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The epic hero of The Odyssey
Odysseus is a fascinating character full of contradictions.
Identify some contradictions that characterize Odysseus
While he is intent on returning home to his faithful wife, Penelope, and his adult son
he has barely seen, Telemakhos, Odysseus also willingly beds down with not one
but two beautiful goddesses during his travels and expresses little remorse for his
infidelities - though he rails against the suitors who are trying to capture his wife.
The contradictions extend to Odysseus' intellect. Blessed with great physical
strength (which he amply demonstrates, despite his years, at several moments), he
has an equally keen mind that bails him out of many dire straits.
What is Odysseus’ flaw?
There is no better "improviser" or "strategist" in Greek mythology, though the label
attached is often "cunning" or "deceiver"; indeed, many Greeks saw Odysseus'
habit of lying as a vice and a weakness. His penchant for disguise complements his
ability to make up plausible stories about his background.
Although Odysseus' ingenuity comes across as his chief weapon, his Achilles' heel of
sorts is the frequency with which he falls victim to temptation and makes grave
tactical errors, none more so than when adding insult to injury to Polyphemos and
revealing his true name.
Still, Odysseus is aware of this flaw, and bids his men to tie him up when they
pass by the Seirenes, the paragons of temptation. By the end of his journey, he has
learned to resist temptation, willingly suffering abuse by the suitors to meet his
eventual goal of destroying them.
Despite his occasional gaffe, Odysseus is a courageous and just leader who inspires
admiration and respect from his shipmates and servants; the faithfulness of his dog
and swineherd after so many years says as much. The near-constant protection he
enjoys from the goddess Athena seems justifiable for a man who has endured so
many hardships, and cast away so many luxuries, to reunite with his beloved
Odysseus' son, Telemakhos, undergoes a miniature odyssey of his own. A callow
20-year-old afraid to challenge the suitors at the start of the poem, by the end,
thanks in part to Athena's grooming, he is an assured, mature young man ready to
take on the suitors.
During his short journey to learn about the father he does not know, Telemakhos is
the beneficiary of "xenia," the Greek term for hospitality. He repays the favor to
others who need help and is a respectful traveler. The respect extends to his father;
Telemakhos most likely can string his father's bow during the contest, but he holds
back under Odysseus' watchful gaze. Though he has not inherited his father's gift
for cunning, The Odyssey ends with the promise that Telemakhos will one day make
a fine ruler of Ithaka.
The beautiful wife of Odysseus, Penelope has always given critics difficulty. Does
she refrain from expelling the suitors only because she fears their retribution, as
she claims, or does she in some ways enjoy the attention? Though she weeps for
Odysseus nightly, she does not even force the suitors to act with proper decorum.
However, her faithfulness to her husband does remain steadfast, and she
even shares his proclivity for trickery, promising to remarry once she has
finished weaving a shroud for Laertes, but unraveling it each night (the
suitors catch on after a few years). Penelope is also fiercely protective of
Telemakhos, and speaks out against the suitors when she hears of their plans to
murder him. After Odysseus' disguised arrival, Penelope's loyalty to her husband is
more evident, as is her sadness over his presumed death.
Athena: Daughter of Zeus and goddess of wisdom and battle (and of the womanly
arts, though this is barely touched upon), Athena is Odysseus' most powerful ally.
Frequently appearing throughout The Odyssey in disguise, she offers instructions,
encouragement, and magical protection to Odysseus and Telemakhos, whom she
grooms in the ways of a prince. Yet she also tests Odysseus at times; when he is
disguised as a beggar, she provokes the suitors to abuse him to see, ostensibly, if
Odysseus will give in to temptation and fight back. She also does not intervene in
the climactic battle until the end, once Odysseus has proven his mettle.
The suitors: Led by the manipulative Antinoos, the hotheaded Eurymakhos, and the
rational, somewhat decent Amphinomos, the suitors, numbering over one hundred,
ungratefully live off Odysseus' estate in their pursuit of the beautiful and wealthy
Penelope. They revel nightly with Odysseus' food and his willing female servants
and bully around Telemakhos, defying the sacred Greek value of "xenia"
(hospitality). Homer's unsympathetic portrait of them ensures that the audience
enjoys the suitors' extremely violent end.
Poseidon: God of the sea, Poseidon is Odysseus' central antagonist for the middle
section of The Odyssey. Enraged over Odysseus' blinding of his Kyklops son
Polyphemos, Poseidon is directly responsible for most of Odysseus' troubles at sea.
Servants of Odysseus: Odysseus' servants are split into two camps according to
loyalty. His swineherd Eumaios and old nurse Eurkyleia epitomize the loyal servants
while the siblings Melanthius and Melantho lead the backstabbing group that sides
with the suitors.