Introduction to The Odyssey
The Odyssey is a Greek epic poem attributed to the Greek poet Homer during the late eighth century BCE. An epic tells the tale of a hero and his heroic deeds.
The Odyssey follows its hero and protagonist Odysseus as he fights to get home after the Trojan War, a war that lasted an entire decade. Not only did the war last ten years, but so did Odysseus' journey. Odysseus must battle terrifying monsters and escape from some dicey situations, but he does eventually make it back to his home of Ithaca.
As we will discuss, there are several themes at work within The Odyssey. In literature, a theme is a main idea of a work, and it can be stated directly or indirectly, such as a subtle underlying meaning. In this epic poem, there are three major themes: hospitality, loyalty, and vengeance.
Maybe to a modern reader, hospitality doesn't seem like a stellar theme to build a literary work around. After all, you may ask: What great revelations are going to come from not vacuuming before your friends come over? Well, hospitality was actually very important in Greek society. How you treated visitors to your home, whether strangers or friends, said a great deal about your morals.
Let's look at an example of hospitality in the story. It's been ten years since the Trojan War ended, and everyone (except Penelope, who is Odysseus' wife) believes that Odysseus must be dead since he has still not returned home. Suitors descend on Penelope's home attempting to win her hand. Regardless of her feelings toward them and her belief that Odysseus will return to her, she demonstrates hospitality by allowing the suitors to stay in her home and do whatever they want. To do anything less, even to the worst house guests, would be against her moral code. Also, the suitors are much more powerful than she and her son.
Many people in The Odyssey help Odysseus during his journey home. The Phaeacians, who sail Odysseus home to Ithaca and take good care of him, were well known in Greek mythology for being very hospitable people. Odysseus also receives help from Circe, a sorceress, although at first she does turn his men into pigs. His own servants, when he appears as a strange beggar at the end of the story, offer Odysseus food and comfort because those who are hospitable and kind to guests receive great rewards from the gods.
Others, however, are not so helpful. In the end, the suitors are punished for being terrible guests and awful people. Polyphemus, the cyclops Odysseus runs into, offers no hospitality and even pokes fun at the gods who support it, and Odysseus ultimately blinds him. So within The Odyssey, hospitality is important enough that those who don't practice it are punished.
Loyalty, as in devotion to helping those close to you, is also a major theme in The Odyssey. Perhaps the most well-known example of loyalty is Penelope and her devotion to her husband Odysseus. Even though her husband has been gone for twenty years, she refuses to marry any of the young, attractive, wealthy suitors who ask for her hand. She believes in her heart that her husband is still alive, and her loyalty is rewarded when Odysseus unveils his disguise and shouts that he has arrived home.
Other examples of great loyalty come from Odysseus' household and family. Telemachus, Odysseus' son who was only a baby when his father left for the war, goes on an expedition to try and learn any information he can on his wayward dad. He also stands beside his father and murders all the suitors, never questioning the reasons for this terrible punishment. Even Odysseus' faithful servants, Eurycleia and Eumaeus, who have been with him since his youth, remain loyal. They never once are corrupted by the suitors. Eumaeus also helps Odysseus slaughter the suitors. It can also be argued that Odysseus himself shows great loyalty because he perseveres for ten years to make it home.
There's plenty of vengeance, or acts of revenge, in The Odyssey. When Odysseus returns home to Ithaca to find his house overrun by suitors, his revenge is swift and bloody. He kills all the suitors, as well as some disloyal servants. Another example of Odysseus' vengeance comes earlier in the work. The cyclops Polyphemus eats some of Odysseus' men and holds the rest captive. Odysseus engineers an escape and winds up blinding the cyclops as revenge.
Well, unfortunately, Odysseus is not the only character who seeks vengeance. Polyphemus is the son of the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon. When Odysseus blinds Polyphemus, Poseidon is very angry and seeks revenge on Odysseus. He can't kill Odysseus, but he causes him to suffer greatly when he creates a terrible storm in the sea which kills all of Odysseus' shipmates and exhausts Odysseus.
The Odyssey is a Greek epic poem attributed to the Greek poet Homer during the late eighth century BCE. The work follows hero and protagonist Odysseus as he journeys home to his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus from the Trojan War, encountering many obstacles along the way.
We looked at the themes of The Odyssey, which are the main ideas of a work that can be stated directly or indirectly, such as a subtle underlying meaning. There are many themes that are at work in the epic, but three of the major ones include hospitality, which was how you treated visitors to your home, whether strangers or friends, and said a great deal about your morals, something very important to ancient Greeks. The big exception depicted in the story of The Odyssey is the lack of hospitality granted by the suitors. Other themes included loyalty, devotion to others in one's life, depicted quite effectively by Penelope's devotion to her husband - even after 20 years - and vengeance, acts of revenge, depicted most effectively by Poseidon's desire for revenge on Odysseus after the man blinds his son, the cyclops Polyphemus.