Revenge and Justice: Two Sides of the Same Coin
If a person is driving a car and they choose to send a text, this distraction could cause a fatal accident. Everything a person does in life, every choice they make, has a consequence. This is definitely true of the characters in Homer’s The Odyssey. Every choice each character makes has a good or bad consequence, and ultimately shapes them as well as their future. The Cyclops’ choice to disregard the will of the gods, the crewmembers’ choice to disobey their leader’s commands, and Melantho’s choice to be disloyal to the royal family all led to their deaths. Homer uses the themes of revenge and justice in The Odyssey to show that a person arrives at their own downfall through disregard for others. In Homer’s The Odyssey, the Cyclops’ disregard for the will of the gods results in dire consequences, while Nestor’s respect for the god’s traditions gives rise to rewards. Polyphemus, a Cyclops, pays no heed to Zeus’ guest-host customs, trapping and ultimately eating Odysseus’ crewmembers. The guest-host customs of Ancient Greece include giving shelter and gifts to strangers. Odysseus and his crew believe that even a Cyclops will follow the customs, going so far as to eat Polyphemus’ cheeses when they first arrive. Had Polyphemus run a traditional household, he would have added the cheeses to the other gifts he would have given to Odysseus and his crew as they left. Before demanding gifts from the Cyclops, Odysseus tells Polyphemus, “Zeus of the Strangers guards all guests and suppliants:/ strangers are sacred – Zeus will avenge their rights!/” (Homer 9.304-305). However, when Odysseus and his crew meet Polyphemus, he greets them with a violent disruption of custom. Polyphemus grumbles, “‘We Cyclops never blink at [Zeus] or any other blessed god -/ we’ve got more force by far. /’ [...] [Polyphemus] ripped [my crewmembers] from limb to limb to fix his meal/” (Homer 9.307-330). Polyphemus completely disregards the will of Zeus by trapping Odysseus and his crew in his home. Polyphemus claims he holds more power than the gods, and ultimately eats his guests. However, Polyphemus’ actions lead to his own downfall. Odysseus taunts Polyphemus, “Your filthy crimes/ came down on your own head, you shameless cannibal,/ daring to eat your guests in your own house-/so Zeus and the other gods have paid you back!” (Homer 9.533-536). Odysseus and his remaining crewmembers have their revenge on the Cyclops by blinding Polyphemus with a stake. Polyphemus does not follow the guest-host custom of being gracious to strangers, but King Nestor does. When greeted by strangers, Nestor welcomes his guests with open arms. Telemachus objects to King Nestor sleeping elsewhere, so that he may have the finest bed. He tells Telemachus, “No, by god, [you]/ won’t bed down on a ship’s deck, not while I’m alive/” (Homer 3.395-396). Nestor proclaims that it is Telemachus’ right as a guest to have such finery, and gives Telemachus the bed. King Nestor has already been rewarded for his reverence of the gods and their traditions. As Nestor came home from fighting in Troy, the gods granted him a quick and safe journey back to Pylos. The gods punished the rest of the soldiers. Nestor recalls, "Zeus contrived in his heart a fatal homeward run/ for all the Achaeans who were fools, at least,/ dishonest too, so many met a disastrous end/” (Homer 2.147-149). The gods either kept the soldiers from returning home, or killed them outright. Only Nestor, thanks to his reverence, avoided this plight. Nestor is a god-fearing man, and in accordance with the gods’ guest-host traditions, he is generous to Telemachus. King Nestor, the head of a custom-following household, is the polar opposite of Polyphemus. Polyphemus is a perfect example of how disregard for the gods can lead to one’s own downfall. Odysseus’ act of revenge against the Cyclops was the blinding of Polyphemus. Polyphemus went against...
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