ENGLISH 13/Mythology and Folklore
Hidden Themes from Homer's Odyssey
The Odyssey is not just about the heroic Odysseus, but more importantly about the underlying themes from the Greek culture. The following page discusses in detail four of those themes: spiritual growth, loyalty, perseverance, and hospitality. Spiritual Growth
By Brian Lower
Homer uses the idea of spiritual growth as one of his underlying themes in the Odyssey. He relates this message through various characters and their adventures or actions. Spiritual growth is brought on by rough times, temptations, long travels, and even good times. Homer does a good job of hitting on all of these factors. Odysseus’ adventures and growth are much more prevalent in the Odyssey than those of any other character. He begins on Calypso’s island, where he has everything, except happiness. His spirit is low as he longs for his homeland. Homer introduces Odysseus at a low point to emphasize the growth of Odysseus’ spirit from beginning to end. If Homer had shown Odysseus in a good spirit first, then the growth would not have seemed as prevalent. Odysseus seems to see the light when he finds out that he will be sailing home. He is tested first when Poseidon nearly kills him off the coast of Scheria, the first island he reaches. The Odyssey says, “and trapped within that backwash of the brine, Odysseus would have died before his time had not gray-eyed Athena counseled him” (Odyssey by Mandelbaum, 109). Athena allows Odysseus to experience the storm, but not die. She knows that it will make him stronger for it. There is an old saying, which goes along with this situation, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Odysseus is also tempted when he and his crew pass the Sirens. He is the only one to hear their song and must be tied to a post in order to keep himself restrained. Odysseus’ spirit is still weak as he is engrossed with the Sirens ability to foretell the future. He says, “So did they chant with their entrancing voice. My heart longed so to listen, and I asked my men to set me free” (Odyssey by Mandelbaum, 243). The restraints allow him to struggle with the challenge and become stronger without being entangled with the evil. The suitors entice Odysseus when he returns home disguised as the beggar. But now, he has the strength and will power to reject those spoken words. Homer expresses his ideas about pride and spirit when Odysseus encounters the Cyclopes. After out-smarting Polyphemus, Odysseus shouts out his own name in search for “kleos.” These were his words to Polyphemus, “if any mortal man should ask about the shameful blinding of your eye, then tell him that the man who gouged you was Odysseus, ravager of cities” (Odyssey by Mandelbaum, 185). Instead of being humbled by the experience, Odysseus tries to brag about what he has done. In reality, it was the gods who blessed him with the ability to escape his situation. Odysseus pays for this action as Poseidon makes his journey back more difficult than it should have been. We see later in the Odyssey how Odysseus grows from this experience when he returns home. He is angered by the suitors and has the composure to keep his name secret until the right time. His spirit is more humble now with the idea of pride than it was on his journey home. Telemachus also experiences spiritual growth, but Homer displays it in a different manner. Whereas Odysseus’ growth is concerned with situations, Telemachus’ is dependent upon a journey. He is sent away from home in search of his father. It seems as though the prince was so dependent on his father that he never really got away from home on his own. It took his father’s disappearance to force Telemachus into a leadership role. He visits friends of his father’s and experiences “xenia” as the normal head of households do. Through his journey, he learns to depend on the gods and returns...
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