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The Odyssey Thesis

By shampasamant23 Dec 03, 2013 1374 Words

In the Odyssey, temptation is defined as hunger- both literal hunger (temptation for food) and figurative hunger i.e. temptation for luxury, ambition, wealth, women, power, glory etc. This “hunger”, whether literal or figurative keeps Odysseus’s men from reaching their homes and uniting with their families. However, longing for family or grief for loved ones drives away “hunger”. Odysseus is the only man among his crew to reach home to Ithaca because his longing for his family and native land surpasses the “hungers” he encounters and experiences. Inordinate hunger/ temptation leads to Odysseus’s men losing sight of their goal to reach their native land. The opening lines of the Odyssey refer to Odysseus as “the wanderer, blown off course time and again/ After he plundered Troy’s sacred heights” (3 page 1). This indicates that there is punishment for excessive hunger. It implies that Odysseus and his crew were blown off course after they plundered Troy because this plundering of Troy is a display of superiority and a way to satiate their “hunger” for revenge. As a result, they’re punished by the Gods who delay their journey time and again. Nestor tells Telemachus that before they start their journey back home Menelaus and Agamemnon have a quarrel and they call “an assembly of the entire army in a reckless manner, toward sunset/ And all out of order [they] had all been drinking”(150 page 32). This indicates that their temptation for indulgence and wine cause them to become reckless which in turn results in the Greek army splitting into two sections causing confusion, thereby delaying their journey back home and putting several lives in jeopardy. Zeus plans for them “a bitter journey home” because they “were not all prudent or just”(144 page 32) implying that they didn’t control their urges which made them loose sense of right or wrong. While recounting his story to the Phaecians, Odysseus tells them how he plundered the land of the Cicones in Ismaros and how he and his crew “pillaged the town and killed the men. The women and the treasure that [they] took out…” (42 page 126) displaying the men’s lust for power, wealth and women. This “hunger” makes the men complacent and oblivious of danger and even though Odysseus commands them “to pull out fast” they don’t listen and continue indulging in “drinking a lot of wine and [slaughtering] a lot of sheep and cattle on the shore”(49 page 126). This results in their bitter defeat when the Cicones come back with reinforcements and kill several of Odysseus’s men. Soon after, Odysseus and his men reach the land of the Cyclopes. Odysseus claims he has a “strong premonition that [they] had a rendezvous with a man of great might, a savage with no notion of right and wrong” (204 page 130) But despite this “premonition” Odysseus enters the Cyclops Polyphemus’s cave to prove his metis to himself and his men. This hunger for glory almost jeopardizes their chances of safe escape when after outwitting the Cyclops, Odysseus starts boasting and proclaiming “Odysseus the marauder [put his eye out], Son of Laertes, whose home is on Ithaca” (502 page 139) His men try to stop him but they aren’t able to “persuade [his] hero’s heart”(498 page 138). Odysseus’s boastful declaration causes Poseidon to answer his son’s (Polyphemus’s) pleas to make Odysseus journey back home long, miserable and arduous. Thus Odysseus’s “hunger” for glory causes his homeward journey to become fraught with misery. In the witch Circe’s house, Elpenor, one of Odysseus’s men falls from the roof and dies. When Odysseus questions his ghost in Hades, he tells Odysseus that “Bad luck and too much wine undid [him]”(56 page 159). This demonstrates how temptation for wine causes men to become careless thus leading to their downfall, and sometimes death. In the Island of Hyperion the sun, Odysseus warns his men not to eat or harm the cattle, but they go ahead and eat the cattle nevertheless. This angers Hyperion and Odysseus observes that “the hides crawled, and the meat, both roasted and raw, mooed on the spits like cattle lowing”(406 page 189). Despite these dark omens his men continue slaughtering the cattle displaying how their hunger surpassed not only their desire to go home but also their fear of Gods. Odysseus tries his best to save his crew but “the fools [are] destroyed by their own recklessness When they [eat] the oxen of Hyperion the sun, and that god snuff[s] out their day of return” (8 page 1).

Longing and grief for family and home drives away “hunger”. And Odysseus returns home to Ithaca only because this longing for his native land and family has surpassed his “hunger”. Menelaus says that whenever he thinks of Odysseus, he doesn’t want to “sleep or eat” implying that his longing to be united with his bosom friend is so great that it drives away his hunger. When Penelope comes to know that her son Telemachus has embarked on a journey all by himself, she is grief-stricken. She “would not touch food or drink But only lay there worrying about her son” (846 page 67). Her fear of losing her only son is so overwhelming that she is unable to eat or drink. Longing for her beloved son has extinguished her hunger. While recounting his journey to Telemachus, Menelaus says that “while [he] wandered through those lands amassing wealth [his] brother was murdered…So [he] did not enjoy being lord of this wealth…….[he] would gladly live with a third of [his] wealth And have those men back who perished in Troy” (94-108 page 46-47). His pain and longing for his loved ones consumes him and all the wealth he amassed out of “hunger” for riches does not matter to him anymore because he knows he has lost something dearer. His grief for his brother and his comrades has purged him of all “hunger”. When Odysseus visits the ghost of Tiresias in Hades, the seer warns him and his men not to eat the cattle of the sun when they reach the land of Hyperion. He tells them that he and his crew might just make it home if they “curb [their] own spirit”(102 page 161). He says “leave these (the cattle) unharmed, keep your mind on your homecoming” implying that all hungers can be curbed if one focuses on their homecoming” (108 page 161). As the epic progresses, we see Odysseus “curbing” his spirit and not giving in to temptation particularly at the land of the Lotus Eaters and in the Land of Helios the sun. His mind is focused on returning to Ithaca and even though he is starving, he does not give in to his hunger. However, his resolve becomes most pronounced when he is in Ogygia. Calypso offers him everything- love, shelter, riches, food and even eternal life. But Odysseus is unmoved. He stays with her and shares her bed, but unwillingly so. His grief steadily increases as time progresses. When Hermes comes to Ogygia to order Calypso to release Odysseus, he realizes that the island “was enough to make even a visiting God enraptured at its sight”(77 page 72). But Odysseus isn’t enjoying the beauty this land has to offer. He is seen sitting on the shore “honing his heart’s sorrow, Staring out to sea with hollow, salt rimmed eyes”(85 page 72). Odysseus is not tempted by the luxuries the island has to offer or the eternally beautiful nymph goddess. His longing for his native land and family purges him of any temptations or “hungers”. He is focussing on the sorrow and longing for his family in his heart, while concentrating on the barren sea devoid of any temptations. It is because of this longing for his native land that Calypso finally gives up on him, and by the Gods designs, he leaves Ogygia, suffering on the “sterile sea” for several days before finally reaching the land of the Phaecians from where he is granted safe conduct to his homeland- Ithaca. Thus we see that Odysseus is the only hero capable of resisting all kinds of “hungers” because his love for his native land and his longing to be united with his family consumes him and purges him of all temptations.

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