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Odyssey Essay, Research Paper

In book XI of the Odyssey, by Homer, Odysseus meets with several members of the underworld. These “shades” of death help Odysseus understand the importance of returning home; thus, giving him decisive steps in his re-education of life. Of the many “shades” Odysseus speaks with, the three that extend beyond the others are Antikleia, Agamemnon, and Akhilleus. The knowledge that these three give Odysseus have a large impact on the route he takes and the way he handles each obstacle on his voyage home to Ithaca.

First, Odysseus catches sight of his mother, Antikleia. She had perished since Odysseus had left for Troy and he was not aware of her death until now. When Odysseus speaks to his mother he tries to use human feeling and embrace her, but cannot. Odysseus states “I bit my lip, rising perplexed, with longing to embrace her, and tried three times, putting my arms around her, but she went sifting through my hands, impalpable as shadows are, and wavering like a dream.” This brought Odysseus to the realization that once death becomes you, human feelings vanish. A man or woman cannot use the sense of touch to show feelings such as love or caring. Odysseus now knows that he must return home to Ithaca to embrace his family once more before he to retires to the underworld.

The next shade that Odysseus speaks with that gives him knowledge and helps smooth his journey home is Agamemnon. Agamemnon is a long time comrade of Odysseus and a strong warrior. He is murdered soon after he returned home from The Trojan War by his wife and her lover; for this Agamemnon acquired an undying distrust for women. Agamemnon advised Odysseus to never put your fate in the hands of a women, do not tell her all you know. Agamemnon states “Let it be a warning even to you. Indulge a woman never, and never tell her all know. Some things a man may tell, some he should cover up.” Odysseus may have understood this as all human, men and women, have a streak of evil among them. Upon returning to his homeland, he must not trust anyone, for they may betray him. Odysseus understands he must be cautious even of his own wife.

Finally, Odysseus meets with his old friend and great leader Akhilleus. Akilleus was killed on the battlefield in Troy. When Odysseus first speaks with Akilleus, he is under the impression that Akilleus is a great leader of the underworld as he was among the living. To Odysseus’s surprise, Akilleus is just another shade. Akhilleus firmly tells Odysseus, “Better, I say, to break sod as a farm hand for some poor country man, on iron rations, than lord it over all the exhausted dead.” Odysseus realizes that there are no leaders of the underworld. A man must make his mark on earth while there is still time because once you die, life is over.

The words that Odysseus exchanges with these three shades reflect greatly the passage he takes home to Ithaca. The love and respect that Odysseus holds for his mother, Antikleia, and his two comrades, Agamemnon and Akhilleus, will never die; although their bodies have and their souls are rendered to the underworld forever.


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