Image source: http://www.beloit.edu/~classics/main/courses/classics100/museum2/art_museum2.html
Note: This site is designed to be used with Robert Fagles' translation of the Odyssey, published by Penguin USA. It was prepared for a 9th grade English class.
- First shown to Telemachus by Nestor, then Menelaus.
- Shown to Odysseus by Alcinous and Arête.
- The suitors
- The Cyclops (Book 9)
- The Laestrygonians (Book 10)
- Circe (Book 10)
It is interesting that, although strangers are "protected" by Zeus, Zeus agrees with Poseidon that the Phaeacians are too hospitable to Odysseus. This seems a value more human than Olympian.
Respect for the Gods
- Respect for the gods is shown through the numerous descriptions of sacrifices and offerings. Before feasting, the ritual involves "cutting the first strips for the gods" having them "wrapped in sleek fat . . . sprinkling barley over them" then "burning the choice parts for the gods that never die." Libations are also poured.
- Disrespect for the Gods inevitably leads to disaster; the Gods do not forget disrespect and are not easily appeased. (Poseidon, Athena, Aeolus, Helios.)
- Note how often Odysseus prays, especially after he makes the mistake with Polyphemus.
The Importance of Lineage
- Almost every time we met someone significant the narration pauses and we learn of the lineage.
- Note how frequently a god is part of that lineage includes a god. (And how often the god is Zeus.
- Many "things" we see also have a lineage or history that we are given - note Odysseus scar and his bow.
- Penelope's loyalty to Odysseus
- Athena's loyalty to her "Odysseus" and vice versa
- Loyalty between parents and offspring.
- The loyalty of Eurycleia
- The loyalty of Argos
- The loyalty of the Achaeans to each other.
Pride and Honor
- Odysseus is guilty of excessive pride when he gives his name to Polyphemus (Book 9).
- Laodamus shows excess pride when he challenges Odysseus in Book 8.
- The suitors seem dangerously proud, especially when Odysseus returns. In the end, the suitors have dishonored Odysseus and must pay for this.
- On the other hand, a certain amount of pride and sense of honor is important. Note how Odysseus responds to the challenge of Laodamus.
- Telemachus needs to need to gain more pride so that he can stand up to the suitors who have dishonored his house.
- Generally, Odysseus resists temptation. But he does boast to Polyphemus, and he does seem reluctant to leave Circe's island.
- His men are tempted by the Lotus Eaters as well as Circe; and by greed several times - causing them to stay too long at the land of the Cicones, to open Aeolus' gift, and finally to eat the cattle of the sun (though in some ways this is more out of desperation than anything else).
- The suitors clearly cannot resist temptation.
Live Life to the Fullest
- A major characteristic of Odysseus. He cannot resist the opportunity to "explore." He stays out of trouble by not being reckless.
- The episode with the Sirens is an example of both his exploration of life and of his precaution.
- He seems to understand how important to make the most of any moment, taking Achilles' description of death to heart.
- Foolishness and the lack of self-discipline lead to the loss of men with the Cicones and the loss of the crew on the Island of Helios.
- Odysseus loses his self-discipline with the Cyclops, but demonstrates it almost everywhere else, often in contrast with his crew.
The Importance of Leadership
This is a top down society. The leaders we meet (Odysseus, Nestor, Alcinous etc.) do not rule democratically. The rule by "divine right" and by force of character. Probably the most important quality of leadership is courage.
- Odysseus, like Orestes, will eventually be a deliverer of justice.
- Justice takes time. Neither Orestes nor Odysseus can act immediately. When they do act justice is not tempered by mercy.
- Helen seems to be beyond justice.
- Justice can seem brutal - especially when it is meted out by Zeus or Poseidon directly - the Phaeacians are brutally punished for their assistance to Odysseus.
- Odysseus justice for the maids who slept with the suitors is also brutal.
Homer seems to think that revenge is well justified and people are entitled to it.
At the end of the book Athena ensures that the people of Ithaca are reconciled with Odysseus. The test Odysseus and various members of his family undergo with each other suggest that their reunions also involve reconciliation.
- Fate is preordained by a power beyond that of even the gods.
- Paradoxically, it does not seem "random." A character's fate is tied up with his "character."
- Odysseus is fated to return home but he could not fulfill his fate if he were not who he is.
then and there
unlucky Odysseus would have met his death -
against the will of fate -
but the bright eyed one inspired him yet again.
Fighting out from the breakers, pounding toward the coast,
out of danger he swam on, scanning the land. . . (Book 5)
Least Tern - John McIlvain - February 8, 2004