Analysis Odysseus’ Household
Charles Kennedy once said, “Quality of life actually begins at home – it’s in your street, around your community.” As many citizens of ancient Greece could attest, oikos is one of the most important facets of life. The household represents a crucial part of ancient Greek society and reflects the strength or weakness of a family. Odysseus’ household appears to be in a messy situation since he left for the Trojan War. Twenty years later, the loneliness and despair of the home’s condition depict those members left behind in Odysseus’ household. On the other hand, Circe’s household appears at peace despite the beautiful threat. The two characters have diverse reputations with Odysseus’ household having a reputation for heroism while Circe’s household has a reputation of magic and sorcery. As Odysseus’ family waits for him, they can not move on from feeling at war. Circe’s home, however, feels no such threat and has been able to relax since the Trojan War has ended. The homes of Odysseus and Circe both reflect the climate of the oikos but in contrasting ways.
Despite the heroic and positive attributes of Odysseus’ household, his family is unable to bask in his glory due to his lack of return. Waiting out their days, Odysseus’ family lives in despair and grief. Unfortunately, Odysseus leaves behind a lot of people. His father, Laertes, and his mother, Anticlea, as well as his wife Penelope, and with her, their then-young son Telemachus all have to wait two decades for their hero’s return. Since leaving them, the poem depicts Odysseus’ household as a dysfunctional one. Disturbed by the absence of her son, his poor mother spent her days in worry he may already be with Hades. She grieved a lot and lived in fear as to whether her son would return home safely or not. Ultimately, this grief and wretchedness causes her death as she longed to see her son return from war. Just as his wife lived, Laertes, too, allows sorrow and sadness to consume himself. He longs to see his son and therefore, grieves because of the long absence of Odysseus. Consequently, Laertes lives in a hovel wearing rags in the countryside away from Odysseus’ home. From the poem, it is clear that Laertes is on the verge of a mental breakdown caused by the hole in his heart left by Odysseus.
For Odysseus’ wife, the same kind of sadness dominates her life as well as the threat of the suitors taking over the home she and Odysseus made. Penelope’s misery and desire to have her husband back is matched by no other. Holding out hope, Penelope is yet to remarry and has to trick men whose fathers were off fighting the same war her husband was. Despite this hope, Penelope continues to grieve in solitude as she waits for her husband to return.
In spite of the sad outlook that the father, mother, and wife depicted, Odysseus’ son has matured and triumphed through the sorrow and taken authority in the management of Odysseus’ estate. Telemachus appears strong and confident in the management of the properties that Odysseus leaves and stands his ground against any and all those who seek to intimidate him. In Odysseus’ absence, Telemachus takes over as man of the house and helps maintain stability for his mother. Accordingly, he offers hope to the family that despite Odysseus’ absence, life has to continue, and the family members should not stay stuck in grief.
In contrast to Odysseus’ household, Circe’s household was not plagued by grief and longing. People knew Circe’s household for the knowledge and skill she possessed in charming people and harming men. Particularly, people knew Circe for her bewitched food that made people turn into animals. Further, the character of her household appears to incline towards causing harm to other people, rather than act as asylum. When Odysseus visits her with his men, she offers them her potion. Odysseus’ men turn into pigs while he maintains his human form with the help of the gods. Shocked by her failure to turn Odysseus into an animal, Circe feels attracted to Odysseus and they become lovers.
Both Odysseus and Circe appear instrumental in the cultural shift from war to peace. Their deliberate efforts and tactful thinking helped in shaping new values that were distinct from those of their households. Odysseus seeks guidance and communicates with nymphs and spirits from the world of the dead. This appears to be in contradiction to his household beliefs that discourage engagements with such kinds of wicked people. However, Odysseus further decides to have a conversation with some dead spirits. Consequently, this shift of practices and beliefs by Odysseus contributed to a united and a common understanding of diverse perspectives. From this understanding, Odysseus managed to build consensus and shaped a new culture of tolerance and inclusivity. Since divisions and misunderstandings were the propagators of violence and war, a new culture of shared values and understanding was essential to returning home. Thus, Odysseus had to make a compromise of his belief systems and culture by engaging with evil people, like Circe, to build a new culture that reduced hatred between communities.
Similarly, Circe had to make a compromise in her belief systems to facilitate the development of a new culture that propagated peace. When Odysseus visits her with his men, she does what she knows best when it came to enemies and strangers; she converted them into her pets. Circe did harm by using her charm on people. In their friendship, Circe compromised her household’s cultural values by sharing pertinent information with Odysseus about their journey and how she could help them. Further, Circe allows Odysseus to stay with her for an extended amount of time, successfully distracting him from getting home. This was unheard of during that time because the Circe household had a status in the society above normal human beings. She would not interact freely with men or accommodate them. Therefore, Circe’s change in her belief system and cultural practices made a significant contribution in bridging the gap between men and higher beings. Through the realization that they could share some beliefs and understand each other’s perspectives, Circe and Odysseus enabled the creation of a new culture that propagated peace following a time of ruin.
In conclusion, Odysseus’ household consisted of normal human beings whole lived in grief because of his absence. On the other hand, Circe’s household existed in peace due to the reputation she cultivated as a spell-casting nymph. Both Odysseus and Circe compromised their household belief systems and worked together in creating a common culture that promoted peace and contributed towards moving on from war.