Conflicts and Themes in The Odyssey

Hospitality 

In Homer’s epics, the theme of hospitality is very common to portray the relationship between guest and host. Hospitality was at the top of the Greek ethical code and represents how travellers at the time had to rely on the hospitality of others for things such as food, shelter and protection. It was also greatly valued as it was thought that other nations may not be able to enter any host territory safely. Thus it was a way to wish luck on strangers passing by through states that were part of one’s nation (even enemies). In the Odyssey, without this hospitality, strangers could be captured or even killed for entering a foreign land. The Greeks believed that the gods wanted people to show hospitality to strangers who showed up at their homes. This was because many believed that turning away lost strangers and not giving them any form of hospitality would result in some form of suffering or punishment from the Gods on the host. An example of this would be in Book IX when Odysseus arrived on Circe’s island and attempts to save his men who have turned into animals by confronting the witch. Although Odysseus was aided by Hermes, Circe was violating the code of conduct between host and guest, and consequently, the Gods punished Circe so that she would become more hospitable. Circe does this by giving Odysseus advice about how to return back home, “So she enticed and won our battle-hardened spirits over.” indicating that he (Odysseus) was supposed to indulge in the goods ie., food and any luxury items (after she was punished by the Gods) and accept her offerings. Here, the book suggests that the luxuries of Circe’s home were providing the comfort that he needed after his experiences in the Trojan War. Just as some of Odysseus’ men forget what they have suffered and indulge into what is offered, Odysseus too temporarily succumbs to the temptation to suspend his own grief.

 

Temptation 

In the Odyssey, the theme of temptation was considered to be an evil act or a sin, but most importantly a negative trait. Odysseus’ character has shown several instances when he has been tempted. These temptations tend to range from the satisfaction of hunger to pride and sensual pleasures. An example would be when Odysseus’ soldiers see the Lotus-eaters and they instantly fall to that temptation. Odysseus too was so tempted by Circe’s beauty but manages to save himself in the nick of time. This is to show that he is different from his crew members as he knows how to restrain himself. The most notable scene is when Odysseus asks his crewmembers to be tied to his ship’s mast so that he can hear the Siren’s songs and find answers to find his way home. They began to sing, “Odysseus! Come here! You are well known…. The music brings them joy, and they go on their way with greater knowledge, since we know everything the Greeks and Trojans suffered in Troy… and we know whatever happens anywhere on Earth.” Odysseus admits that their song was melodious and he wanted to hear more. However, he learns to resist them and supports his men so that they can continue their journey back to Ithaca. Although this was a very heroic action of Odysseus’, he portrays a more honourable action later. As in the end, when Odysseus reaches Ithaca, he resists killing the suitors and waits for the perfect time. Thus, showing his difference from his own men of not falling to temptation and restraining himself. 

 

Revenge 

Revenge is an important underlying theme in The Odyssey because it essentially explains why Odysseus’ homecoming journey was so prolonged and dangerous. An example would be Poseidon taking his revenge on Odysseus, similarly to Odysseus taking revenge on the suitors for trying to marry his wife, Penelope. The first case, where Poseidon was taking revenge on Odysseus was in Book 5. Odysseus had escaped the great cyclops Polyphemus (son of Poseidon) by blinding him with a stake. This action enraged Poseidon. However, Poseidon was unable to kill Odysseus as “the Fates” reminded him that Odysseus will return home. Even though Odysseus will return home, Poseidon ensures that Odysseus will arrive in Ithaca late, alone, broken, without his shipmates and his household in disorder. When he does this he says, “My goal is not to kill you. You must understand. That without the gods, man is nothing”. Another instance where Poseidon takes his revenge when the Phaeacians follow their tradition of providing hospitality to Odysseus. Odysseus too takes his revenge by killing the suitors one by one, after he comes home to see them feasting and dining in his halls. “You fools, how dare you take my things and rape my servant girls…” Odysseus’ avenges the lack of respect from the suitors and the lack of loyalty from the servants for his office, his family and property. Odysseus avenges the suitors’ lack of respect for and the servants’ lack of loyalty to his office, his property, and his family. 

 

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