The great argument over responsibility is a recurring theme in The Odyssey. Through the course of the epic, Homer asks the reader the question; whether the characters involved are fulfilling their responsibilities, be it divine or human responsibility. Zeus’ argument from Book I is exemplary of the same. Zeus, the “father of all Gods and men” claims that Mortals blame all their pain and suffering on the Gods, without realizing that their own greed and foolishness brings them this suffering. Furthermore, he describes how Aigisthos had ignored the warning from the Gods sent through Hermes and as a result had to bare the brunt of it when he was murdered by Orestes. This raises the question of responsibility. However, the fact that Aigisthos ignored the said warning reveals that he did not have complete confidence in the Gods. Thus, Humans are in a state of existential crisis due to the erratic behavior of the Gods, rendering Zeus’ argument about human versus divine responsibility, invalid. Divine responsibility can be defined as maintaining order of the world and ensure offenders are being punished for their misdeeds. On the other hand, human responsibility is to differentiate between right and wrong and act accordingly, as to please the Gods. However, it is seen in the Odyssey that the Humans do not have complete faith in the Gods and their justice. As a result, the Humans begin to question the meaning of their lives in the grand scheme of things. Moreover, it is seen that the Gods often act according to their whims and fancies, thereby abusing their power and seeking their own end. The Gods do not usually get involved unless the matter concerns them directly. Uncertainty, as to what implications a Human’s actions would have tends to put him in a state of existential crisis. In the episode between Odysseus and Polyphemus, where Odysseus blinds Polyphemus in order to defend himself and escape the island, unaware that he had blinded Poseidon’s son, Odysseus with a sense of victory and pride, taunts the Kyklopes and reveals his true identity. As a result, Odysseus has to face Poseidon’s wrath. Although, Poseidon cannot stop Odysseus from returning to Ithaka, as the fates have decided he is going to return. Poseidon, the God of the Sea, stirs up a storm, which leads Odysseus’ ship astray. It is worth noting that Poseidon acted only to exact a personal vengeance against Odysseus. Furthermore, the nature of this vendetta is no different that of Orestes’ revenge on Aigisthos. Moreover, Polyphemus claims to not fear the Gods and does not behave with propriety. Thus, Poseidon, swayed by impulse shows humanlike behavior instead of acting on reason. His intervention seems irrational, considering he is a God and not a mere mortal. Additionally, seeing Odysseus return to Ithaka makes Poseidon furious and Zeus asks him: “God of horizons, making earth’s underbeam 160
tremble, why do you grumble so?
The immortal Gods show you no less esteem”
(The Odyssey, Homer. Book XIII, 172)
Zeus implies that it is justified for Gods to be angry with humans if they are not shown respect. In reply, Poseidon says he is still hungry for revenge and wishes to punish the Phaiakians for helping Odysseus make his return back to Ithaka. Zeus then, gives Poseidon his permission to exercise his authority as a God and take revenge on the mortals if he has the will to. As a result, Poseidon turns their ship into stone. However, the Phaiakians were extending their hospitality towards Odysseus, and they assembled a crew to take Odysseus back to Ithaka. Moreover, they were a pious people and behaved with exemplary propriety, unlike Polyphemus, despite which they have to bare the brunt of Poseidon’s wrath. Considering, the dialogue between Zeus and Poseidon and Poseidon’s actions, it is seen that Poseidon does not fulfill his divine responsibility and neither does Zeus. Poseidon, encouraged by Zeus abuses his power as a God and unjustly punishes...
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