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The Odyssey

19 Jan 2017Literature Essays

Composed around 700 BCE (Before the Common Era), Homer’s Odyssey gives a unique view into Greek culture in the Bronze Age and about the twelfth century BCE. By examining this work closely, we can see how the Greeks saw themselves. Many also consider the work as a kind of continuation of Homer’s epic The Iliad. The Odyssey is a tale of Odysseus’ wanderings. Eventually, he returns home to Ithaca, after ten years of war.

Many perse facets of Greek life and culture are reflected from the text. One very important aspect is the importance of gods, goddesses and pinity. Throughout the story the gods help the characters, or show their wrath for them. But what stands out in The Odyssey is Homer’s depiction of characters, especially Odysseus. Odysseus is bright, intellectual, and rational. He thinks before he acts, which is makes him admirable and competent. Unlike typical heroes Odysseus’ has the gift of intelligence, in addition to brute force. He does not react to anything spontaneously, and thinks before saying or doing anything. This is clearly evident in many instances in the text. He uses tricks and wit to escape from risky situations.

Odysseus seems to be a perfect blend - he is a good athlete, and has a sharp witty mind. It is Odysseus who employs his strategies which result in the victory of Greece and the fall of Troy. Many critics and scholars agree that this was indeed, unconventional, considering the time The Odyssey is set in. All that was important was war, honor, valor and courage. Defeat was humiliation. Humiliation was disgrace. Brute force was what a man’s strength was judged by. But Homer’s work, in that respect seems to be unconventional and new. His hero was not just a warrior. He was a man with a mind that could reason. But Odysseus does have his weaknesses. And the greatest of those was his conceit. Like many of the male characters of Greek literature, he too has his egotistical pride.

Apart from mental capability, another theme that occurs often is that of loyalty. Penelope, Odysseus’ wife never betrays him. Odysseus’ maid, Eurycleia recognizes him even though he is disguised as a beggar. Odysseus’ dog too is faithful to him.

Physical strength and manhood were also equally important, with strength deciding who was better, and who was not. In fact, the final completion between Odysseus and Iros reveals that it was indeed muscle that would decide who would win Penelope’s love. Eating, drinking, dancing and singing were recreational activities everyone indulged in. But what was most important and fore-most in Greek life and culture was religion. Amply obvious in the text, the pine were given most importance and respect. Fate and future lied in the hands of the Olympian gods. People made countless sacrifices to different gods to earn their goodwill and support. Disrespecting the gods meant invited god’s wrath and anger on oneself.

Another central aspect was that of progeny. One can conclude that the importance of the father-son relationship was much more than that of any other relation.

The role of family life seems to be cardinal in The Odyssey. Odysseus has not returned home after ten years of war. But war does not form the major theme in the Odyssey. Homer’s epic is about Odysseus’ journey back home. We learn that he has been trapped by the beautiful Calypso at her island. He has no means of escaping and longs for his home and family. Back at Ithaca, his homeland, a number of rowdy angry suitors are trying to woo Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, believing him to be dead. Odysseus’ son Telemachus is enraged, but does not have the power or the authority to throw them out.

Here is when gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus make a plan to guide Odysseus back home. Athena, in particular helps Odysseus and Telemachus throughout the story, saving them from disasters several times. Poseidon, the god of the sea though, loathes Odysseus. Odysseus had earlier, blinded Poseidon’s son - the Cyclops Polyphemus. Zeus, the god of gods holds a neutral bearing. He helps Odysseus, but at times works against him.

Zeus helps Odysseus escape from Calypso’s island, on a ship. But when Poseidon finds Odysseus sailing alone, he mounts an attack, leaving him at the land of the Phaeacians. The Phaeacians treat him with respect, recognizing who he is, and he relates his story to them. Later the Phaeacians help Odysseus reach Ithaca. Odysseus arrives disguised as a beggar, by Athena. He along with Telemachus formulate a plan to get rid of the rowdy suitors.

Odysseus, in his disguise learns many things. Those who truly love him recognize him even in a beggar’s garb. He arrives in his palace safely, without arousing suspicion, and later, proves to everyone, that indeed, he is the king Odysseus. Homer’s epic finishes with Odysseus finally reuniting with his family, and with his kingdom.

Family in The Odyssey is the focal point of the story. Odysseus wants to see his family desperately. His son sets out on a dangerous perilous journey, risking his life in quest of his long lost father. Penelope, Odysseus’ wife remains loyal to him even after years of his absence. Poseidon wants to avenge the injustice done to his son.

The father-son relation is portrayed in many different dimensions by Homer. But the one common factor in all of them is the veneration of this relation. Both the father and the son respected each other, and understood the significance of their bond.

The most significant one is the relation between Odysseus and his son Telemachus. The bond is characterized by not just progeny, but also by a feeling of mutual understanding and belonging. Telemachus grows up in his father’s absence, yet that does not blemish the connection between them. Their bond is characterized by loyalty and protection of their kingdom. But there are other values too that characterize the father-son bond. The bond between Poseidon and his son is fuelled by their anger against Odysseus, rather than a feeling of love. Poseidon will do anything to prevent Odysseus from making it back home. Both Poseidon and Polyphemus have little mutual understanding, but one emotion unites them - the one of hatred, jealousy and resentment for Odysseus.

Another father-son relation is the one between Odysseus and his father Laertes. Even though Laertes appears at the end of the story, his presence is significant enough. He is aging and old, but his spirit is revived with his son’s return. It is he who saves Odysseus from the bitter suitors; Antinous was the most eager suitor, planning to kill Telemachus to have his way unhindered. Laertes kills Antinous’s father, and brings the attack to an end. Odysseus himself kills Antinous. Other examples of father-son relations include Nestor and his son Peisitratus; both help Telemachus in his journey.

Homer clearly portrays the idea of continuity between generations. All the sons were like their fathers, and it is evident that they will have the same relations their fathers had with each other. Telemachus, like his father was bright and talented. He fights for the same goals and aims his father fought for. He wants to protect the family estate, but is under constant attack from the suitors. Many claim that he was not as intelligent as his father, but others claim that he was young, would eventually mature into a bright man like his him.

Polyphemus too, is like his father Poseidon- bitter and vengeful. A less significant father-son pair of Nestor and Peistrauts also follows the same pattern. Both help Telemachus. In fact, we learn that earlier Nestor had assisted Odysseus. Later his son Peistratus accompanies Telemachus till Sparta to help him. Antinous and his father are both ungrateful and self-seeking. From all these examples, it is clear that even after a generation, the emotions, whether good or bad continue.

Even though Homer’s work was widely acclaimed and loved, many believe that it was too idealistic. Good always triumphed against evil, and the hero was always victorious. But it was not just Homer’s idealistic plots that made his works successful. Many themes in his play contributed to his success. He blended religion, culture, honor and mystery in a most artful way, and came up with mythological masterpieces. Homer’s work continues to be one of the most widely read works of Greek literature. His writings have preserved the culture and customs of ancient Greece forever.

Works Cited:

  • Bookrags, The Odyssey Booknotes Summary, retrieved from http://www.bookrags.com/notes/od/CHR.html
  • ThinkQuest, Odysseus, the Hero, retrieved from http://library.thinkquest.org/19300/data/Odyssey/odysseus.htm
  • Sparknotes, by Barnes and Noble, The Odyssey, Homer, retrieved from http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/odyssey/canalysis.html

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