Food Symbol in The Odyssey
The use of a symbol has the potential message to send a potent message. Symbols take the form of words, sounds, gestures, or visual images and are used to convey ideas and beliefs. Food is a big part and symbol in The Odyssey. Whatever it may be, either poisoned witch-food, Helios’s cattle, or lotus fruit, Everyone is constantly eating. Although throwing a feast for a guest is a common part of hospitality, hunger and the consumption of food often have negative associations in the Odyssey. They represent lack of discipline or submission to temptation, as when Odyssey tarries in the cave of Cyclops, when his men slaughter the Sun’s flocks, or when they eat the fruits of the lotus. The suitors, moreover, are constantly eating. Whenever Telemachus and Penelope complain about their uninvited guests, they mention how the suitors just as they are starting their dinner, and Homer graphically describe them falling over tables and spilling their food. In almost all cases, the monsters of the Odyssey owe their monstrosity at least in part to their diets or the way that they eat. Scylla swallows six of Odyssey’s men, one for each head. The Cyclops eats humans, but not sheep apparently, and is gluttonous nonetheless: when he gets drunk, he vomits up wine mixed with pieces of human flesh. The Laestrygonians seem like nice people—until the queen, who is described as “huge as a mountain crag,” tries to eat Odysseus and his men (10.124). In these cases, excessive eating represents not just lack of self-control, but also the total absence of humanity and civility. As Eurylochos said “hunger is a sorry way to die and encounter fate” (12.351).
You don’t feast at someone’s home if you cannot return the favor, no matter what it may be. You feast at your class level. King and Queens feast at other royalty homes. Food is given in honor. They must all know they can trust they can get a place to stay and a meal while traveling by. Feasts may also we represented in celebration and festive acts.
“Symbolism.” The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 262 -265. Print.
Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Farrar, Straus and
Giroux, 1998. Print.