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Decision Making In The Odyssey Essay, Research Paper

A Lesson

The Odyssey, a Greek tale of fate written by Homer, tells the story of a warrior that is determined to return home and is willing to go to any extreme to achieve his goal. The story takes place over a period of approximately ten years and begins after much of the action has already occurred. The device of starting a work in the middle and returning to the start is called Ain medias res@ from the Latin (in the middle of things). Odysseus is faced with many challenges, but no matter what he is faced with, he finds a way to overcome his problems. Homer was telling a tale for people who read his work, but at the same time, he was teaching a lesson to those who studied his work. Man should not succeed by deceit and Homer was displaying the fact that such a way of life should not be chosen by those who study his story. The Odyssey is a great adventure story and is very entertaining, but it demonstrates the life of a man that lives based on immoral and immature decision making.

Book One of The Odyssey may very well be the only book wherein the warrior, and main character, Odysseus displays sound moral decision making abilities. He is stranded on an island with the nymph Calypso who is intending to persuade Odysseus into becoming her husband. The main theme of the work is for Odysseus to return home safely to his wife, son, and kingdom which all await him eagerly. Odysseus manages to remain faithful to his wife while being trapped and held as a prisoner on this island despite the passing of many years. Later on in the epic, however, he strays from his faithfulness to Penelope, his wife, to a goddess with whom he makes the acquaintance.

Book Five through Book Eight tell of Odysseus= first chance to venture home. Odysseus lost his makeshift raft and came to land upon the island of Scheria. It was here that the reader is first able to trace an unmoral decision made by Odysseus. A princess finds and tends to him. The stranded warrior is then brought to the palace and with open arms is welcomed despite the fact that he is a stranger. Even after the king and queen of the palace vow to help Odysseus find his way to Ithaca, he continues to lie about his true identity. Some time later, still at the palace, Odysseus tells the nobility of his true identity. The revelation of his true self to the king and queen brings about no changes in their desire and ambition to help him find his way to Ithaca. The royal family of Scheria even seemed more contempt with helping Odysseus find home after hearing his stories of the Trojan War and the years that followed than they had when he was passed off as a commoner. Odysseus may not have gained much from lying in this situation, but as one can see, when the truth was made known, he lost nothing. Homer simply demonstrated that the identity Odysseus was trying to pass himself off as did nothing at all for him.

Escape from a giant cyclops who has vowed to eat you in one of the days soon to come through the means of lying is a legitimate excuse to compromise one=s morality. Sheer fright could, and most probably would, make any man lie to a beast that has recently eaten several of his comrades. Odysseus is not content with his narrowly escaping the deathly jaws of Poseidon=s son, the cyclops, and blinding him in the process. Pride forces Odysseus to shout his name to the blinded Polyphemus in order to claim the right to brag. This foolish action allows Polyphemus to call upon his father, who already dislikes Odysseus, to punish the man that blinded and escaped from him. Once again, the decision to mock his enemy, an immoral one indeed, will lead to problems for the hero of this tale.

Odysseus= next stop on his journey is to Aeolus= island. Aeolus is the god of the winds and graces Odysseus with a pouch that contains any winds that may be harmful to the journey. Odysseus decides that because he is the captain of his ship, he is not obliged to tell his crewmen the contents of the treasured gift from the wind god. This cocky decision leads the crew to believe that Odysseus was blessed with treasures that he is intending to hoard. The crewmen open the pouch and while they have Ithaca closer than ever, they are blown farther away than they could ever imagine. Fate would have it that they wound up back on Aeolus= island and were therefore banished due to their disrespect by opening the pouch. Their sail from Aeolia found them on the island of the Laestrygonians. Here, the crew loses many vessels and shipmates to man eaters. Another bad decision on the part of Odysseus has caused him a longer journey and more crewmen lost.

Aeaea was the island where the remaining sailors and Odysseus found solace and protection from the man eaters. Here, Circe trapped and transformed several of Odysseus= men. After hearing of the misfortune dealt to his crew, Odysseus took a potion that protected him from the curses of the evil Circe. Although he saved his men by his valor, Odysseus once again allows immoral decisions to delay his trip home. He falls in love with the evil Circe and stays on her island for quite some time. While Penelope was at home fighting the forces to marry one of the many men that inhabited Odysseus= home in his absence, he found comfort in the arms of another woman. After a short trip and return to Aeaea, Odysseus prepared his crew for the travel past the Sirens and Scylla and then through the whirlpool named Charybdis. Odysseus knew of the danger that could come about from hearing the beautiful singing voices of the Sirens, but he insisted on hearing them even though he refused to let his crewmen do the same. It was fortunate for Odysseus that he was tied down, because they safely passed the Sires without a single casualty. The six-headed monster, Scylla, did kill many of the men aboard the ships unfortunately. The remaining men safely avoided Charybdis. Although Odysseus was not directly responsible for the death of any of his men on this leg of the journey, he once again displayed poor decision making tactics by allowing himself the temptation of the Sirens.

A stroke of the power of Zeus, the god of gods, destroyed the remaining members of the crew and the ships. Odysseus was the only one to survive and found himself at the point where the tale began, with Calypso. Luckily to Odysseus, he was transported to Ithaca bye the inhabitants of her island. This allowed Odysseus to go to his kingdom and reclaim it as his own, but he had sworn vengeance on the men that had taken his home and possessions while he was away.

Odysseus disguises himself as a commoner to ensure that no one be aware of his return to his kingdom or his plan to strike the suitors with fury. Disguised, and having been gone for several years, Odysseus is able to go undetected by many of the workers that were at his palace when he left for the Trojan War and even his own wife, Penelope. He stays in his palace for several days while he and his son perfect their plan to expel the savage and disrespectful suitors. The newly home warrior even finds it in himself to withhold his temper when he encounters some of workers that he knows to not have been loyal to the kingdom. Odysseus avoids several confrontations with the suitors, for he is not ready to oust them from his kingdom at that moment.

Odysseus= final moment of immoral and immature decision making comes when the suitors realize who he actually is. Odysseus could have banished the men from his palace without inflicting any harm to a single one of them. The most important aspect of his refusal to this option is that the suitors swore to repay all the debts that they may have exhausted as well as all the food that they ate. Lives could have been saved, wounds could have been healed, pride and dignity could have been established and the exhibition of what a true man is could have come about. Odysseus, however, chose to let pride get in the way of good decision making and he once more needlessly threatened his own life.

The trail of lies, deceit and bad decision making that Odysseus has plagued himself with throughout his journey eventually catch up to him. Odysseus, a warrior, is forced to fight a battle knowing that the only way he can win is to cheat. He locks up all the weapons that the suitors have and is therefore at an advantage when he chooses his moment to release his wrath upon them. This warrior, known for his physical prowess, is now at the point where he is taking away the defense mechanisms of his opponent. Odysseus was a Trojan War hero and is now slithering to the depths of fighting unarmed men in his own palace. The life that Odysseus led on his journey home eventually funneled and shaped him into the man that he was when he stole their weapons; he is now a con artist, deceitful and shameless man.

The daily routine that one engages in will eventually shape the way that they are when it comes down to the time of judgement. It is impossible for a man to live a life of a coward and in his dying moments be a hero. Similarly, it is more than unlikely that a hero would be fearful in his dying moments. AIn medias res,@ in the middle of things, is used in this tale for a reason; Odysseus was a great warrior in the Trojan War. He was still a warrior of firm content during his fist years away from home. He did, however, begin to wither in this sense as time progressed. The story of Odysseus, King of Ithaca and a Greek epic hero, is one that teaches its students a lesson in pride.

The Odyssey happens to be an excellent work for midshipmen at The United States Naval Academy. The lessons learned pertaining to pride, devotion and foolishness are uncomparable. Men are plagued with something that allows us to justify needless and senseless acts. The true man is the one that stays true to his wife. The true soldier is the one that spares an enemy=s life when it is not a threat to anyone if the perpetrator is set free. The true king is the one that orders infidels out of his palace. The lesson to be learned is from Odysseus= mistakes and foolishness. To be a true man, one must take things as they come and face them as himself without attempting to hide behind any masks. Odysseus did get home, he did get his kingdom back and he was reunited with his wife. He did, however, fight like a coward to accomplish all this. He fought unarmed men while he was armed and wore armor. The slow downhill slope of Odysseus= warlike attitude and the increasing use of his cleverness to deceive are examples of what not to do as a leader. Odysseus was graced with the ability to fight and that he should have done. With the grace of the gods behind him, there was no need for the costumes and the foolish decisions made out of sheer pride to retake his throne; he may have actually made it back quicker if he had just fought instead of needing to prove something to himself.

Works Cited

Homer. AThe Odyssey.@ The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1999. 209-514.


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