Odysseus Role in the Odyssey
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In Homer’s, “The Odyssey”, Odysseus struggles to return home not only to rejoin his wife Penelope and son Telemakhos but also to fulfill his duty as ruler and legend. As Odysseus struggles homeward, the idea of his true self and what defines him shifts. His longing for family and sovereignty serves, at times, as a raging fire that propels him home. At other times it seems to be lost in the shadows of his adventures. At the end, when all conflicts are resolved and Odysseus is reunited with his wife and son, He becomes the Odysseus that is truly himself.
We learn that a united family can overcome any obstacles and that true devotion and dedication will triumph in the end. Odysseus’ true self is defined by four terms. The first is “husband”. Penelope has not only been loyal to Odysseus as her husband, but also as the authority figure. She has demonstrated her loyalty by being true to him for twenty years in his absence and has not remarried. This presents Odysseus with the responsibility to come back and carry out his duties as a husband. The second term is “father”.
Odysseus’ has been away from Ithaca for 20 years which means he has not been a father figure to Telemakhos. Part of defining his true self is to teach his son to be as great a ruler as Odysseus himself. Telemakhos has not had a father figure yet and needs guidance to become worthy of being Odysseus’ legacy. The third term is “king”. Ithaca is Odysseus’ home. His family has ruled it for many years and it is his duty to return and serve as ruler. He must establish his legacy and educate his successor to make sure that when he indeed leaves the throne, he will have a strong heir to entrust with his patrimony.
The final term that defines Odysseus’ true self is “legend”. Odysseus returns home after completing a heroic journey with stories that lead him to become a legend. His adventures serve as examples even in modern culture. A hero who ventures from his home into a journey of supernatural adventures comes back with the power to tell his stories and have them resonate in future generations. The crucial moment when these four elements come together is in Book 24 “The Great Rooted Bed” . After killing the suitors, Odysseus reunites with Penelope which signifies his dominion over Ithaca.
His son fighting alongside him, as his equal, shows his newfound duty to be a father. The telling of his stories to Penelope, Telemakhos, Eumaios, The Phaecians, among others spreads rapidly throughout different lands ensuring his remembrance as a hero. Through the story, the moment where we see Odysseus farthest from his true self is when he is on Calypso’s Island. The beginning of the novel illustrates how Odysseus is tormented with the love and loyalty to the family he has left behind. He lacks the means to go home and recover the key elements that define his true self.
His current condition is that of a love slave. Calypso has offered Odysseus immortality, to live the life of a god for all eternity in paradise, in exchange for his eternal companionship. Along with the offer, Calypso questions Odysseus on how his family could ever compare to her and immortality: “Can I be less desirable than she is? / Less interesting / Less beautiful / Can mortals compare with with goddesses in grace and form” (Homer ,The Odyssey. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998, pg. 87 ,lines 220-223) Her ladyship Calypso clung to him in her sea hollowed caves- nymph, immortal and most beautiful, who craved him for her own (Homer, 1, lines 22-25) Calypso desires Odysseus and is offering magnificent rewards for his companionship.
Odysseus is quite a catch considering a goddess is offering him everything a man could possibly want. The only thing she doesn’t offer him is his family, which is why he refuses her offer. We find Odysseus’ in a complete state of depression. He sits on a rock facing the sea, crying and longing for home. Odysseus refuses Calypso because he is loyal to his wife and son and feels that there is nothing greater than to see them again.
That is his greatest desire at the moment and he is incapable of doing so. Odysseus’ sits on a rock dwelling and longing for home: “Went to find Odysseus / in his stone seat to seaward– Tear on tear / brimming his eyes” (Homer,85 ,lines 157-159). This agonizing longing for home is what will eventually drive him to go home as soon as he possibly can. Seeing Odysseus in this weak state reveals to us his humanity. Even if he clearly has supernatural help throughout the book, this moment emphasizes his human nature and his incapacity to reach what he longs for most, Ithaca.
The moment in the book where we see Odysseus fully as himself is in Book 24 “The Great Rooted Bed”. At this point he has killed the suitors and regained his wife son and land. These aspects that define him are even stronger at this point compared to the beginning because after everything he has been though he has accomplished his ultimate goal. Odysseus’ reunion with Penelope and assuming his responsibility as a husband is one of the key elements that define Odysseus’ true self. Even after twenty years apart from her husband, Penelope still remains faithful to Odysseus and refuses to marry one of the suitors.
Her complete and utter devotion to Odysseus is what makes him assume his duty as her spouse: “Now from his breast into his eyes the ache / of longing mounted, and he wept at last, / his dear wife, clear and faithful, in his arms. ” ( Homer,436, lines 259-261) As Odysseus embraces his wife, we get a feeling that a part of him is back to normal. Penelope’s loyalty makes all the mishaps that he has been through worthwhile. The same goes for Penelope. Having her husband home with her makes having to tend to the suitors and put up with their abuse seem unimportant.
Their love conquered everything in the end. This love is key to understanding who Odysseus truly is. In Book 23, “Death in the Great Hall”, we clearly get an idea of the father-son relationship Odysseus now has with Telemakhos. They must devise a plan to kill the suitors. Odysseus lays out the plans and proposes to go around and test servants for loyalty before taking back their house, but Telemakhos shows his good judgement when he proposes a change to the plan to the plan: to kill the suitors first since they are using up all of Odysseus’ resources.
This change is accepted by Odysseus which shows that Telemakhos is as wise in planning as Odysseus. Odysseus’ relationship with his son is that of equals now that Odysseus is able to watch over Telemakhos’ further education ensuring that he will one day be a good successor. Odysseus, Penelope and Telemakhos stand strong against the world: “We three stand / ready to follow you and fight. I say / for what out strength avails, we have the courage. ” (Homer 433 lines 144-146).
A strong family is of great importance since it is through family that values and education are best handed down from generation to generation. Treating Telemakhos as an equal signifies that Odysseus has respect for his son and is ready to educate him so that he can become a great leader. Odysseus’ family is portrayed as a family that can undergo anything. This gives Odysseus confidence that he will always have people on his side in good and bad times. This sense of support is crucial to the understanding of Odysseus’ character. The most significant thing Odysseus is defined by is his legend.
The telling of his stories and adventures will be passed from generation to generation and this act will make him immortal. His future legacy however now relies in the hands his beloved son whom he trusts will continue holding the family name highly. Odysseus’ legend is key to defining who he truly is. The stories of his adventures spread across the land and are passed on trough oral tradition to future generations. This telling of his stories is what makes Odysseus immortal. Odysseus told of what hard blows he had dealt out to others and of what blows he had taken- all that story
She could not close her eyes till all was told (Homer, 439, lines 344-347) Because Odysseus is the sole survivor of the journey, we mostly get his part of the story. We cannot be certain how much he has embellished the stories to set himself up as a hero. What we do know is that he is still used today as an example of cleverness and heroism. Odysseus’ as a legend is still immortal in present day. When Odysseus finally becomes his true self again, he has the power to fight alongside his father Laertes and his son Telemakhos creating an image of invincibility.
Now that Odysseus is clear on what defines him nothing can stop him. The three of them fighting together shows us a strong sense of family pride:“”Ah, what a day for me, dear gods! / to see my son and grandson vie in courage! ”” (Homer 461 lines 571-572) Laertes, Odysseus, and Telemakhos fight as equals and share a bond so powerful that the come across as unbeatable. Odysseus’ true sense of self lies in the people that surround him. Finding this stability in his life makes him now more powerful than ever.