An Analysis of Homer’s, The Odyssey
Today I thought I would give an in-depth analysis of Homer’s Odyssey, and the character Odysseus. Please feel free to post your comments!
Odysseus’ Notable Characteristics
Odysseus is a person who has strong characteristics, but also major character flaws. Because of his constant struggles with his ‘passions’ and reason he can be categorized as an epic hero. Odysseus has many “good” characteristics that make him an epic hero such as the following: bravery, honor, cunning, which can be considered his principal arête, articulation, strength, courage. Odysseus has many redeemable characteristics, but what makes Odysseus a more complex character is the contradictions in his nature. Odysseus in my opinion has two major flaws which are excessive pride and faithfulness. Odysseus, because of his pride in his cunning, reveals that he blinded Poseidon’s son, Polyphemus, and Poseidon seeks his revenge by making it difficult for Odysseus and his men to travel home to Ithaca. Odysseus declares, “Kyklops, if ever a mortal man inquire how you were put to shame and blinded, tell him Odysseus, raider of cities, took your eye: Laertes’ son whose home is on Ithaka!” (Davis 542).
Odysseus is also easily angered when someone questions his authority because it hurts his pride. An example of this is when Odysseus asks his men to go to the halls of Kirke and Eurylokhos challenges him. Eurylokhos does not want to go to the halls for fear of being turned into an animal, more specifically a swine. When Odysseus’ command is challenged by Eurylokhos he becomes enraged. Odysseus states, “When I heard this I had a mine to draw the blade that swung against my side and chop him, bowing his head upon the ground-kinsman or no kinsman, close to me though he was” (Davis 536).
Q: Do you feel that Odysseus’ cunning is a gift or a curse? Does his ‘gift’ help him or hurt him on his journey?
Faithfulness and Loyalty in Odysseus
Odysseus on his journey shares his desire to return to Ithaca to see his wife and son. Odysseus says he loves his wife and wants to see her, but there are points in the story where his loyalty to Penelope can be questioned. One moment in the text where Odysseus seems to falter in his faithfulness is when he shares the bed of Kirke. However, Hermes tells Odysseus that he must not decline Kirke’s bed implying that Odysseus would have if not told otherwise (Davis 552). Though Hermes told Odysseus to share Kire’s bed Kirke tells Odysseus that he may leave whenever he wishes, but Odysseus chooses to stay with her for a long time.
Odysseus says, “But when the passing months and wheeling seasons brought the long summery days, the pause of summer, my shipmates one day summoned me and said: ‘Captain, shake off this trance, and think of home-if home indeed awaits us…’” (Davis 357).
Odysseus does not want to leave until his men remind him that they have to get home. It is also interesting to note that when Odysseus tells his wife the story of his adventures that he does not mention his affairs. In fact, he tries to show Penelope that he was faithful even when tempted by these beautiful women. “He alone survived, cast away on Kalypso’s isle, Ogygia. He told, then, how that nymph detained him there in her smooth caves, craving him for her husband, and how in her devoted lust she swore he should not die nor grow old, all his days, but he held out against her” (Davis 752).
Q: If Odysseus is desperate to get home then why does he linger at Kirke’s so long? Do you feel that Odysseus remains faithful to Penelope despite his ‘affairs’ with Circe and Calypso? Do you think it was acceptable for Odysseus to withhold information from Penelope?
Cunning, Odysseus’ Principal Arête
Odysseus is described by many who know him to be the most cunning and clever man they ever knew. Because he is identified with this art this can be considered his principal arête. Athena is also known for her cunning and deceit, which is most likely why Athena helps Odysseus. She often disguises herself when she speaks to Odysseus, but through her deception speaks truthfully like Odysseus. Alkinoos, the king whom Odysseus is telling the story to, voices his opinion at times and comments on his wit. He made a comment about Odysseus’s wit when Odysseus tells him about conversing with the souls of the underworld. Alkinoos states, “You speak with art, but your intent is honest. The Argive troubles, and your own troubles, you told as a poet would, a man who knows the world” (Davis 571).
The most notable passage in the Odyssey that shows Odysseus’s cunning is when Odysseus tries to deceive Athena when Athena is trying to deceive Odysseus. Athena catches Odysseus trying to lie to her and comments on it in the text.
You! You chameleon! Bottomless bag of tricks! Here in your own country would you not give your stratagems a rest or stop spellbinding for an instant? You play a part as if it were your own tough skin. No more of this though. Two of a kind, we are, contrivers, both. Of all the men now alive you are the best in plots and story telling. My own fame is for wisdom among the gods-deceptions too” (Davis602).
Q: Do you think Odysseus is deceitful, affluent or both? At what do you think lying is acceptable? Use examples from reading if possible.