The title of The Odyssey has given us a word to describe a journey of epic proportions. Throughout his travels, Odysseus' central emotion is loneliness. We first encounter him as he pines away for home, alone on Calypso's beach, and he is not above weeping when thinking of home at other points. He also endures great loss through the deaths of his brothers-in-arms from the Trojan War and his shipmates afterward. Loneliness pervades the emotions of other characters; Penelope is nearly in constant tears over her absent husband, Telemachus has never known his legendary father, and Odysseus' mother explains that loneliness caused her death.
Yet tempering Odysseus' desire to return home is the temptation to enjoy the luxurious surroundings in which he sometimes finds himself -- particularly when he is in the company of beautiful goddesses. He happily spends a year on Circe’s island as her lover and does not seem to complain too much about his eight years of imprisonment on Calypso’s island. In both cases, Odysseus expresses little remorse about being unfaithful to his wife -- although infidelity is what he fears Penelope may be succumbing to at home.
That Homer never reproaches Odysseus for his extracurricular romances but condemns the unfaithful women in the poem recalls Calypso’s angry statement about the double standard for immortals: male gods are allowed to take mortal lovers, while female goddesses are not. Likewise, men such as Odysseus have some freedom to "wander" sexually during their geographical wanderings -- so long as they are ultimately faithful to their home -- while Penelope and the other women in The Odyssey are chastised for their lack of chastity. Indeed, Odysseus does remain true to Penelope in his heart, and his desire to reunite with her drives his faithful journey. Fidelity is also central at the end of the poem, when Odysseus tests the loyalties of his servants and punishes those who have betrayed him.
Odysseus' most prominent characteristic is his cunning; Homer's Greek audience generally admired the trait but occasionally disdained it for its dishonest connotations. Odysseus' skill at improvising false stories or devising plans is nearly incomparable in Western literature. His Trojan horse scheme (recounted here) and his multiple tricks against Polyphemus are shining examples of his ingenuity, especially when getting out of jams.
Both examples indirectly relate to another dominant motif inThe Odyssey: disguise. (The soldiers "disguise" themselves in the body of the Trojan horse, while Odysseus and his men "disguise" themselves as rams to escape from Polyphemus.) Odysseus spends the last third of the poem disguised as a beggar, both to escape from harm until he can overthrow the suitors, as well as to test others for loyalty. In addition, Athena appears frequently throughout the poem, often as the character Mentor, to provide aid to Odysseus or Telemachus.
It is little wonder Odysseus fears Penelope's lapse into infidelity: women are usually depicted, if anything, as sexual aggressors in The Odyssey. Circe exemplifies this characteristic among the goddesses, turning the foolish men she so easily seduces into the pigs she believes them to be, while Calypso imprisons Odysseus as her virtual sex-slave. The Sirens, too, try to destroy passing sailors with their beautiful voices. The suitors even accuse Penelope of teasing them, a debatable point. But no woman receives as negative a portrait as Agamemnon's wife Kyltaimnestra; the story of her cuckoldry and murder of her husband frequently recurs as a parallel to Odysseus' anxieties about Penelope.
Though he is usually a smart, decisive leader, Odysseus is prone to errors, and his deepest flaw is falling prey to temptation. His biggest mistakes come in the episode with Polyphemus as he first foolishly investigates the Cyclops' lair (and ends up getting trapped there), and then cannot resist shouting his name to Polyphemus after escaping (thus incurring Poseidon's wrath). If Odysseus' character changes over the course of The Odyssey, though, it pivots around temptation. After his errors with Polyphemus, Odysseus has his crew tie him up so he can hear -- but not follow -- the dangerously seductive song of the Sirens. Disguised as a beggar in Ithaca, he is even more active in resisting temptation, allowing the suitors to abuse him as he bides his time. Temptation hurts his crew, as well, in their encounters with Circe, the bag of winds from Aiolos, and the oxen of Helios.
The gods exercise absolute power over mortal actions in The Odyssey. To curry the gods' favor, mortals are constantly making sacrifices to them. Conversely, offending the gods creates immense problems, as demonstrated by the oxen of Helios episode and Poseidon's grudge against Odysseus for blinding his son Polyphemus.
Athena is the most visible god in the poem; only under her aegis can Odysseus survive his dangerous adventures, and she lobbies Zeus for his freedom and safety at other points. Her favoritism for him seems justified as a reward for his sacrifices and nobility of character; her distaste for the suitors is similarly understandable.
The power of the gods, who usually care more about their internal disputes than about mortal behavior, is cemented at the end of the poem as Zeus orders a cease-fire between Odysseus and the suitors. Ultimately, the gods decide what happens in the mortal world; lack of free will receives more depth in The Iliad, but is a prominent theme in nearly any ancient Greek text, particularly ones that concern themselves with the omnipotent gods.
The Odyssey nearly serves as a Greek guide to hospitality, or "xenia," which was such a dominant concept in Greece that Zeus was the god of hospitality. Telemachus and Odysseus receive warm hospitality throughout their journeys from others, usually without even having to give their names. The flip side of the equation, of course, is the suitors, who abuse Telemachus' hospitality in running through Odysseus' reserves. The other blight on hospitality comes at the end when the Phaeacians decide not to give strangers conveyance anymore, after Poseidon turns their ship that carried Odysseus to Ithaca into stone.
Telemachus’ miniature odyssey: paralleling Odysseus' greater journey, Telemachus' journey at the beginning of the poem is as much a search for maturity as it is one for his father. Athena, who sparks his travels, also grooms him in the ways of a prince. Telemachus matures from his initial weakness in the face of the suitors into the authoritative man of the house, and his place by his father's side in the climactic battle is well earned and represented.
Though it sweeps across many themes and aspects of human nature, The Odyssey is broadly framed as a revenge story: the climax is the slaughtering of suitors who have been vying to take over Odysseus' estate in his absence. This revenge is deeply cathartic and comes across as more well-earned because of the trials to which Odysseus was subjected at sea before he was finally "allowed" by the gods to reclaim his estate.
The Character of Athena in Homer's Odyssey
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Character of Athena in Homer's Odyssey
Imagine living in another world and time, one where you were not
only a god but could also take the form of any object or person that you chose.
Athena, the daughter of Zeus, has this ability. Of all the characters in the Odyssey,
the most interesting to me is Athena. In my opinion, she guides the main
characters of the Odyssey in the right direction. She kind of looks over
their shoulders and serves as a guardian angel.
Athena makes Telemachos go to Pylos and Sparta. Athena says, "My
advice to you is this, if you will let me advise you. Get the best ship
you can find, put twenty oarsmen aboard, go and find out about your father
and why he is so long away. Perhaps some one may tell you, or you may hear
some rumour that god will send, which is often the best way for people to
get news." (Homer 17) If not for Athena, Telemachos might have taken his
father for dead and encouraged his mother to marry one of her suitors. But
Athena, under the disguise of Mentes advises Telemachos to go on a journey
to try to find out what happenened to Odysseus. This is important because
the journey of Telemachos played an important part of his becoming a man.
Athena also rescued Odysseus from certain death at the hands of
Poseidon Earthshaker and brought him to the island of Phaiacia. "Now it
was the turn of Athenaia the daughter of Zeus, and this was her plan. She
tied up the courses of all the other winds, and commanded them to rest and
be quiet; but she sent a steady wind from the north and broke down the
waves in front of Odysseus, that he might make his way and save himself
alive." (Homer 70) At this point in the novel Posiedon is enraged with
Odysseus because he is about to make it home. It seems every time that
Odysseus is about to make it home, Poseidon is reminded that Odysseus
killed his son Polyphemos. Again Athena saves Odysseus, this time from
Charybdis. "Then his skin would have been torn off and all his bones
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Athena Homer Odyssey Right Direction Important Part Guides Poseidon Looks Zeus Guardian
broken, if Athena had not put a thought into his mind; he flung himself
upon a rock and caught hold with both hands, and clung there groaning,
until backwash rolled upon him again, and caried him far out into the sea."
(Homer 71) Charybdis was a whirlpool that shot up water before it sucked
everthing down. Odysseus grabbed the branch and was swept away while the
whirlpool was resting.
Furthermore, Athena planned how Odysseus could return to his home
and kill the suitors. This was done in a few steps. "Odysseus awoke. He
lay on his native soil, and knew it not, since he had been long absent.
For Pallas Athena herself, that divine daughter of Zeus, had covered the
place with mist, that she might tell him everything first and disguise him.
She wished that his wife and friendsmight no know him until he had punished
the wooers of his wife for their outrageous violence." (Homer 152) This is
basically self-explanatory . Athena wanted Odysseus know completely the
situation that he was about to encounter. After all, the goings on at his
house were rather drastic.
These are a few of the most obvious examples of Athena's role in
the Odyssey. To me she is the caretaker of Odysseus and Telemachos. It is
with her help that makes Odysseus seem so godlike. Who knows or could say
what might have happened to Odysseus and his family had Athena not provided
the great asistance that she did. I am almost certain that he would not
have made it home without it.