Odyssey Death and Rebirth in the Odyssey

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The Odyssey, by Homer, is a classical piece of Greek literature. Throughout

The Odyssey, the Blind Bard makes use of many literary techniques in order

to lend meaning to the poem beyond its existence as a work of historic fiction

and aid his readers in the comprehension of the tale. One of these techniques

is the use of motifs. A motif is a recurring theme that is used throughout the

work. In The Odyssey, Homer makes use of many motifs including

eating/drinking, Odysseus's anger, bathing, and disguise, just to name a few.

However, perhaps the most important of Homer's motifs is the symbolic death

and rebirth theme. This motif is used throughout The Odyssey to emphasize

the growth and enlightenment of the characters. The first example of this motif

occurs with Telemachos early in the text. Telemachos, in book I, is visited by

the goddess Athena in disguise. In their conversation, Telemachos reveals the

pain and suffering that he is experiencing as a result of living without knowing

the status of his father, fearing that he is dead. ". . . and he left pain and

lamentation to me. Nor is it for him alone that I grieve in my pain now (The

Odyssey, Latimore, I. 242-3)." Symbolically, at this point in the text,

Telemachos is dead. He is willing to take no action to save his home from the

suitors or take any initiative to determine the status of his missing father.

However, his symbolic death is not without a rebirth. Athene, disguised as

Mentes, brings Telemachos back to life. She convinces him that he must take

action to preserve his household and determine the fate of his father. This

prompts Telemachos to take over his father's role in the household and

journey forward to gather information about his missing father. His rebirth is

further carried out in the story when he is reunited with his father; together,

the two act to regain control of their household from the derelict suitors. The

next example of the death and rebirth motif occurs with our introduction to the

story's main character and hero, Odysseus. Homer introduces Odysseus on

the Kalypso's island. On a purely literal level, Odysseus's stay with Kalypso

would cause his demise as that was the fate of mortals who lived with

goddesses. On a more symbolic level, Odysseus was dead to the world as

Kalypso forbids him from leaving the island and forces him to do her bidding.

Odysseus was reborn, however, at the hands of Hermes, who was a

messenger for Zeus himself. Hermes tells Kalypso that Odysseus is to be

freed so Odysseus builds a raft and sets out for home. This symbolic rebirth is

emphasized by Odysseus's emergence from the ocean on the island of the

Phaiakians. He is washed ashore with nothing--his raft is destroyed and he is

completely naked. This naked emergence can also be seen as symbolic of


Another reference to this rebirth is found at the end of book V. "As when

a man buries a burning log in a black ash heap in a remote place in the

country, where none live near as neighbors, and saves the seed of fire,

having no other place to get a light from . . . (V. 488-91)." The phrase "seed of

the fire" is used by Homer specifically to make reference to the rebirth of

Odysseus; the term "seed" clearly brings to mind reproductive and birth

images that would not be associated with a less metaphorical reference.

Another instance in which Homer makes use of the death and rebirth motif

occurs with Odysseus's adventure with the cyclops Polyphemus. Odysseus

and his men are trapped in the cave of Polyphemus, which symbolizes their

death. This death is further emphasized when Odysseus refers to himself as

"Nobody". As Homer later recounts, those in the underworld are truly

nobodies--they have no interaction with the living world and cannot even...
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