In Homer’s, “The Odyssey”, Odysseus struggles to return home not only to rejoin his wife Penelope and son Telemakhos but also to fulfill his duty as ruler and legend. As Odysseus struggles homeward, the idea of his true self and what defines him shifts. His longing for family and sovereignty serves, at times, as a raging fire that propels him home. At other times it seems to be lost in the shadows of his adventures. At the end, when all conflicts are resolved and Odysseus is reunited with his wife and son, He becomes the Odysseus that is truly himself. We learn that a united family can overcome any obstacles and that true devotion and dedication will triumph in the end.
Odysseus’ true self is defined by four terms. The first is “husband”. Penelope has not only been loyal to Odysseus as her husband, but also as the authority figure. She has demonstrated her loyalty by being true to him for twenty years in his absence and has not remarried. This presents Odysseus with the responsibility to come back and carry out his duties as a husband. The second term is “father”. Odysseus’ has been away from Ithaca for 20 years which means he has not been a father figure to Telemakhos. Part of defining his true self is to teach his son to be as great a ruler as Odysseus himself. Telemakhos has not had a father figure yet and needs guidance to become worthy of being Odysseus’ legacy. The third term is “king”. Ithaca is Odysseus’ home. His family has ruled it for many years and it is his duty to return and serve as ruler. He must establish his legacy and educate his successor to make sure that when he indeed leaves the throne, he will have a strong heir to entrust with his patrimony. The final term that defines Odysseus’ true self is “legend”. Odysseus returns home after completing a heroic journey with stories that lead him to become a legend. His adventures serve as examples even in modern culture. A hero who ventures from his home into a journey of supernatural adventures comes back with the power to tell his stories and have them resonate in future generations.
The crucial moment when these four elements come together is in Book 24 “The Great Rooted Bed” . After killing the suitors, Odysseus reunites with Penelope which signifies his dominion over Ithaca. His son fighting alongside him, as his equal, shows his newfound duty to be a father. The telling of his stories to Penelope, Telemakhos, Eumaios, The Phaecians, among others spreads rapidly throughout different lands ensuring his remembrance as a hero.
Through the story, the moment where we see Odysseus farthest from his true self is when he is on Calypso’s Island. The beginning of the novel illustrates how Odysseus is tormented with the love and loyalty to the family he has left behind. He lacks the means to go home and recover the key elements that define his true self. His current condition is that of a love slave. Calypso has offered Odysseus immortality, to live the life of a god for all eternity in paradise, in exchange for his eternal companionship. Along with the offer, Calypso questions Odysseus on how his family could ever compare to her and immortality: “Can I be less desirable than she is? / Less interesting / Less beautiful / Can mortals compare with with goddesses in grace and form” (Homer ,The Odyssey. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998, pg. 87 ,lines 220-223)
Her ladyship Calypso
clung to him in her sea hollowed caves-
a nymph, immortal and most beautiful,
who craved him for her own (Homer, 1, lines 22-25)
Calypso desires Odysseus and is offering magnificent rewards for his companionship. Odysseus is quite a catch considering a goddess is offering him everything a man could possibly want. The only thing she doesn’t offer him is his family, which is why he refuses her offer.
We find Odysseus’ in a complete state of depression. He sits on a rock facing the sea, crying and longing for home. Odysseus refuses Calypso because he is loyal to his wife...
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