Culture and Society in "The Odyssey"

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Homer’s epic poem, “The Odyssey” reveals many aspects of ancient Greek life and culture through character and plot. Through each of the tales circling the life of Odysseus and the Greek people, Homer depicts the history, legends, values, and merits of the ancient Greeks. Greek culture is known to be one of the most flavored and thorough in history, and each facet of it—from religion to ideology to mentalities and beliefs. The Greeks valued intelligence and wit very strongly. “The Odyssey” offers countless examples of this. In fact, Odysseus himself gets out of many tough situations and conquers many obstacles with his wit and cleverness. He tells Polyphemos the Cyclopes that his name is “Nobody” and succeeds in blinding him and getting away. He overcomes Circe’s bewitching magic. He fills the ears of his companions with wax and demands that they tie him to the mast in order to safely pass by the tantalizing Sirens. Homer remarks that Odysseus is “far the best of mortal men for counsel and stories” and even suggests that he is able to match a god in wits and trickery. Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, is just as cunning and smart. Feigning the task of sewing a shroud for Laertes, she secretly undoes what she does in the day during the night. It is also notable that Penelope gets so many suitors because she is so well-known for her wisdom and intelligence. Another quality treasured by the Greeks was loyalty and fidelity. Despite enriching experiences and countless temptations along his travels, Oedipus never strays from his path and ultimate dream to return to his home and family. He loves his wife Penelope, he loves his home, and he yearns constantly for that. The beautiful nymph Calypso offers him the seemingly undeniable bribes of immortality and happiness. However, because he genuinely loves his wife and maintains fidelity towards her, he refuses Calypso’s offer. At the same time, Penelope remains utterly faithful towards Odysseus despite temptations from the countless suitors at her door. She is always hoping to herself that Odysseus is still alive will return someday. Aside from these mental characteristics, the Greeks also respected physical traits such as strength. Commonly used as a test of merit, strength was used to gauge a male’s position in society. Boxing, wrestling, disc throwing, and the such were common games played in Greek society. In “The Odyssey”, the final test that Penelope gives to all the suitors is a test of strength and precision. The suitor “who takes the bow in his hands, strings it with greatest ease, and sends an arrow clean through all twelve axes” would take Penelope’s hand in marriage. Naturally, Odysseus is the only man who can do that, furthering his status and merit. Physical talents and abilities were also looked upon as excellent and admirable traits by the Greeks. Dancers, singers, and storytellers were loved and lauded by all. Odysseus describes the wonder and awe that overcame him as he watched the Phaiakians dance. The culture of Greece was inherent in the dancing and singing. Odysseus said to Demodokos, a singer, “Demodokos, above all mortals beside I prize you”. His appreciation for music and the voice also become apparent at the end when the only suitor released from death is Phemios, the singer. Odysseus allows him a life due to his singing voice, thought to be a gift form the gods above. The Greeks were also extremely particular about hospitality and proper treatment of guests. Guests were placed in the highest honor and distinction; in fact, the amount and quality of the hospitality you could provide was also a clear indication of your social class. Good hospitality was also practiced in order to win the favor of Zeus, the god of travelers and guests. As a general rule, food, shelter, warmth, and comfort were offered to any stranger who passed by in need before any questions were even asked. The words of one another were listened to with utmost respect and attention. Even gifts and...
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