In usage, what is the key difference between an odyssey and a saga? Both seem to refer to long accounts of adventures, with struggles and dramatic events along the way. Sometimes I see the two words used in the same context, e.g., The Saga of the White Russian Refugees in the Philippines by Ricardo Suarez ... that details the White Russians' odyssey from Russia to China

One difference might be that a saga doesn't necessarily involve a journey, but in practice most of the sagas that I've read (and granted, the original sagas involved Vikings) did seem to involve journeys.

So are the two words more or less interchangeable or are there key distinctions I should be aware of when using them?

  • 3
    An odyssey is a journey; a saga is a story
    – deadrat
    Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 3:40
  • I'd say that the 'key difference' was that one word comes from the Greek tradition and the other from the Scandinavian, rather than any distinction in meaning; but yes, an odyssey involves a long journey by definition. Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 8:51

1 Answer 1


You have somehow misunderstood what these two words mean:

  • A saga is ɴᴏᴛ a journey but rather a long, epic tale — and not all stories involve travel.

    This word comes down to us from Old Norse, such as Snorri Sturluson’s famous Prose Edda. Originally a tale in the oral tradition, no skalds are required when creating a modern, written saga.

  • An odyssey is a ɴᴏᴛ a long, epic tale but rather a journey — and not all travel is a story.

    This word comes down to us from Ancient Greek via the next bullet, more famous by far than the tales from the last bullet. Many a modern odyssey has run its course without ever being written down, let alone by following its progenitor’s Ulyssean wanderings about the Isles of the Middle Sea, fabled or otherwise.

  • Homer’s Odyssey is necessarily both, being a saga about an odyssey — but ɴᴏᴛ an odyssey about a saga!

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