the unyoking of oxen, then the Cicones prevailed and routed the Achaeans, and six of my well-greaved comrades perished from each ship; but the rest of us escaped death and fate.

Odyssey 9.58–61.

At the island of the Cyclopes, Odysseus set out to explore it “with my own ship and my own company”, with the result that four men were killed and eaten by Polyphemus:

ὣς ἐφάμην, ὁ δέ μ᾽ οὐδὲν ἀμείβετο νηλέι θυμῷ,
ἀλλ᾽ ὅ γ᾽ ἀναΐξας ἑτάροις ἐπὶ χεῖρας ἴαλλε,
σὺν δὲ δύω μάρψας ὥς τε σκύλακας ποτὶ γαίῃ
κόπτ᾽: ἐκ δ᾽ ἐγκέφαλος χαμάδις ῥέε, δεῦε δὲ γαῖαν.
τοὺς δὲ διὰ μελεϊστὶ ταμὼν ὡπλίσσατο δόρπον:
ἤσθιε δ᾽ ὥς τε λέων ὀρεσίτροφος, οὐδ᾽ ἀπέλειπεν,
ἔγκατά τε σάρκας τε καὶ ὀστέα μυελόεντα.

So I spoke, but from his [Polyphemus’s] pitiless heart he made no answer, but sprang up and put forth his hands upon my comrades. Two of them at once he seized and dashed to the earth like puppies, and the brain flowed forth upon the ground and wetted the earth. Then he cut them limb from limb and made ready his supper, and ate them as a mountain-nurtured lion, leaving naught—ate the entrails, and the flesh, and the marrowy bones.

Odyssey 9.286–293.

αὐτὰρ ἐπεὶ δὴ σπεῦσε πονησάμενος τὰ ἃ ἔργα,
σὺν δ᾽ ὅ γε δὴ αὖτε δύω μάρψας ὡπλίσσατο δόρπον.

But when he [Polyphemus] had busily performed his tasks, again he seized two men at once and made ready his supper.

Odyssey 9.343–344.

At the land of the Laestrygonians, three men from Odysseus’s ship were sent as heralds and one was killed and eaten by Antiphates:

ἡ δ᾽ αἶψ᾽ ἐξ ἀγορῆς ἐκάλει κλυτὸν Ἀντιφατῆα,
ὃν πόσιν, ὃς δὴ τοῖσιν ἐμήσατο λυγρὸν ὄλεθρον.
αὐτίχ᾽ ἕνα μάρψας ἑτάρων ὡπλίσσατο δεῖπνον:
τὼ δὲ δύ᾽ ἀίξαντε φυγῇ ἐπὶ νῆας ἱκέσθην.

At once she called from the place of assembly the glorious Antiphates, her husband, and he devised for them woeful destruction. Straightway he seized one of my comrades and made ready his meal, but the other two sprang up and came in flight to the ships.

Odyssey 10.114–117.

Odysseus’s ship escaped the Laestrygonians, but all the others were destroyed:

οἱ δ᾽ ἅλα πάντες ἀνέρριψαν, δείσαντες ὄλεθρον.
ἀσπασίως δ᾽ ἐς πόντον ἐπηρεφέας φύγε πέτρας
νηῦς ἐμή: αὐτὰρ αἱ ἄλλαι ἀολλέες αὐτόθ᾽ ὄλοντο.

And they [the oarsmen] all tossed the sea with their oar-blades in fear of death, and joyfully seaward, away from the beetling cliffs, my ship sped on; but all those other ships were lost together there.

Odyssey 10.130–132.

After landing on Aeaea, the island of Circe, Odysseus divided his crew into two bands, one led by him and the other of twenty-two men led by Eurylochus:

αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ δίχα πάντας ἐυκνήμιδας ἑταίρους
ἠρίθμεον, ἀρχὸν δὲ μετ᾽ ἀμφοτέροισιν ὄπασσα:
τῶν μὲν ἐγὼν ἦρχον, τῶν δ᾽ Εὐρύλοχος θεοειδής.
κλήρους δ᾽ ἐν κυνέῃ χαλκήρεϊ πάλλομεν ὦκα:
ἐκ δ᾽ ἔθορε κλῆρος μεγαλήτορος Εὐρυλόχοιο.
βῆ δ᾽ ἰέναι, ἅμα τῷ γε δύω καὶ εἴκοσ᾽ ἑταῖροι
κλαίοντες: κατὰ δ᾽ ἄμμε λίπον γοόωντας ὄπισθεν.

Then I told off in two bands all my well-greaved comrades, and appointed a leader for each band. Of the one I took command, and of the other godlike Eurylochus. Quickly then we shook lots in a brazen helmet, and out leapt the lot of great-hearted Eurylochus. So he set out, and with him went two-and-twenty comrades, all weeping; and they left us behind, lamenting.

Odyssey 10.203–209.

If we assume that the two bands were of equal size, as indicated by δίχα at 10.203, then forty-six survivors landed at Aeaea, and since eleven had previously been killed, there had been fifty-seven men on Odysseus’s ship when it departed Troy. We can guess that the ship was a penteconter with fifty oarsmen and seven other crew. Assuming all the ships were similar, then the crews of the fleet amounted to about seven hundred men.

At the hall of Circe, Elpenor died in an accident:

κινυμένων δ᾽ ἑτάρων ὅμαδον καὶ δοῦπον ἀκούσας
ἐξαπίνης ἀνόρουσε καὶ ἐκλάθετο φρεσὶν ᾗσιν
ἄψορρον καταβῆναι ἰὼν ἐς κλίμακα μακρήν,
ἀλλὰ καταντικρὺ τέγεος πέσεν: ἐκ δέ οἱ αὐχὴν
ἀστραγάλων ἐάγη, ψυχὴ δ᾽ Ἄϊδόσδε κατῆλθεν.

He [Elpenor] heard the noise and the bustle of his comrades as they moved about, and suddenly sprang up, and forgot to go to the long ladder that he might come down again, but fell headlong from the roof, and his neck was broken away from the spine, and his spirit went down to the house of Hades.

Odyssey 10.556–560.

Six men were killed by the monster Scylla:

ἡμεῖς μὲν πρὸς τὴν ἴδομεν δείσαντες ὄλεθρον:
τόφρα δέ μοι Σκύλλη γλαφυρῆς ἐκ νηὸς ἑταίρους
ἓξ ἕλεθ᾽, οἳ χερσίν τε βίηφί τε φέρτατοι ἦσαν.

So we looked toward her [Charybdis] and feared destruction; but meanwhile Scylla seized from out the hollow ship six of my comrades who were the best in strength and in might.

Odyssey 12.244–246.

This left thirty-nine, but following the slaughter of the sacred cattle of Helios, all except Odysseus were killed in a storm sent by Zeus:

ὁ δ᾽ ἄρα πρυμνῇ ἐνὶ νηὶ
πλῆξε κυβερνήτεω κεφαλήν, σὺν δ᾽ ὀστέ᾽ ἄραξε
πάντ᾽ ἄμυδις κεφαλῆς: ὁ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἀρνευτῆρι ἐοικὼς
κάππεσ᾽ ἀπ᾽ ἰκριόφιν, λίπε δ᾽ ὀστέα θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ.
Ζεὺς δ᾽ ἄμυδις βρόντησε καὶ ἔμβαλε νηὶ κεραυνόν:
ἡ δ᾽ ἐλελίχθη πᾶσα Διὸς πληγεῖσα κεραυνῷ,
ἐν δὲ θεείου πλῆτο, πέσον δ᾽ ἐκ νηὸς ἑταῖροι.
οἱ δὲ κορώνῃσιν ἴκελοι περὶ νῆα μέλαιναν
κύμασιν ἐμφορέοντο, θεὸς δ᾽ ἀποαίνυτο νόστον.

On the stern of the ship the mast struck the head of the pilot and crushed all the bones of his skull together, and like a diver he fell from the deck and his proud spirit left his bones. Therewith Zeus thundered and hurled his bolt upon the ship, and she quivered from stem to stern, smitten by the bolt of Zeus, and was filled with sulphurous smoke, and my comrades fell from out the ship. Like sea-crows they were borne on the waves about the black ship, and the god took from them their returning.†

Odyssey 12.411–419.

† That is, they never returned home.

Odysseus was thus the only survivor of about seven hundred men when he washed up on the island of Calypso.

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