A Complex Character Of Odysseus
When comparing two separate bodies within a particular story, one has to look at the themes present within the story and critically discuss how they differ within each time period based off the environments and behaviours of people within those particular settings; in this case, the motives, actions and themes we are comparing are those presented in “the hero’s wandering” and their changes or effects in “the hero’s return home”. The most fascinating aspect of this story is the realistic complexity of a character, which relates to the meaning of a complex character – one who engages in more themes within the given story and acting accordingly, in this case, our prime example is “wily Odysseus”, “the man of twists and turns”..
- 1 The Journey compared with Ithaca:
- 2 The spiritual growth of Odysseus through the story:
- 3 Hospitality:
The Journey compared with Ithaca:
Throughout the entire story presented in The Odyssey, two episodes of Odysseus’ journey and adventures have been described by the poet in the book. The other episodes are recounted by Odysseus himself or are retold by the bard during his encounter with the Phaeacians. The scenes are displayed in such a manner to represent an important shift in dynamic within the story; transitioning from being concealed by the Nymph Calypso (her name means “concealer” which describes the “trial” associated with her within the story and what her encounter with Odysseus would initially mean) on her island, Ogygia, for seven years to his encounter with the Phaeacians – “those who convoy without hurt to all men” representing the shift from not returning home to returning home. Breaking the “curse” said to be on Odysseus by the god of wind – Aeolus – and returning home while asleep.
During his wanderings, Odysseus encounters many deities or beings close to them, descendants of gods, prophesies and beasts, which are useful to the reader as it conveys that the world that Odysseus is in is a world beyond man and that certain events which influence his journey are things beyond his control. It also plays a huge role on whether or not he may in fact return home – experiencing the wrath of an ocean-God is not something to be taken lightly, especially when it’s his will denying you of your “nostos”.
The beings encountered through this epic tale includes: the Phaeacians who lived near the Cyclopes. Their king, Alcinius is a descendent of Poseidon and is the great grandson of the king of the giants. Other characters include Poseidon – the god of the oceans, the nymph Calypso, the sorceress Circe etc.
“The way these mortals blame the gods. From us alone, they say come all their miseries, yes, but they themselves, with their own reckless ways, compound their pains beyond their proper share.” – Zeus, book 1, line 39. –this is indicating that gods play no part in the outcome of tragic events, if no blame can be pointed towards them during these times, one may also say the same for positive outcomes. Gods are neutral and just – although the revenge against Odysseus and the Phaeacians outside Ithaca may indicate otherwise.
These all differ from what is faced in Ithaca. My idea of Ithaca is an “isolated” island which constitutes as the representation of mankind, essentially showing their potential within a story which possesses many deities and beasts far beyond our wildest imagination. I also feel as though in order to show the potential of mankind, the presence of such deities should feel non-existent. As the story has it however, the exception of Athena as she is portrayed as a mere guide or disguised as a mentor for characters like Telemachus or Odysseus, although she chooses not to interfere directly with battles and potential triumphs for our hero, trusting their character and having them be victorious on their own, creating their own significant outcome past their initial fate (in Odysseus case – returning home).This was exhibited during Odysseus’ attack against the suitors.
During the course of the story, it is established that due to Odysseus delayed return, he may not in fact return. This creates a stir among the nobleman and the families of strength within the island, thinking that there may be an opportunity to gain control of the palace after having the Queen, Penelope, remarry. After the suitors had an extensive period of time abusing the household, Odysseus returns and plans an eventual assault, which would take place after testing those whom he could trust as allies, having Athena as his guide – she did nothing but indirectly assist Odysseus with a disguise, information and serving as a pacifier who alleviates the anxiety and loneliness of Penelope, having them gain their own “kleos”.
I often believe that it’s in the underworld where Odysseus concludes that a tactful approach to be the better course of action, being discrete and taking time as later, it is there where he meets the shade of Achilles and congratulates him on the “kleos” gained from his battle in Troy. Achilles disapproves and questions the hero code, dying for glory, stating that the “poorest life surpasses the noblest death”. He then began questioning the life of his own son, thus signifying that importance of family over the glory of war. Also the shade of Agamemnon who tells the story of his own wife murdering him upon his return, installing some doubt in Odysseus’ mind of what might be in store for him upon his own return.
The spiritual growth of Odysseus through the story:
(during his disguise in Ithaca as opposed to what’s present in the Cyclops cave):
Odysseus’ growth is less linear thus giving us a more realistic character as opposed to other Epics, sporting a hero who overcomes all through sheer strength and determination, changing his entire essence to overcome some antagonist or tragic circumstance.
Prior to leaving to fight in the Trojan War twenty years before, he was already a well-established hero among the Greek forces. The journey of his “nostos” and the trials faced by him are more related to the refinement and polishing of spirit. The growth can be more easily identified by the wisdom built from the experiences faced within his journey that would make him a better king once he returns and resumes his title of king of Ithaca.
“Cyclops, if any mortal man ever asks you who it was that inflicted upon your eye this shameful blinding, tell him that you were blinded by Odysseus, sacker of cities. Laertes is his father, and he makes his home on Ithaca” – Odysseus boasts after he escapes the clutches of the Cyclops Polyphemus.
Early on, Odysseus feels compelled to taunt Polyphemus the Cyclops as he escapes from the one-eyed monster. Odysseus shouts his real name at the giant, making it possible for Polyphemus to identify his tormentor to Poseidon, the Cyclops’ father. This brings Odysseus, and the Phaeacians, serious problems later.
When he returns to Ithaca, however, Odysseus behaves more prudently. He enters in disguise in order to obtain information about the enemy as well as knowledge of whom to trust. Even when he is taunted and assaulted by the suitors or his own servants, Odysseus manages to maintain his composure and postpone striking back. When he does strike, the time is perfect. By the end of the epic, Odysseus seems to be a wiser, more perceptive leader than he might have been had he sailed straight home from Troy.
(A comparison between the unknown Phaeacian hospitality and what is known but not received within Ithaca)
As a modern reader, the term hospitality and its huge role within society is a strange concept. Fagles and Knox both refer to hospitality as a dominant part of “the only code of moral conduct that obtains in the insecure world of ‘The Odyssey’”. It is essential as it highlights civility – it’s an opportunity to demonstrate your quality and hope that the act is reciprocated. Therefore the lack of it encourages the reader to judge and have an understanding of the particulars civility. (Polyphemus – eating the crew / Calypso – concealing and not allowing Odysseus to leave)
The gods of Olympus can’t be all against this man
who’s come to mingle among our noble people. . . . .
Give the stranger food and drink, my girls. – Nausicaa
During his “nostos” a plea is given from Athena to Zeus to allow the King to return home during Poseidon’s absence, it is after this that he finds his way onto “Phaeacian soil”. The time spent within the country is fairly short due to the hosts’ superb hospitality, adhering to all the norms and customs which were acknowledged as good hospitality within those times. Offering food and drink and having some entertainment to follow – the bard which helps Odysseus recount his travels).
This completely contradicts the hospitality given to Oddyseus upon his arrival to his home, Ithaca. Disguised as a beggar, he isn’t free to do as he pleases in his own palace, constantly having to accept the abuse and insults handed to him by his own goatherd and maidservant, even his countrymen disrespects him by attempting to court his wife.
If hospitality is something that is directly related to the civility of a person and/or a kingdom, then a King should be the most generous host and even more so with his own. This is contradicted when Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, begs Antinous, one of the lead people attempting to court Penelope, for some food and is denied. And is initially what makes Odysseus believe that not all “kings” and worthy of being called King. And as a reader, one may clearly see that sometimes, the beasts are also among our own, instead of what we may deem “bestial”.
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