The Suitors in the Odyssey, by Homer
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The SuitorsIn Homer’s Odyssey, it has been sixteen years since Odysseus left his home in Ithaca for war. Many men from other lands thinking Odysseus is dead, intrude his kingdom and try to take power.
The suitors steal and plunder Odysseus’ hall, feast on his food, take his maids to bed and all the while, each trying to take Penelope’s hand in marriage.1 When Odysseus returns, he knows all about the suitors, and schematically kills all of them with no mercy. One may judge Odysseus’ actions as unnecesary, an suggest alternatives of imprisoning or banishing the suitors, however, in order to judge him we must first determine how the Greeks see things. The Greek worldview is not based on a religion that establishes a set rule of governance, so the Greeks have to come up with their own morals. Naturally, the Greeks want to preserve themselves and their civilization, so anyone who goes against their civilization is almost always dishonorable in the Greek worldview. The worst way one can go against society is by committing treason against an honorable ruler, because he is the heart of Greek civilization. Another influence in the Greek worldview is that of the gods. The gods do not know everything about justice, but if they all agree that something is just, than in the Greek worldview it is just. With this being said, the suitors deserve to die in the Greek worldview. Why do they deserve to die? In the Greek worldview the suitors are evil, death is a necessary punishment for evil when logical, and the gods approve of the suitors’ deaths.
First of all, the suitors are evil in the Greek worldview. The reasoning behind this is that the suitors are ruining Ithaca, by plundering Odysseus’ palace. They are obviously not good rulers, because they are doing this for their own foolish bodily desires, and not thinking to preserve society. They are also showing no honor towards an honorable leader, but disgracing his wife instead. When Odysseus returns home, many of the arrogant suitors insult him and try to hurt him, thinking he is a beggar. We also know that the suitors are liars, because when they find out Odysseus has returned, they make promises to repay him, which they are most likely unable to fulfill, because they were not as wealthy as as he is, and came to his hall to live off of his wealth. One may argue that only a few of the suitors are evil. Some suitors do beg for mercy pleading more innocent than the other suitors. Odysseus’ son Telemachus is present, and allows his father to kill every suitor except for one herald. Telemachus has been living among the suitors for a long time, so he knows that only the herald is innocent, and the rest are lying.2 Overall, the suitors are extremely wicked in the Greek worldview.
Because they are evil, the suitors need to be punished. In the Greek worldview, death is a necessary punishment for evil. First of all death is very common in the Odyssey, and everyone thinks it is completely normal under certain circumstances. All living things in the Greek world, including male and female mortals, immortals, and nymphs know death as a normality; therefore there is no question as to whether it is normal in the Greek worldview. Because Greek worldview is based on preservation of their society, it is rational to get rid of evil that is ruining their society. Killing the suitors is the most reasonable way they can punish them because it leaves the liar suitors with no chance whatsoever to do any more damage to Odysseus’ kingdom. Because death is the logical punishment for evil, the threatening suitors deserve death in the Greek worldview.
To further the argument more, we can now prove that the gods approve of the suitors’ deaths. The gods are a very influential part of the Greek worldview, and if they all side with Odysseus, than that is some good evidence that Odysseus is justified in the Greek worldview. First of all, Athena is with Odysseus for killing the wicked suitors. She wants him to follow through with it when he is questioning whether to kill them or not, and she also tell him that Zeus will guide him.3Another example of divine opinion is when Odysseus is actually fighting the suitors, and he calls for help from the god Apollo to help him with a bow.
Immediately after praying, Odysseus takes an amazing shot at the suitor Antinoos, and it was a shot that no other man could have made.4 Although Zeus, Athena, and Apollo are the only ones who directly help Odysseus kill the suitors, the other gods do not have a problem with the killing of the suitors. If any of the gods are angered by something, they almost always intervene, and no gods defended the suitors. Also, the suitors prayed to the gods multiple times, but no god seemed to pity them whatsoever, Odysseus is justified in the gods’ opinions.
In conclusion, the Greek worldview presents the suitors as evil societal transgressors who logically and divinely deserve to die. The natural purpose of the Greek society is to preserve themselves. In order to preserve themselves the Greeks must have a ruler to unite them, and the citizens must respect him, as well as respect each other and not cause commotions in society. If the king is directly challenged with this evil, he must get rid of it.
Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Stratus and Giroux, 1998