Homer was a man who lived in some of the darkest ages in the 8thcentury. The poet wrote and collected numerous ancient legends and stories told by the travelling narrators and storytellers. This particular poet took all the stories narratives about king Odysseus and put them together in a book, which, he later called The Odyssey. This paper, therefore, will discuss and analyze one of the major characters in the book The Odyssey, and the character in question is Odysseus. Odysseus is one of the most crucial characters in the book and the paper will look at the role his character plays in building the stories told in the book.
Odysseus is the key character in the story of Odyssey, a tale that records and retells his journeys and his homecoming since he departed from Troy. Odysseus was not there in the Iliad but he was not there for the same reasons as the poem about the character. The story of the poem focuses on his challenges and trials on land and at sea and how he finally gets home, he had to avenge the honour of his family from the numerous suitors who have for a long time besieged his home waiting for his wife to leave him and find another husband. He is helped by Athena in his travels but frustrated by Poseidon. This is seen when the protector of Odysseus, goddess Athena talks about his fate with the king of the gods king Zeus, while at the moment his enemy Poseidon, the god of the sea, and is not present at Mount Olympus. She visits Telemachus to persuade him to look for news of his father when disguised as Mentes, a Taphian chieftain. He welcomes her; they observe the suitors while a poem is performed for them. She works hard for Odysseus to succeed while it is just the opposite with Poseidon.
Odysseus is a hero and king of the people of Ithaka. He is married to Penelope, he is the son of Laertes and he is a father to Telemachus. The most dominant characteristic of Odysseus beside his courage is his cunningness. He is widely known for being the most willing heroes in the whole of Greece, and his wits and wisdom actually save his life more than once. An example of such an instance was he uses his wits to save his life are during the scene with the Cyclops. He is also master at disguises, improvisation and dissembling, characteristics that help him hide his identity from possible enemies and scale the loyalty of those around him and those he is fooling. However, some modern principles might question the morality of the king because of the fact that he lies all the time. Some examples are when he lies to his son and wife and when he pretends to be a Cretan. For example, he lied to his wife when he cheated with Calypso, ‘…by nights he would lie beside her, of necessity, in the hollow caverns…’ (Homer 5. 152- 158). However, he justifies his illegitimate nature by the results of his actions. His main goddess who also assumes numerous disguises and manipulates humans for her own good usually calls for his lies and pretences.
One other characteristic of Odysseus that he has considerable pride. One can mistake this pride for arrogance. Though at times the character is justifiable to be proud, this can cloud or tamper with his better judgment or wisdom. An example is when he’s not so successful taunting of the Cyclops starts a feud that never ends between Poseidon and his people. He was too proud such that he just had to get the fame and glory of winning and overcoming the monster, however, he ended up sailing the whole sea for more than ten years and losing all of his men to an unlikely and untimely death.
Besides, this character cannot be taken simply as a common proud and arrogant man, as he has the capability to take care of his own and to rein his matters well. An example is when he dresses up as a poor and dirty man so as to access the palace. Though all this is, just that he can prove to be strong and courageous, he manages to keep up the appearances of a weak and the poor man up to the time he finishes what brought him to the palace. Odysseus is able to disguise his identity not only physically, but by also telling Polyphemus that he is called ‘Nobody’ so that people will not identify him as the one who attacked the Cyclops. Also when he gets back to Ithaca he manages to disguise himself as a beggar to protect himself against the suitors. This allows him to differentiate between the evil suitors, the kind, and decent ones, even though he manages to finish all of them in the battlefield at the end.
In spite of his pride and emotionless nature, Odysseus was pretty loyal and emotional. Once Alkinoos, one of his men heard him lament about the loss of his men, ‘…there, shedding tears, he (Odysseus) went unnoticed by all the others, but Alkinoos alone understood what he did and noticed since he was sitting next to him and heard him groaning heavily…’ (Homer 8. 93- 5). This shows that despite his pride and arrogance he still cared about his men and what happened to them in the wilderness. He was crying and groaning painfully because he had lost his men, men he clearly cared about. He was proud but when it came to his men he put it aside.
The character is also ruthless and seemingly unkind. During his final war, his ruthlessness can shock the audience, especially the ruthlessness he showed when he ordered for the killing of the maids after he had made them clean up the whole of the palace of the blood and the messes of the battle. In any case, the king did not slay all of the maids. He saved the loyal maids, the town crier, the singer and those other maids who seemed loyal enough to him and his rule. In addition, it is also essential to remember while interpreting this trait of Odysseus that the poem was not about forgiveness or anything close. The story depicted in the poem does not end with forgiveness, especially when the suitors’ families are forced to forgive the acts of the murderous Odysseus. The epic ends with Penelope’s Odysseus’ first night together and it leaves so many strings untied. The families of the suitors killed by Odysseus will doubtless be angered when they find out what happened to their families. Something should have been done to stop this from happening or to appease the families, but the ending does not leave this challenge unaddressed. The characters are, therefore, forced by the ending to either forgive each other or live with the situation.
One can also say that the main character of this poem was unfaithful and untruthful. This is especially because he cheated on his wife and had numerous affairs during those ten years even when his wife was alone at home sleeping alone. One can also see him as pretentious in this particular case since he was hesitant to want to give anyone else a chance to be with his wife, he did not even want to give her permission to find another suitor even when he had been gone for more than ten years. He did not care whether his wife was alone or needed to be with someone. He only wanted her for himself, but he did not keep himself for her. For this reason, one can say that the main character was selfish, uncaring, unfaithful and pretentious.
Though the king has a number of characters that show him as a weak, unfaithful, rude and arrogant person, the story also shows him to possess a number of traits commonly associated with Homeric leaders. For instance, Odysseus is strong, noble, courageous, and confident in his rule and authority and he has a huge thirst for winning and the glory that comes with it. His most distinguishing heroic and leader- like trait, however, is his sharp intelligence and wit. He thinks and reasons quickly something that helps him get out of bad and tough situations as when he hides his murder and slay of the betraying suitors by having his servant play a wedding song in the 23rd book. He also lusts for power, immortality and glory just like any other king. He entered into a relationship with Calypso just because she promises to make him powerful and immortal, ‘…she received me and loved me excessively and cared for me and she promised to make me an immortal…’ (Homer 7. 254-58). He gained from this relationship by their relationship making him more powerful than the other men. He gained immortality from having a relationship with this woman. One can, therefore, conclude that he entered the association to gain this power from her.
He is also an exceedingly convincing character with his articulate manner of speech. With these characters, he has the potential and ability to manipulate and talk sweet and win over anyone he wants with simplicity. For instance, he quickly and simply wins over Nausicaa and earns her trust because of his smoothness in talking and his ability to be convincing. He has his way of talking that has the ability to disguise his real intentions and the ability to convince anyone whatever he wants them to believe or what he wants them to perceive him.
The drive of this paper was to examine one of the characters in Homer’s collection of stories, the Odyssey, and the character who was discussed was Odysseus. The character has numerous traits that resemble those of ancient kings who were cunning, courageous, monogamous, loyal to their men and country and full of pride. The character fills the book and the narrated stories with meaning and entertainment. Anyone who enjoys epic stories will obviously love the character of the King who fills its stories with life.
Homer. The Odyssey, translated by S.H. Butcher and A. Lang. Vol. XXII. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14. Print.
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