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An Analysis of Loyalty in Homer’s Odyssey

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    In short, The Odyssey is a story of the war hero Odysseus’ pain and suffering caused by the extensive separation from his family and home during the chronicle of events after the fall of Troy. In the unraveling of these adventures, the reader is immersed in a world of heroic feats, strange creatures and lustful gods. However, behind all the myths and legends, there are a wide variety of underlying themes and concepts, which not only develop the plot and characters, but also leave lasting implications on the audience. One of the most striking themes presented in The Odyssey is loyalty.

    Loyalty is recurs time and time again throughout the epic poem and is portrayed through the loyal relationship between god and men, the loyalty of Odysseus’ subjects until his death and most importantly Penelope unyielding faith in Odysseus’ return. Through the use of these characters and their devotion to Odysseus, Homer demonstrates the importance he places on loyalty while also developing an endearing and palpable epic. Greek Gods are an integral part of Greek mythology and play an essential role in its culture and literature. All the events which occur in the Odyssey, including Odysseus’ fate, are decided by the Gods.

    Despite the many trials and tribulations presented to Odysseus, he still remains loyal to the Gods he worships and in return, the Gods provide him aide and protection throughout his journey. In the first few pages of the poem, Athena, the daughter of Zeus begins the tale by supporting Odysseus’ loyalty to the Gods in the statement, “Did he never win your favor with sacrifices burned beside the ships on the broad plain of Troy? ” after Zeus revealed that he does not favor Odysseus and is “dead set” against his success. This scene essentially shows that Odysseus’ loyalty to the Gods have a direct effect on his fate.

    Due to Odysseus’ past sacrifices, Athena is able to convince Zeus to allow her to aid Odysseus and his family. There are a variety of instances throughout the story, which portray Odysseus’ faith in the Gods; he makes sacrifices during his visit to Hades and after he had defeated the Cyclops Polyphemus. In return for his loyalty, the Gods, particularly Athena guide him on his journey. When Odysseus’ ship is struck by lightning, the Goddess Ino provides him with a magical cloak, which prevents him from drowning. Hermes, the messenger of the gods, also helped Odysseus by giving him a pecial herb, which rendered him immune to Circe’s spell that turned his men in to swine. While Odysseus’ loyalty towards the God’s proved valuable in the success of his journey, there were instances where disloyalty set him back. After being captured by Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon, Odysseus blinds the Cyclops with a flaming stake and escapes by hanging on the bellies of the ram owned by Polyphemus. As Odysseus sails away, he exclaims “I am not nobody; I am Odysseus, Son of Laertes, King of Ithaca” this act of hubris and dishonor angers Poseidon who then curses Odysseus, sending storms and contrary winds to hinder his path.

    Although the loyalty men held towards the Gods play an important role in the Odyssey, it is the loyalty between mortals that leave the most impact. Loyalty, as defined by The Odyssey, can be characterized by an event occurring towards the end of the poem when Odysseus finally returns to Ithaca. Upon his return, Odysseus noticed a dog asleep in the street that ‘raised his head and pricked up his ears’. This dog, named Argos, belonged to Odysseus before he had left for the war and “as soon as he saw Odysseus standing there, he dropped his ears and wagged his tail”.

    Despite being “neglected on the heaps of mule and cow dung” for years while Odysseus was at war, Argos still strived to stay alive only to see his owner one last time before ‘passing into the darkness of death’. Argos’ loyalty to Odysseus exemplifies the traits of loyalty portrayed by other characters towards Odysseus throughout the poem. When Odysseus returned to Ithaca after a twenty-year absence, he disguised himself as a beggar so that he could survey the situation and find out who he could still trust. Eumaeus, Odysseus’ swineherd, is one of the characters, which stayed loyal to Odysseus until the end.

    Eumaeus was one of Odysseus’s’ most trusted subjects; he was the first person Odysseus visited when he returned to Ithaca. When Odysseus approached him, still disguised as the beggar, Eumaeus suspected Odysseus’ true identity and exclaimed, “prayed to all the divinities that they might grant the homecoming of thoughtful Odysseus” immediately showing that he was still loyal to the king. When Odysseus revealed himself as the returned king and proposed his plan to eliminate all the suitors of his wife, Eumaeus did not hesitate in agreeing and did his best to help out.

    After twenty years, Eumaeus still remained faithful to his master. Even though he could have easily betrayed Odysseus, his unwavering loyalty broke through and he risked his life to aid Odysseus murdering all the suitors despite the dangerous and precarious situation. Another outstanding example of loyalty in the Odyssey is portrayed through Telemachus, Odysseus’ son. Despite never actually meeting his father, Telemachus agreed to embark on a mission to search for any information linked to Odysseus.

    Although there was perpetual doubt about his father being still alive after 20 years, Telemachus still stayed faithful in hope that one day Odysseus would return. He kept searching for information while also helping his mother refrain from remarrying any of the other suitors. After Odysseus finally returned to Ithaca and revealed himself, Telemachus was overjoyed. He immediately joined his father in getting rid of the suitors. Odysseus warned him, saying, “If you truly are my own son, born of our own blood, then let nobody hear that Odysseus is in the palace”.

    Telemachus vowed to not tell anybody, not even his mother. He understood that if the suitors learned Odysseus was back, they would be alert, which would make the plan to murder them more difficult. Together they devised the revenge on the suitors in secret, keeping Odysseus’ identity hidden until the last moment. When Odysseus was disguised as a beggar, and the suitors were mocking him, Telemachus kept his promise and stayed out of it, in order to keep them from becoming suspicious about why he cared so much about a beggar.

    Although it hurt him to see his father abused in his own home, he followed Odysseus’s directions and restrained himself from punishing the suitors to prevent any suspicious of his father’s real identity. Telemachus’ blind loyalty to a man that he has never even met can be attributed to the importance placed on father-son relationships in ancient Greece. This importance in relationship can be seen when men state their father’s name when introducing themselves as Odysseus does through out the poem, “I am Odysseus, Son of Laertes”.

    The last and perhaps most prominent example of loyalty is that of Penelope to her husband. After being forced to rule a kingdom alone for twenty years, Penelope still had not remarried, despite numerous attempts by numerous suitors. Even though it was almost widely accepted that Odysseus had died on his journey back from the Trojan War, Penelope kept her faith and delayed attempts of marriage by the suitors. Penelope claimed that she would choose a suitor after she had completed weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law.

    However, every night for three years she would undo part of the shroud to stall for time. Even after she agrees to choose one of the suitors, she announces that she would only marry the person who could string Odysseus’ bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe shafts. This task was only ever completed by Odysseus himself, which shows that Penelope refuses to be with anyone but her husband. Although, Odysseus cheats on Penelope while on his journey back to Ithaca, it is suggested that his heart always belonged to Penelope.

    After Odysseus has an affair with the Goddess Calypso, he states that “the gods brought me to the island Ogygia, where Calypso lives, with ordered hair, a dread goddess, and she received me and loved me excessively and cared for me, and she promised to make me an immortal and all my days to be ageless, but never so could she win over the heart within me. ” This meant that Odysseus passively gave into Calypso and never truly loved her. This point is emphasized at the very end of the poem when Odysseus asks his servant to move his and Penelope’s marriage bed, however, it does not budge.

    This shows that Penelope and Odysseus’ mutual loyalty for each other was solidified the day they were married and can never be moved. Of all the heroic traits such as honor and glory, given to the reader through Homer’s epic poems loyalty seems to be the strongest. Through the use of the characters Eumaeus, Telemachus and Penelope loyalty is demonstrated to Odysseus, the hero if the poem. Their undying loyalty and devotion to the warring hero gives perfect examples of how humans should act to those they claim to be faithful too.

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