When one ponders the Greek mythology and literature, powerful images invariably come to mind. One relives the heroes’ struggles against innumerable odds, their battles against magical monsters, and the gods’ periodic intervention in mortal affairs. Yet, a common and often essential portion of a heroic epic is the hero’s consultation with an oracle or divinity. This prophecy is usually critical to the plot line, and also to the well being of the main characters. Could Priam have survived in the Achaean camp if not at the gods’ instruction (200-201)? Could the Argos have run the gauntlet of the Prowling Rocks if not for the gods’ advice of using a sacrificial bird (349).
Moreover, prophecy can be negative as well as positive. Achilles was prophesied to die gloriously in battle if he chose his life’s way as a warrior. Oedipus was exiled and condemned by his own words, after he slew his sire and wed his mother. This type of prophesy can blind even the gods themselves; Chronos was fated to be defeated and his throne stolen by his son. Demeter loses Persephone periodically every year because her daughter ate Hades’ pomegranates. Prophecy plays an important role in the whole of Greek folklore. Something this ever-present bears further examination.
In The Odyssey, prophecy in its myriad forms affects nearly every aspect of the epic. Prophecies are seen in the forms of omens, signs, strict prediction of the future, divine condemnation, and divine instruction. Though conceptually these forms are hard to distinguish, they are clearly separate in the Odyssey. Moreover, prophecies can be interpreted not only on the "plot device" level, but also on the level of characterization. Whether a character accepts or denies the gods’ prophecies tells the reader something about the character himself.
Omens are brief prophecies intimately connected to the action at hand, which must be interpreted in terms of that action....
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