January 16th 2013
World Civilization’s 1
When a character in the Odyssey chooses to go against the gods, he will face the wrath of the immortals following his decision. The power of the gods is shown through their ability to bring pain and suffering to mortals. Characters throughout the Odyssey go against the gods, but are punished to show their weakness in the face of the immortals. When Odysseus arrived on the island of the Phaeacians, they provided him with the typical xenia that was followed in ancient Greece. After telling the great Phaeacians about his journey from troy, they safely transported Odysseus back to Ithaca. The war hero’s homecoming was against Poseidon’s desires. Even a nation that was depicted in the Odyssey as exceedingly secure and powerful could not do anything to prepare for or prevent the punishment of the Earthquaker on the people of Phaeacia. “Their ocean-going ship he saw already near, heading for harbor; so up behind her swam the island-shaker and struck her into stone, rooted in stone at one blow of his palm, then took to the open sea.” (Page 234-235, line 201-206. (Robert Fitzgerald)) The god of the sea showed his power over the mortal Phaeacians by turning their ship into stone before the eyes of everyone as the vessel entered into the harbor after its voyage to and from Ithaca. This act of punishment also showed the mortals how weak the mortals are in the face of the immortals. Furthermore, even the most powerful king of Greece cannot avoid the abuse of the immortals. On his journey back to his homeland, Menelaus, the king of Sparta is punished by the immortals. When Telemachus comes to visit Menelaus’ home in Sparta, to see if the king had heard anything about his father, the king of Sparta tells Odysseus’ son of his own voyage home. Before finally returning to Sparta, Menelaus is held in Egypt by the gods after the brother of Agamemnon went against the immortals’ will by not sacrificing. “During my first try at a passage homeward the gods detained me, tied me down to Egypt – for I had been to scant in hecatombs, and gods will have the rules each time remembered.” Foolishly, Menelaus does not sacrifice to the gods upon leaving troy. This mistake angers the gods as it is going against what they want. The gods show their power by overpowering the most powerful man in Greece, Menelaus. Furthermore it shows even the strongest mortals cannot get close to the amount of power possessed by the gods. When Odysseus is first introduced in the epic poem of the Odyssey, he is being held captive by the goddess Calypso on the island of Ogygia against his will. Odysseus is powerless against the will of the goddess and is forced to stay with Calypso. Odysseus would have been unable to escape without the help of Athena. “For those Odysseus ruled cannot remember the fatherhood and mercy of his reign. Meanwhile he lives and grieves upon that island in thralldom to the nymph; he cannot stir, cannot fare homeward.” (Page 81, line 12-15) Odysseus, although famous among mortals, is not nearly as powerful as the goddess Calypso. Laertes’ son is fortunate enough to escape with the help of other gods. The gods once again show their power by controlling Odysseus who was not only a king, but also a war hero and famous among mortals.
When Odysseus finally is released from the island, and headed home he runs into even more problems, this time directly from Poseidon. As the son of Laertes is floating through the ocean, Poseidon sees Odysseus and brings a great wave to destroy his raft, forcing Odysseus to swim to the nearest shore. While swimming, Odysseus is once again aided by Athena and escapes imminent death. As Odysseus nears the shore, Poseidon brings more pain upon the king of Ithaca. Poseidon sends another wave crashing towards Odysseus sending him into the rocks at the shore. Odysseus only survives because Athena intervenes once again. “During this meditation a heavy surge was taking him, in fact, straight on the rocks. He had been flayed there, and his bones broken, had not gray-eyed Athena instructed him: he gripped a rock-ledge with both hands in passing and held on, groaning as the surge went by, to keep clear of its breaking.” (Page 93, line 443-449) But even through all of Poseidon’s anger and attempts he is unable to kill Odysseus because “alone and against the will of the other immortal gods united he can accomplish nothing.” Odysseus is shown to be once again powerless against Poseidon. Only with the help of Athena as well as other gods was he able to survive the encounter with Poseidon, as well as countless others that also took place. Poseidon against the other gods united is powerless and unable to kill Odysseus as long as it is still the will of the other gods to keep him alive and bring him back to Ithaca. Odysseus being unable to protect himself against the river god proves his weakness and lack of power in the face of the gods.
Moreover, the immortals brings punishment to mortals who are boastful and try to be like them to prove their own power as well as show the weakness of mortals. The first time in the Odyssey that an the gods punish mortals for their bragging in the Odyssey, it involves Aias, who was a soldier in the Trojan War, and was hated by Athena. During Aias’ return home from Ithaca, he is saved by Poseidon from being wrecked in the ocean. “Despite Athena’s hate, he had lived on, but the great sinner, in his insolence yelled that the gods’ will and the sea were beaten, and this loud brag came to Poseidon’s ears. He swung the trident in his massive hands and …the vast ocean had its will with Aias.” (Page 68, lines 537-545) Aias is extremely prideful after escaping his apparent death. Poseidon was angered by Aias’ boasting, and after saving his life, kills him because of his pride. The boasts and pride of mortals are often silenced by the greater power of the gods to show humans that the gods are always mightier.
Agamemnon tells the story of Aias and it is used to foreshadow what will happen to Odysseus when he arrogantly brags out to the Cyclops after outsmarting Polyphemus. Odysseus is so prideful in escaping the son of Poseidon, he boasts out to the Cyclops: “Cyclops if ever mortal man inquire how you were put to shame and blinded, tell him Odysseus, raider of cities, took your eye: Laërtês’ son, whose home’s on Ithaca!” (Page 160, lines 548-553) Odysseus' boasting causes Polyphemus to call out to Poseidon his father asking him to curse Odysseus. As in the story of Aias, Odysseus chose to aggrandize his accomplishment, and to attempts to put himself on a stage above all mortals and even comparable with the gods with his claims. Odysseus’ boasting is what angers Poseidon most of all, as it did when Aias bragged about something that he had never really accomplished. The god of the sea punishes Odysseus for his pride and forces Odysseus back away from Ithaca his homeland. Odysseus' and Aias’ hubris is ironically the result of both of their misfortunes, either death, or Odysseus’ extended voyage back to Ithaca.