Homers The Odyssey, a magnificent story of lust, deceit, greed, and heroism, still fascinates scholars and casual readers alike today in the same way it fascinated its audience at the time it was written. The Odyssey, a journey of determination, patience, and virtue, tells the tail of Odysseus, the main character, on his voyage home to Ithaka after the end of the Trojan War. Odysseus goes through many unforeseen trials and tribulations, which exemplify his character. During these different happenings, Odysseus makes decisions that do not correspond to his character.
Odysseus character , as seen in the Iliad, is much like that of a Homeric hero. A hero in Homers world entails many attributes other than physical strength including, but not limited to, courage, honor, respect, intelligence, and good morals. Throughout The Odyssey, some of these character traits are illustrated, and some are slightly changed.
His journey starts east from Troy to smaros. Odysseus and the Akhaian forces battle with Kikons. Odysseus, knowing of the Kikons skill, intelligently order back out to sea. They refuse and, in return, many are killed. Here, Odysseus intelligence would have saved the men, if they would have listened. Though they failed to obey, Odysseus exhibited patience as he did not hold them at fault.
Their next destined endeavor takes them to the land of the Lotos Eaters. The Lotos flower possesses powers which cause men to forget any thought they have of leaving the island. Odysseus, knowing of the Lotus special powers, orders his men to avoid the flowers. Three men took it upon themselves to taste the flower and were subsequently drug back to the ships kicking and screaming. Again, Odysseus intelligent command, if it would have been taken more seriously, would have saved the heartache of his men.
The next land Odysseus and his men come across is the land of the Kyklops. Odysseus curiosity and desire for adventure, driving him inland, somewhat hinder his attempt to return home. Odysseus men want to loot the goods and return to the ship. But, despite the pleading of his men, Odysseus wants to meet the cave-dwellers and see what they have to offer. This came to be a dire mistake. Polyphmos enters the cave, and after brief words, he, in one swift motion, grabs, dismembers, then proceeds to feed on two of Odysseus men. After a brief stay in the cave and a few more dead men, Odysseus congers a plan which defeats Polyphmos and returns Odysseus and his men safely back to the ship. This episode cost Odysseus the lives of men – lives lost for pure curiosity and his yearn for action. Directly after escaping Polyphmos, Odysseus cries out in anger at the Kyklops, who proceeds to toss boulders at Odysseus ships. After each cry, Polyphmos gets closer and closer with his tosses. Then, unintelligently, Odysseus, for sake of false confidence, reveals his name to Polyphmos. Polyphmos then prays to his father, Poseidon, against Odysseus voyage home to Ithaka. Instead of the mens, now Odysseus actions endanger their lives.
Odysseus and his men sail to another land – Aiolia Island, the home of Aiolos Hippotads, the wind king. Aiolos plays host to Odysseus and his crew for a month. Staying for this length of time suggests Odysseus desire to return home is diminishing. Being controller of the winds, Aiolos grants Odysseus a bag containing storm winds to aid his journey home. After ten days at sea, the men finally catch glimpse of their long sought after homeland. As Odysseus slept, his crew, wondering what was in the bag, opens the it. The great winds rush out, blowing the ships clear back to Aiolia. Odysseus, despite his courage, has thoughts of suicide but decides against it: “Should I go overside for a quick finish / or clench my teeth and stay among the living?” (10:57-8). Odysseus confronts Aiolos in a manner not characteristic to the great orator that Odysseus is. He explains the situation as to why they are back. Aiolos refuses to help them and orders them off his land.
For six days Odysseus and his men sail until finally they come to the land of the Laistrygons. After landing, they catch a glimpse of the daughter of Antiphats the Laistrygon. She motions them to her fathers lodge, and , again, curiosity kills the cat. Once in the lodge, Antiphats quickly grabs a man and eats him. The other two me run back to the ships. Many men and ships were lost as the Laistrygons plague the skyline and shoot boulders down upon them. Only Odysseus ship remains.
The lone ship sails on to Aiaia, the island of Kirk. After seeing puffs of smoke coming from the mainland, Odysseus informs his crew, who are disheartened by the news, recollecting the Kyklops incident. Unlike the episode on the Kyklops island, Odysseus stays with the ship, and he sends his men into the woods. This is definitely unlike Odysseus, the hero. One would think that such a man as he would lead the group, yet he stays behind. When the men reach Kirk, she quickly turns the men into pigs with a magic drink mixture. Eurlokhos runs back to the ship and tells Odysseus of the foul magic played on his comrades. Given instructions and a magical plant by Herms, Odysseus saves his friends. He goes back to the ship to collect the rest of the crew. Why, one would ask, does Odysseus keep on prolonging his return home? After being hosted for a year, the men finally get Odysseus back on track. Kirk tells Odysseus he must go to the land of Death. Odysseus loses yet another man, Elpnor, who falls off Kirks roof unnoticed.
At the land of Death, spirits appear around him. First, Elpnor appears and asks for a proper mourning and burial, to which Odysseus promises, exemplifying Odysseus honor and respect for the dead. But, what about the living? Teirsias appears to Odysseus and speaks of the future. Teirsias tells of many obstacles Odysseus and his men will encounter and how to deal with them. Odysseus sees many other spirits including his mother, Agammnon, and Akhilleus.
Sailing on, they head for Kirks island to give Elpnor a proper burial. While there, Kirk, like Teirsias, tells Odysseus of perils that lie ahead. They set off again on the sea.
They sail past the island of the Seirns, whose voice has effects of those of the Lotos flowers. Odysseus covers his mens ears with beeswax and has them tie him up so that he may here the songs of the Seirns. Odysseus seems to want to be the only man to hear the Seirns and escape. This is either extreme courage or a dangerous greed. They make it past the island and onward they sail toward Skylla and Kharybdis. While cruising by, Skylla snatched up six of Odysseus men. This is the price they pay for return to their homeland. With Kharybdis and Skylla behind them, they sail on. They coast by the island of the god Hlios. On this island are bountiful sheep, rams, and heifers. They are not to be touched, as prophesized by Kirk and Teirsias. He instructed his men of this yet they refused and landed on shore. Odysseus took off into the mainland in search of more adventure. He then falls asleep. His men, back at the shore, decide to go ahead and kill and eat the animals to suffice there hunger. This time, the men, not Odysseus, are responsible for destined danger.
While they were out to sea, Zeus, in revenge for Hlios slain animals, strikes the ship with a huge lightning bolt. This destroys the ship and sends all men to their death, except Odysseus. He stays alive by grasping onto pieces of the ship floating on the waters surface. He begins to drift back towards Kharybdis which sucks down his life-preserving wooden planks. Odysseus, for a whole day, grasps a limb hanging above the death trap until the planks reappear. This is sheer determination on Odysseus part. When he regains his planks, he drifts towards Kalypso, the sea nymphs, island.
Odysseus character is challenged in many ways throughout books 5 through 12. In some instances he holds strong, and in others he fails. His sense of adventure sometimes overwhelms him. The length of time Odysseus spends away from Ithaka also dilutes his desire to return, and possibly dilutes his desire to live. Under certain circumstances, any man can succumb to the evils to which he despises. A perfect example is Akhilleus in the Iliad. He started out an honorable man. With the death of his friend, he turns into a maniac who wants nothing but death for the enemy. Odysseus starts out wanting nothing but to return to his family and his homeland. Over the course of the many years away, this feeling dwindles and he is left with nothing but adventure to prolong his reason for living.