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Odyessy Essay, Research Paper
Scroll V returns to Olympus, where the gods debate Odysseus’ fate. We again see them decide that it is time for him to get home and send Hermes to tell Calypso to let him go. Hermes goes to the beautiful island on which Calypso lives, and tells her of the gods’ demands. Calypso reluctantly agrees, but only because it is Zeus’ command; she is clearly very unhappy about it. She tells Odysseus that she is going to help him get off the island on a raft and send him home. He is at first suspicious of her and makes her promise that she means him no harm, which she does. They then start their preparations for his departure, which mostly consist of Odysseus building a fine raft from tools that Calypso provides. Then, with gifts and favorable winds from Calypso, Odysseus sets on his way.
Things go very well at first, but then Poseidon returns and sees that Odysseus is once again on his way home. He is too angry with Odysseus to let him get home yet, so he calls up a great storm that wrecks Odysseus’ raft and threatens to drown him. However, a sea nymph named Ino sees Odysseus barely clinging on to his battered raft and gives him a magical veil that she says will keep him from any harm if he wears it. She also instructs him to swim for the distant shore of Phaeacia. Odysseus is suspicious of her, since he feels the gods have not been entirely charitable with him of late, and so he decides to wait until his raft is totally wrecked; only then will he swim for it. The raft soon breaks and he is forced to swim. He survives the storm only with Athena’s help, eventually reaching Phaeacia.
However, the coast of Phaeacia is rocky and the waves make Odysseus’ attempt to get onto the island potentially deadly. After one painful attempt to land on the shore, which he survives again only with the help of Athena, Odysseus swims along the shore until he finds a river. He then swims up the river a ways and comes out of the water. He collapses in the brush, hiding himself and then falling into a deep sleep. (Scroll V ends here.)
Athena then goes to Nausicaa, the daughter of Alkinoos, the king of Phaeacia, and sends her a dream instructing her to wash her clothes in preparation for her marriage. Nausicaa takes the dream seriously, gathers a large wagon of clothes the next day, and goes to the river with a group of women. The women wake up Odysseus, and he scares all out them except Nausicaa, whom Athena makes brave. Odysseus then speaks so eloquently that the girls lose all fear and lend him oils and clothes so that he may tidy himself. Athena takes the time to make sure that his appearance is stunning enough that the girls will want to help him. Nausicaa, very taken, invites Odysseus back to the city. She instructs him to wait outside the city until they have all gone in, and then go in and ask to be shown to the house of King Alkinoos, which anyone will know. She also tells him to talk to her mother, rather than her father. The reason he cannot go in with them is that Nausicaa thinks people will spread unkind rumors about about her if she shows up with this random, handsome stranger. The girls head back into the city and Odysseus hides outside, waiting for his chance to enter.
At long last, Odysseus himself enters the narrative. We have heard stories about him and we have heard worries about him; only now do we get our first direct encounter with the man after whom the epic is named. In this introduction, all of the traits that we have heard discussed–his wisdom, circumspection, blessedness, and resourcefulness–are evident. As we would expect, his cunning is also evident. Whenever faced with a new trial, Odysseus clearly thinks through all the options; Homer makes us privy to these thoughts in order to underscore this part of Odysseus’ character. When Calypso offers him freedom, he reacts with understandable caution. When Ino offers her veil, he reacts similarly. He reasons with himself about how to deal with the rocky shores of Phaeacia, and later, when he wakes up, he instantly takes stock of his situation, wondering what sort of country he is in. The genius of Odysseus lies in this wisdom–the intelligence to immediately assess any situation, the wisdom to choose the best course, and the strength and resourcefulness to act on his realizations.
Another major part of Odysseus’ success is Athena’s aid. She follows him around throughout this section, aiding him whenever he is in danger or could use some help–even the poplar grove in which Nausicaa instructs him to hide (Scroll VI) was planted in honor of Athena. It is important to note that Odysseus is loved by the gods, not cursed, despite occasional comments that he or other characters may make. It is best to view the trials of Odysseus as potentially fatal dangers that he survives because the gods love him, rather than punishments inflicted on him by the gods.
This brings up an interesting point: if Odysseus is so very loved by the gods, why do all these terrible things happen to him? Poseidon’s anger, admittedly, is an exception to the gods’ general admiration, but this is only a partial exception– and, as we shall see, Poseidon is only angry at Odysseus because of something for which he cannot really be blamed. The foolishness of mortals is also partially the cause of his troubles, as we will also discover later.
This returns us to the original question posed in the comments for Scrolls I-II, the question of divine agency versus human fault. Neither entirely explains the Odyssey. It seems that Odysseus is fated to this long journey. Throughout the Odyssey (and the Iliad) continual reference is made to the gods’ inability to forestall something that is “fated” to happen. The chain of events that lead to Odysseus journey is somehow fated in a way beyond even the gods’ power. We will consider the importance of Odysseus’ unique fate later, as it is key to understanding his function as a hero in the epic.
Also of interest in this section is Calypso’s speech (Scroll V) after she hears about the gods’ wishes that she release Odysseus. She points out that the gods always object to a goddess living “in open matrimony” with a mortal. Calypso’s complaint is particularly interesting because it clarifies the level of god-human interaction the gods are willing to accept. Sex with mortals is clearly acceptable; Zeus himself was responsible for pairing Thetis, Achilles’ mother, with a mortal man. It is also interesting that instances of a male god falling in love with a woman are rare. Male gods often lust after mortals, but they are seldom looking for a more serious commitment. On the other hand, female goddesses really do fall for mortals, from time to time; there are several other examples in later Greek mythology of goddesses trying to obtain immortality for a man with whom they have fallen in love (and sometimes succeeding). Given the large part the gods play in the Odyssey, moments like this, which clarify the code of behavior of the gods, are extremely helpful to our interpretation of their role in the story.
As a final note, it is interesting that Nausicaa appears to be manipulated by Athena with a deviousness we have not yet seen in the Odyssey. Athena gives Nausicaa a dream suggesting that her wedding will be soon and that she must therefore clean all the clothing. Athena then makes Odysseus extremely attractive, so much so that Nausicaa comments that “I should like my future husband to be just such another as he is, if he would only stay here and not want to go away” (Scroll VI). It really does seem that the girl has been manipulated into falling in love with Odysseus. This sort of manipulation appears to be acceptable in the name of the general goal, getting Odysseus home. An interesting question to consider throughout the text in light of events like this, however, is what is the moral limit for the gods on behalf of one of their heroes? How far will they go for their hero? It is a question to which we may not find a definite answer, but one that should be kept in mind nonetheless.
After a little while, Odysseus goes into the city. Athena makes him invisible to all the Phaeacians, who are proud and suspicious of strangers, and then changes herself into a little girl to guide him to the house of the revered King Alkinoos and his queen, Arete. Odysseus surveys the wondrous beauty of the house, which affords the narrative time for a long description of the marvels of the Phaeacian land: fruits grow year-round, parts of the castle were built by the gods, and so on. Then, still invisible, Odysseus enters the castle, walks straight up to the queen, and gets on his knees before her. Athena then makes him visible, and while everyone is still surprised at his sudden appearance, he makes his plea that the Phaeacians help him with a ship to get home (without revealing his identity). Alkinoos welcomes him as a guest, inviting him to dine with them and giving him a seat of honor. He says that the Phaeacians will help him get home, of course.
After a while, everyone leaves the dinner table; only Alkinoos, Arete, and Odysseus remain. Odysseus has still not revealed his identity. Arete notices that he is wearing clothes that she recognizes (they are the clothes that Nausicaa gave Odysseus), so she asks him to tell his story. Odysseus tells his story, starting beginning with his shipwreck on Calypso’s island. He does not mention the Trojan War or his part in it. He also lies slightly to protect Nausicaa to avoid Alkinoos? spite for not inviting him into the city immediately.
After Odysseus has spoken, Alkinoos reiterates his pledge to see Odysseus home. Alkinoos even welcomes Odysseus to stay in Phaeacia, marry his beautiful daughter, and live as the King’s honored son-in-law. Odysseus thanks Alkinoos for his help, and the three all retire to bed, where Odysseus sleeps soundly. (Scroll VII ends here.)
The following morning, Alkinoos calls an assembly and decrees that the Phaeacians will help the stranger (Odysseus, who still has not revealed his name), and they start to prepare the ship. Meanwhile, Alkinoos takes Odysseus a banquet at which the blind bard, Demodokos, sings. Demodokos sings about Odysseus and Achilles in the Trojan War, and Odysseus starts to cry. Alkinoos notices Odysseus? respons and calls for some athletic competition.
After the young Phaeacians compete, they invite Odysseus to join them. Odysseus defers; he feels too sorrowful to compete. One of the Phaeacians responds to Odysseus? decision by insulting him, and he gets very angry. He chides the young man for foolishness, picks up a huge discus, and throws it far further than any of the Phaeacians. He then lets them know that he excels at all athletic competitions, and will not be insulted. Alkinoos diffuses the situation by telling everyone to return to the banquet, where they watch the young Phaeacian dancers, the greatest in the world. Odysseus is delighted by them, and his mood improves. Alkinoos then offers him many gifts and gets the insolent young man who insulted Odysseus to apologize.
Finally, it is time for the Demodokos to play again. At Odysseus’ request, he plays the story of the Trojan Horse, in which Odysseus had a great part. Odysseus starts to weep, and Alkinoos instructs Demodokos to stop. He then politely but firmly asks that Odysseus tell them who he is so that they may know why these stories make him sad.
At the beginning of Scroll VII, Athena helps Odysseus by appearing to him as a little girl to guide him to the castle. This episode provides some clues as to how we should interpret divine intervention in the Odyssey. One critical approach to much of the divine intervention in archaic Greek literature like the Iliad and the Odyssey is not to see it as Athena herself being helpful, but rather to look at divine intervention as an explanation for everything good that happens to the hero.
Homer spends much time describing Phaeacia, focusing on its splendors and blessedness. The queen is beautiful and respected, and her name, Arete, is in fact the Greek word for “virtue.” Odysseus is offered by Alkinoos the opportunity to remain in this wonderful, plentiful land, marry a beautiful young princess, and live a life of honor and wealth. His refusal to even consider this offer is simply further confirmation of Odysseus’ loyalty to Penelope and to Ithaca, and of his dogged determination to get home.
The athletic games in this section also merit discussion. Ancient and classical Greek society was extremely competitive, and so competition in these games was, beyond simply marking him as a good runner or discus-thrower, a way to measure a man’s intrinsic worth. This competition is evident in all of the games, particularly once Odysseus gets involved. When the Phaeacians invite him to play, they remind him that “there is no greater kleos [glory] for a man all his life long as the showing himself good with his hands and feet” (Scroll VIII). Odysseus knows this well. When he is insulted after deferring from playing the games, his extremely emotional and prideful reaction (declaring how skilled he is at all these games, and that none of them could beat him at any of them, except possibly running, because he is tired) is not unreasonable within the archaic Greek culture. It is, in fact, testimony to his greatness that he can say these things and back them up. By insulting his ability to compete, the young Phaeacian insults his manhood and his potential for greatness, which is not something a Greek hero is expected to abide passively. So, Odysseus throws the discus and sets the Phaeacians straight.
The last point of interest in this section is Demodokos, the blind bard. There has been much scholarly speculation about this character on many accounts, not the least of which being the belief–historically unsupported yet quite prevalent–that Homer was blind. If the author of the Odyssey was blind, then Demodokos the blind bard may be a reflection of the author. Approaching the argument from another angle, the presence and importance of the blind bard–for Demodokos’ fine storytelling reveals Odysseus’ true identity–is also sometimes used as evidence to support the opinion that Homer was blind, drawing from the assumption that Demodokos represents Homer writing himself into the story. All of these arguments are inconclusive, since we are unsure of the identity of Homer in the first place, so speculation about him is bound to be fraught with disagreement. Regardless, it is important to note that Demodokos has had an important place in many scholarly debates, and that he provides clues about the Odyssey’s author.