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Nostos (Ancient Greek: νόστος) is a theme used in Greek literature which includes an epic hero returning home by sea. It is a high level of heroism or greatness. This journey is usually very extensive and includes being shipwrecked in an unknown location and going through certain trials that test the hero.[1] The return isn't just about returning home physically but also about retaining certain statuses and retaining your identity upon arrival.[2] The theme of Nostos is brought to life in Homer's The Odyssey, where the main hero Odysseus tries to return home after battling in the Trojan War. Odysseus is challenged by many temptations, such as the Sirens or the Lotus-eaters. If Odysseus had given into these temptations it would have meant certain death and thus failing to return home.[2] Nostos is used today in many forms of literature and movies.[3]

Nostos in The Odyssey[edit]

There are many instances in The Odyssey in which Odysseus is longing to return home to Penelope, his wife, for example when he is stuck on Calypso's island, Ogygia. Another example is during the night before he leaves the island of the Phaeacians, after he has told them his lengthy story, when he "kept turning his face at the blazing Sun, impatient for it to set, as he was longing to be on his way" (E. V. Rieu's translation for Penguin Classics.)

Modern times[edit]

The word nostalgia was first coined as a medical term in 1688 by Johannes Hofer (1669-1752), a Swiss medical student. It uses the word νόστος along with another Greek root, άλγος or algos, meaning pain, to describe the psychological condition of longing for the past.

In James Joyce's Ulysses, the final part, during which Leopold Bloom returns home, is called the Nostos.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bonifazi, Anna. "Inquiring into Nostos and Its Cognates". Project MUSE. 
  2. ^ a b Alexopoulou, Marigo (2009). The Theme of Returning Home in Ancient Greek Literature : The Nostos of the Epic Heroes. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press. pp. 2–5. 
  3. ^ Clauss, James. J. "Hercules Unchained: Contaminatio, Nostos, Katabasis, and the Surreal". Arethusa.