Homer and the Odyssey
Homer’s epic, The Odyssey has been the inspiration of countless movies, stories, and television shows throughout history. The story is filled with monsters, adventure, fighting, love, loss, and magic– and obviously people have taken a liking to the mystical nature of Homer’s writings. Homer’s epics are well known throughout the world and are taught in schools to discuss Greek Mythology and the art of storytelling. In this paper, I will be discussing the life of the author of The Odyssey, Homer, several main themes throughout The Odyssey, and how the story has changed how historical literature is viewed in a modern context.
Homer’s own personal life is a mystery. There are legends that he was born on the island of Chi’os and that he was a blind bard who would travel around, reciting his stories. He wandered about the land, homeless, but welcome wherever he chose to go, because he was a poet, and people who he would come into contact to would take the great stories he told and retell them to people they knew. Guesses at his birth date range from 750 BC all the way back to 1200 BC, the latter because The Iliad encompasses the story of the Trojan War, meaning some scholars have concluded he may have been born near the years that the war was occuring. No one is sure of a solid year or precise period of time since there is no legitimate documentation surrounding Homer’s life available. There also isn’t any evidence of Homer writing his stories either, because he would share them orally through lyrical poems or songs.
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Historians are stumped whether or not Homer is a real person, or just an identity created to hide the name of the real writer. Historians have also speculated whether Homer is a single man who wrote all the stories credited to him, or if Homer was a group of writers who collaborated and created the tales. There is much evidence to support the theory that The Iliad and The Odyssey were written by different authors, perhaps as much as a century apart, as the word choices used in each of Homer’s famous stories, The Odyssey and The Iliad, are vastly different. The Iliad is written in a formal, more dramatic way, like a theatrical play, and the Odyssey is written in a more realistic way, like a novel, and emulates a more common way of speaking that is informal.
Some historian also believe that Homer is a group of people because there are some inconsistencies between the character of Odysseus in The Odyssey and in The Iliad. Some examples of these differences is that Odysseus uses a spear in The Iliad, but is an extraordinary archer in the Odyssey, meaning that either Homer took artistically liberties in his writings and made the character of Odysseus inconstant and changing the skills he holds in each story, or that there are differences in how Odysseus is described because the stories were created by separate people all together. One historian even goes as far as to claim he thinks it’s a mistake to think of Homer as a person. Homer is an “it” – a tradition, meaning Homer is not an actual man who wrote poetry, but is a name given to stories that were created by retelling of epics. The final versions of The Odyssey and The Iliad may have been made by gradual changes to an oral story which eventually were credited to Homer the Poet.
In The Odyssey, the main story is about King Odysseus of Ithaca and his journey to get home after the Great War of Troy is over. Odysseus is one of the first heroes in story telling that is seen as a full person. He may have a few god-like qualities, like his courage, good-looks, and strength as a warrior, but he also has the bad (or more human) parts of him that bring him down a peg. He is extremely arrogant and takes chances that aren’t really necessary, occasionally causing the demise of those around him, but he is fueled by love to get back to his wife, Penelope. He is a complete character, instead of a God that has no flaws, which is most likely the reason so many people resonate with him and appreciate The Odyssey and Odysseus’ adventures. For the first time, characters like Odysseus were being created in stories and spread around, which would be the basis for many stories in ancient Greece, and in today’s literature.
The theme of Pride is rampant throughout The Odyssey, as Odysseus is very much full of himself. He is very boastful in the way he acts and talks about how great he thinks he is. An example of Odysseus being extremely arrogant about his action is when, after he has blinded Polyphemus, the cyclops, and is in his ship sailing away, he yells, Cyclopsif any man on the face of the earth should ask you who blinded you, shamed you so??”say Odysseus, raider of cities, he gouged out your eye, Laertes’ son who makes his home in Ithaca! Yelling his full name and the place he lives at a giant cyclops who he just blinded is an unnecessary risk on Odysseus’ part, and a very dangerous one at that. The possible hazards of exposing himself as the one who stabbed Polyphemus’ eye don’t matter to Odysseus because he is so prideful and wants to show how strong and powerful he believes himself to be.
Odysseus did not realize that Polyphemus’ father is actually Poseidon, the god of the sea, earthquakes, storms, and horses and [who] is considered one of the most bad-tempered, moody and greedy Olympian gods. Polyphemus asks his father to punish Odysseus for his wrong doings, and Poseidon obliges. Since Odysseus is so arrogant that he would name himself as the cyclops’ assaulter, so Poseidon made it so Odysseus’ journey back to Ithaca would be as difficult as possible. Odysseus’ choices due to his own hubris eventually cause more of his men to die than would have if he hadn’t responded how he did.
The theme of Loyalty is also very important in The Odyssey. Throughout the story, Odysseus is adamant that he must return back home to his wife, Penelope, even though obstacles may slow him down and make his journey much longer than it should be. Penelope is also extremely loyal to her husband because, even though suitors are lining up, showering her with gifts, [so] she can marry the one who offers most, she continues to tell the men that she is waiting for her husband to come home. Eventually, it’s been so long since Odysseus has not been home that everyone in the kingdom is sure Odysseus has perished.
Penelope tells the men now that King Odysseus is no more, go slowly, keen as you are to marry me, until I can finish off this web, while weaving a shroud. Penelope comes up with a plan that she is going to keep the men from courting her by working on the shroud every day, and unweaving it at night, so that she will never have to remarry and hopefully Odysseus will come home to her. She remains loyal to Odysseus the whole story, always waiting for him to return. Odysseus may seem less loyal in the relationship, as he does fall weak to a tempting sexual offer from Calypso, a nymph from the island of Ogygia, making him an infidel in his marriage to Penelope.
Eventually Odysseus realizes he actually wants to go home to Penelope, and says to the nymph, Even though he was free to stay on the island with Calypso after she welcomed [Odysseus] warmly, cherished [him], even vowed to make [him] immortal, ageless, all [his] daysbut she never won the heart inside [him], never. Although he could gain qualities of a god from Calypso in exchange for him staying with her as basically a sex slave, forever, he always had his wife and his people as his main priority. His loyalty prevailed and caused him to want to return to Ithaca, rejecting Calypso. He makes quite a few choices throughout his journey back home that cause the reader to be unsure of Odysseus’ true intentions, but he does finally show that loyalty to his family is a very important and real aspect of his personality.
One last theme in The Odyssey that is important is perseverance. Odysseus showed great perseverance when he and his crew were sailing past a group of sirens who were dead-set on luring the men into the ocean to drown. The sirens try to bargain with the men, offering knowledge, singing never has any sailor passed our shores in his black craft until he has heard the honeyed voices pouring from our lips, and once he hears to his heart’s content sails on, a wiser man. Odysseus had put beeswax in his men’s ears to keep them from falling for the sirens’ tricks, and ordered the men to tie him to the ship with rope. He told the crew to not let him free no matter how much he pleaded, and even when he frowned and begged for the men to cut the ropes, they followed the orders Odysseus had given them. Due to this quick thinking on Odysseus’ part, he avoided a tragedy for his crew, as they would have all been drowned by the sirens. Odysseus had persevered and gone through the area the sirens would be, even though Circe had warned him that he might perish by the hands of the sirens. He didn’t let fear affect his determination to get back home to his island, Ithaca.
Odysseus also shows how persistent he is when he finally gets back home and decides to disguise himself and participate in the games that will decide who will marry his wife, Penelope. Odysseus dresses as a beggar, hoping for the element of surprise when he shows his face to the suitors hoping for Penelope’s hand. There is a competition of who can shoot an arrow from Odysseus’ bow through twelve axe shafts, granting them Penelope as their wife, but none of the men are even able to string the bow to start shooting. Odysseus comes in and with his virtuoso ease, Odysseus [strings] his mighty bow, shoots it, and it flies straight through the twelve axe shafts.
The Epic of The Odyssey is one of many trial and tribulations. It was revolutionary to the time because it had Odysseus as a mortal hero, and showed his faults throughout the story, while also highlighting his great skill and his dedication to his family. The story has continued to inspire countless stories in modern literature and will continue to do so in the future. Whether Homer is a real man or a group of faceless authors, The Odyssey and The Iliad will most likely be regarded as treasured classics for the rest of mankind.
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