Jenny has taught college English and has a Mater's degree in English and another Master's degree in Secondary Education.
There are many symbols in The Odyssey. So, what exactly is a symbol? A symbol is an idea or an object that represents something larger than itself. For example, one symbol in The Odyssey is the bow that Odysseus strings to demonstrate his dominance over the suitors. There is also Odysseus's dog, Argus, who held on to life, never giving up hope that someday Odysseus would return home, symbolizing great loyalty. Finally, there is the symbol of Ithaca, which represents the end of a journey and Odysseus's supremacy.
Odysseus Goes to War
Odysseus is the king of Ithaca. Shortly after the birth of his only son, Telemachus, King Menelaus called Odysseus to serve in the quest to return his wife, Helen of Troy. This quest eventually led to the Trojan War. At first, we do not see signs of a great hero. Odysseus tries to pretend that he is insane in an attempt to avoid having to go to war. However, King Menelaus is not fooled, and Odysseus is forced to leave his beloved Ithaca. After ten long years, Odysseus helps to defeat the Trojans and is finally allowed to return home. The Trojan War is the setting of the The Iliad, while Odysseus's long journey home is the plot for The Odyssey.
Challenge at Ithaca
Unfortunately for Odysseus, the return home to Ithaca would not be so easy. It takes Odysseus ten long years before he is finally able to arrive in Ithaca. Even then, he must come disguised as a beggar, because his home is occupied by suitors who are threatening to take his beloved wife, Penelope, as one of their own. Odysseus must find a way to not only conquer the suitors, but to restore himself as king of Ithaca all over again.
Only a true hero would be up to this amazing challenge. To solve this obstacle, Odysseus first reveals himself to his now-grown son, Telemachus. Together, they must come up with a plan to defeat the drunken and obnoxious suitors who have taken over his homestead.
Penelope can only stall for so long before she must choose one of the suitors as her new husband. To buy herself more time, Penelope tells the suitors that whoever can string her husband's bow and shoot an arrow through a row of axe-heads will win her hand. After a series of suitors fail the challenge, Odysseus, still disguised as a beggar, is allowed to have his turn, and successfully accomplishes the task. Telemachus now stands beside his father so that they can reclaim their rightful homeland of Ithaca.
Ithaca as a Symbol
Ithaca symbolizes not only the end of a journey and home, but also reminds us that sometimes we have to fight for the things that we value the most. In The Odyssey, Odysseus had to fight for his journey home, his wife, his son, his kingdom, and even Ithaca itself. Ithaca symbolizes the desire that most of us face when we are forced to leave our homeland for long periods of time. We not only miss our homeland, but imagine a day when we can return to the comfort of our homes and families.
In Odysseus's case, this journey was marked with strife and hardship. However, in the end, this struggle to regain his homeland and to overcome all of the challenges that stood in his way helped to develop Odysseus into a true hero.
A symbol is an idea or object that represents something bigger than itself. In the case of The Odyssey, Odysseus's homeland of Ithaca is an important symbol because it represents the desire for home. Many of us are able to relate to this desire to return to our homeland. When Odysseus finally returns home after a long and difficult journey, he is still faced with many obstacles, and must overcome these challenges to rightfully reclaim his home and land.
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