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Odyssey Revision Notes

By whatadelicatesoul Oct 14, 2014 2531 Words
 The Odyssey: Father-Son Relationships
The Odyssey introduces the theme of father-son relationships to exemplify how influential fathers were at the time. Fathers act as role models to their sons and can determine their actions, even while being absent from home for long periods of time. Nestor’s son, Pisistratus, is a respectful and courteous man. His manners could be attributed to King Nestor’s piety. King Nestor offers sacrifices to the gods, as seen at the beginning of book IIV, when his people were sacrificing to Poseidon. When Telemachus arrives at Pylos, he feasts with the king and his son, but while also being prompted to pray to Poseidon by Pisistratus. Pisistratus’ respect for Poseidon could come from Nestor’s respect for Poseidon, which is only strengthened when he returns home safely. In addition to Pisastratus, Agamemnon’s son, Orestes was influenced by his father. Aegisthus, greedy for the Mycenaean throne, ambushed Agamemnon at his arrival. This treachery spurred Orestes, to kill Aegisthus out of revenge. Although Agamemnon did not do any backstabbing himself, it could be said that Aegisthus replaced Agamemnon’s role as a father. Orestes could be taking after Aegisthus’s violent actions when he takes revenge for his father. Orestes also shows how sons were meant to be loyal and respect their fathers. When Orestes takes revenge on Aegisthus, he does so because his father was wronged, and thus he himself. The reason Orestes is more loyal to Agamemnon than Aegisthus could be because Agamemnon took back the role of a father in Orestes life on his return. While he was gone, his influence was not as great as when he returned. When he returned it became a matter of prioritization for Orestes, and the true father just happened to be Agamemnon. Odysseus and Telemachus

The protagonist of The Odyssey, Odysseus, fights among the other Greek heroes at Troy and struggles to return to his kingdom in Ithaca where his loyal wife, Penelope, and his loving son, Telemachus await. Telemachus is an infant when Odysseus leaves for Troy, leaving him alone with his concerned mother and her arrogant suitors. In father-son relationships, both fathers and sons provide and learn from each other while also affecting those outside of the relationship, on both a figurative and literal level. While absence did not always make the heart grow fonder, it did serve to give each of these characters the physical and psychological space and distance to consider the nature of their relationships with one another and to define themselves accordingly. The reader is able to gain greater insight into the nature of ancient Greek society by analysing these father-son relationships for their complexities, digging beneath the superficial qualities and circumstances of their familial ties. With each father-son pair, Homer offers a unique perspective about the roles that were available to fathers and sons in relationship to one another. Interestingly, almost all of the fathers and sons share the circumstance of being separated, even if only briefly, and the distance becomes a significant factor that must be considered if their relationship is to be understood by the reader. Telemachus has been forced to grow up without the influence of his father. However, there is a problem with the spiritual and physical growth of Telemachus – did he simply become a brave warrior because he was the son of Odysseus? On the other hand, the ancient Greeks placed a great deal of importance on a person's bloodline; they believed that the characteristics of noble blood would surface despite the lack of proper guidance. This is an important aspect in the character of Telemachus. Heroic relationships are informed by intra-oikos (father-son) dynamics, making heroic competitive violence similar to father-son conflict. Through this, Homeric male-to-male dynamics to recreate both the Greek cultural attitude toward father-son relationships, and the poet's assessment of the father-son relationships depicted in the poems. This demonstrates that father-son relationships are a pivotal cultural construct for the Homeric audience; Homeric society's male-centred, stratified, power-based structure especially lends itself to this broad application of father-son logic.

Telemachus – Homer’s characterisation
The secondary plot of The Odyssey features Telemachus, the “Telemachia” is an early example of a coming-of-age story. Throughout the epic, the reader witnesses his struggles with the suitors who have taken over his father’s palace. Also, Telemachus attempts to regain authority in the presence of the many suitors but finds this difficult and embarks upon his own journey under the guidance of Athena and other deities. Although Telemachus never quite matches his father Odysseus in terms of wit, strength, agility, and other qualities befitting a hero, he does experience significant growth throughout the text. As the epic poem opens, Telemachus, about 20 years old, is on the brink of manhood, uncertain and insecure in his potential power, and in grave danger from the unruly suitors. Even at the first intervention of Athena, Telemachus still stands in the shadow of his father and does not realize that he has the ability to find his father and bring justice to the suitors. For example, instead of making his own affirmations about the future course of action, Telemachus merely states, “If he returned, if these men ever saw him, faster legs they’d pray for, to a man, and not more wealth in handsome robes or gold.” Of the many proofs of Telemachus' maturation three are sufficient to render an accurate account of what virtues he gained. The gained virtues shown are courage, wisdom, and prudence. Courage is shown when Telemachus decides to go around Nestor's house rather than passing through it, for Telemachus goes out to sea knowing that an ambush awaits him. This wisdom is manifested in his knowledge that if he stops Nestor's hospitality will delay him even more. And prudence is shown in Telemachus' ability to control his desires for comfort in Nestor's house and his decision to endure hardship at sea. Next Telemachus' confidence and hospitality are shown when he takes in Theochlamenos the seer. In the beginning of the poem Telemachus is not confident enough in his ability to provide hospitality to Athena disguised as Mentor, but now Telemachus is happy to provide the seer with refuge. Another proof of Telemachus' virtues is his confidence in ordering his mother and her maids to comply with his will; their obedience shows us that he is worthy of respect. Thus Telemachus possesses the virtues necessary to be a ruler: courage, wisdom, prudence, confidence, and hospitality. During his travels, he receives guidance advice from Nestor and Menelaus. Through this, he learns how to behave among Greek leaders. Nestor reinforces in the prince a respect for loyalty and devotion. Menelaus encourages him with news that Odysseus may be alive and held captive by a goddess-nymph named Calypso. Athene keeps Telemachus alive by helping him avoid an ambush set up by the suitors on his return trip to Ithaca. Book 4, line 124-127: "Now hearing these things said, the boy's heart rose in a long pang for his father, and he wept, holding his purple mantle with both hands before his eyes." This quote describes Telemachus after hearing Menelaus describe memories of Odysseus. Menelaus described Odysseus as a great soldier and a companion who will be greatly missed. At hearing this, Telemachus’ shedding of tears is expected. He’s hearing about his long-lost father for whom he journeys in search of. It’s natural to get emotional. This passage also illustrates the value placed on the father-son relationship. This including details like Telemachus’ weeping further exemplifies the strength of the bond between a father and his precious offspring – as a result of this, Homer displays Telemachus’ emotional breakthrough.

Penelope – Homer’s Characterisation
Some critics may dismiss Penelope as the epitome of marital fidelity – a serious and industrious character, a devoted wife and mother, but one who lacks the fascination and allure that some of Homer’s immortal women display. However, Penelope is a complicated woman with a wry sense of destiny who weaves her plots as deftly as she weaves Laertes’ shroud. Penelope is in a very dangerous situation when the suitors begin invading her house and demanding her hand in marriage. Although the suitors abuse an important social tradition of hospitality, Penelope lacks the natural, social and familial protections that would enable her to remove them from her home. Her son, Telemachus has neither the maturity nor the strength to expel the suitors. Although unassuming, Penelope has a cunning that indicates that she is compatible with Odysseus, her estranged husband. Antinous, one of the suitors, complains of it at the assembly in Book Two. He claims that she has misguided the suitors for nearly four years, leading on each man with hints and promises but choosing no-one. The story of the loom symbolizes the queen’s clever tactics. For three years, Penelope worked at weaving a shroud for the eventual funeral for her father-in-law, Laertes. She claimed that she would choose a husband as soon as the shroud was completed. By day, the queen, a renowned weaver, worked on a great loom in the royal halls. At night, she secretly unravelled what she had done, amazingly deceiving the young suitors. Her ploy failed only when her servant, Melantho eventually betrayed her. No female character in The Odyssey is quote as complex as the grief-stricken wife of Ulysses, Penelope. One the hand, she represents the motherly characteristics described above, but she also has some of the traits associated with the seductresses seen later in The Odyssey, such as Circe and Clymenstra. Following the prescribed role of a mother figure, Penelope mourns her lost love, seemingly oblivious to the attentions of the suitors. At one point, one of the bards of the palace begins singing about the deadly battles where she assumes her husband perished and falls to weeping and publicly mourning. It takes the leadership and masculine presence of her son to bring her to senses and he states in Book One, “Odysseus is not the only man who never came back from Troy, but many another went down as well as he. Go, then, within the house and busy yourself with your daily duties, your loom, your distaff, and the ordering of your servants; for speech is man’s matter, and mine above all others- for it is I who am master here” At this moment, Telemachus asserts his role in the male order and also scolds his mother for what he seems to see as her conscious effort to lead on the suitors.

There is no doubt that Penelope is playing the role of the mother figure and the seductress simultaneously. This is observed by her many persistent suitors, particularly Antinous, who complains to Telemachus after being chided for consuming the goods of his father, “It is your mother’s fault not ours, for she is a very artful woman. This three years past, and close on four, she has been driving us out of our minds, by encouraging each one of us, and sending him messages without meaning one word of what she says” (Book Two). While mourning for her husband (which the reader can only assume is sincere) Penelope is also leading on these suitors in order to gain material objects. She promises that she will marry one of them once she finishes her weaving Laertes’ shroud, but each night she destroys the previous night’s work so that the task will never be accomplished. Even if she is using this ruse to attain riches, the fact remains that she is still acting as a seductress. She is very much like a Siren, typical of those present in Book 11, always singing out to encourage men but not intending to fulfill any promise of love or sex. Penelope presents both sides of the two distinct divisions of women characters in the text.

Odysseus – Homer’s characterisation
Odysseus is a combination of the self-made, self-assured man and the embodiment of the standards and morals of his culture. He is favoured by the gods and respected and admired by the mortals. Even the wrath of Poseidon does not keep him from his nostos as he is fated to return to Ithaca. He is confident that he represents virtue even when a modern audience doubts this. Odysseus is also a paradigm of the Homeric hero; he is a far more complex, flawed and multi-faceted character. Odysseus is an intellectual. Often he openly evaluates a situation, demonstrating the logic he employs in making his choices. When it proves effective, Odysseus lies, cheats and loots in ways that we would not expect in an epic hero. Although he is self-disciplined (refusing to eat the lotus in Book nine), his curiosity is sometimes the root of his problem. He is willing to pay a price for knowledge; for example, he insists on hearing the Sirens’ call, even though to do so, he must have himself excruciatingly strapped to the mast of his ship so that he cannot give in to the temptation. Odysseus can be merciful, as when he spares the bard Phemius, or brutal, when he is dealing with the dozen disloyal maidservants. He creates his own code of conduct through his adventures. As a result of this he is more contemplative, but still capable of the explosive violence. Victory motivates Odysseus, He wants to return home and live well in Ithaca; as a result, every step along the way is another test, sometimes, another battle. His concern with victory is also cultural, as well as practical. Even when Athena intervenes on his behalf, she often leaves ultimate success or failure up to Odysseus (end of Book Five and Book Nine). Appropriately, Odysseus development as a character is complicated. While he does seem to grow throughout his wanderings, the books are not didactic examples of the importance of prudence or anything else. When Odysseus left for troy, he had already established his reputation as a hero. His participation in the war was crucial to the Greeks’ victory. It was he who disguised himself as old beggar. Certainly, Odysseus does grown in wisdom and judgement throughout his ventures. His self-control whilst dealing with Broadsea is exemplary and contrasts his earlier irresistible urge to announce his name to the Cyclops in Book 9. In other ways, however, he is slow to learn. The most notable example being his difficulty in controlling his men. After the victory over the Cicones, Odysseus wisely wants to take the plunder and depart quickly. His men prefer to stay, leading to a defeat at the hands of reinforcements. When Aeolus grants the Greeks fair winds to Ithaca, Odysseus falls asleep within sight of his home, enabling his suspicious, undisciplined crew to open the bag of ill winds and let loose a tempest that blows them off course. Again, on the island of the Sungod, Helios, and Odysseus’ men disobey strict orders and feast on the sacred cattle when goes inland to pray and falls asleep. The struggles Odysseus faces makes his growth as a character more realistic and more credible because it is not simple or absolute.

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