“The Odyssey” by Homer

An epic story of the hero Odysseus’ journey home from war against all odds. He endured many hardships and troubles, perils on the sea, on the land,  man-eating monsters and giants, nymphs and witches,  the Olympian gods who were angry with him, and above all, he had to overcome the folly and greed of his own gluttonous companions who perished because of their own madness, and the murderous men in his own land who schemed to kill his son and take possession of his wife and wealth.

The goddess of wisdom, Athena is the heroine.  She persuaded the gods to relent toward Odysseus, release him from imprisonment, and assist him on his journey home. She granted Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, courage and grace, and urged him on a journey for growth of his own to seek news of his father. She also aided Odysseus at crucial points in his journey, enabling him to escape death and gain supports from strangers whose lands he came upon. In addition, Athena is also the character that runs through the entire narrative, drives the story forward and organizes it into a coherent whole.

Samuel Butler, one of the early translators, might have a point, when he argued that the Odyssey was written by a woman, who else would give female characters such prominent roles in an epic?

The Odyssey is quite apologetic for women who left or even murdered their husbands. Perhaps another sign that it was written by a woman. But above all, I find it fascinating how Penelope finally acknowledged and embraced Odysseus, long after his old nanny had recognized him from an old scar. She had to test his memory and intimate knowledge of their wedding bed, after all the troubles and trials he had gone through. That’s what I would call “feminine sensibility”.

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4 thoughts on ““The Odyssey” by Homer

  1. I agree with Butler. The Odyssey not only includes more female characters than the Iliad, but also has a tone significantly different from that of the Iliad. In the Iliad, the heroes choose fame and honor over a long life, and the author (presumably Homer) seems to agree with the sentiment. In the Odyssey, the opposite is true of the heroes. During Odysseus’ encounter with Achilles in Hades, Achilles remarks that he would rather be a poor slave and alive than the king of the dead.

    Perhaps Homer, like Shakespeare, was able to skillfully infuse vastly different philosophical positions into his works so that the reader is unable to determine his actual position. Or perhaps Homer’s ethical stance changed. But I find it far more plausible that the Odyssey is the product of a mind different from that which produced the Iliad.

    1. Great points.

      Achilles’s change of outlook surprised me when I read the Odyssey. But, philosophically speaking, the two positions are not contradictory. When he choose “fame and honor over a long life”, he was choosing quality over quantity, to be a bit crude, and being alive is definitely preferable to being dead, in terms of quality.

      1. Interesting interpretation.
        Do you think that the Achilles of the Odyssey – knowing what he knows about Hades – regrets seeking glory instead of a long life?

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