Odysseus is one of the most famous names in Greek mythology - and of course also in Roman mythology as Ulysses. He was king of Ithaca and a son of Laertes and Anticlea. The traditional story behind his name is told in Homer's Odyssey as follows: Euryclea, the baby's nurse, placed Laertes' son in the lap of Autolycus (the child's grandfather) and suggested he should think of a name for the boy as no one else could.

Autolycus suggested Odysseus (from odyssomai, 'to be angry') as he himself had collected many enemies in the course of his life - or alternatively, because he himself hated so many men. (In fact in the Odyssey Odysseus is not shown in such an 'angry' light as in other non-Greek tales.) Naturally, there have been other attempts to explain his name. Some have sug­gested the root of his name to be hodos, 'way', 'road', since he was a great traveller.

One of the more fantastic explanations using this as a base is the story that Anticlea bore him on Mount Neriton one day when she had been caught in a rainstorm and was cut off by flood water. Zeus therefore had 'rained on the road' (in the original cata ten hodon hysen ho Zeus), and in this Greek phrase can be picked out the name of Odysseus! (Linguistically, it is actually unlikely that hodos would become odos.)

His name has not yet been traced in the Linear Β tablets at Knossos. Perhaps it would be best to settle for a meaning such as 'trouble-maker' - which is incidentally supported by the fact that Odysseus is traditionally described as having red hair!