Homer’s The Odyssey

Table of Content

Question Number One

            In his introductory essay on Homer’s The Odyssey, Bernard Knox states that the term ‘odyssey’ refers to “a series of adventurous journeys usually marked by many changes of fortune” (3).Knox claims that this definition of the term was derived from the Greek word ‘odusseia’ which may be literally understood as “the story of Odysseus” (Homer 3). Within the text, it was not only Odysseus who may be said to have had ‘a series of adventurous journeys’, his son Telemachus may also be considered as a character who underwent a journey himself.

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            Telemachus’ journey was set within the period of his growth from boyhood to manhood. As it is usually the case with Greek literature, his life was partially determined by the desires of the gods. In his case, the god who partially determined the course of his life was Athena. In the Book I Athena states that she will stir courage in Telemachus’ heart to call a council where he will condemn his mother’s suitors (Homer 52). The text states that initially Athena roused Telemachus “to a brave pitch, inspire his heart with courage” (Homer 52). The result of which was his call to council for her mother’s suitors to leave their house. This was followed by his journey to seek his father. This journey proved to be important for Telemachus for several reasons: (1) It enabled Telemachus to set out the initial steps for his revenge towards his mother’s suitors and (2) It enabled Telemachus to be privy to the life and values of the heroes.

In summary, one might state that Telemachus’ journey may be said to have enabled his psychological development, his education, his growth into manhood, his creation and development of his character and ultimately his introduction to the heroic world of his father Odysseus.

Question Number Two

            The distinction between Aeneas and Odysseus’ encounter with the cyclops, Polymphemus is evident if one considers both the factual and cultural events which determined and defined both characters’ encounter with Polymphemus. Odysseus’ encounter occurs earlier than that of Aeneas. In The Odyssey, one is presented with the tale of Odysseus outsmarting Polymphemus by initially blinding Polymphemus and escaping from the cyclops cave through the later’s sheep. Odysseus further outsmarts the cyclops by referring to himself as Nobody thereby making a fool out of the cyclops when he shouts out to his comrades that he has been blinded by Nobody. In the process of shouting this, Polymphemus is asserting that he has been blinded by no one while at the same time asserting that as a result of this he has become no one. He has become no one as a result of the loss of his identity since the distinctive characteristic which makes one a cyclops is his possession of single eye.

 It is important to note, that it was Odysseus who set out to introduce the cyclops with the notion of communication. It is important to note that given the primitive characteristics of their way of life, the cyclopses were generally considered to be ruled by silence. Such a rule of silence however was broken by Odysseus when he referred to Polymphemus with the aforementioned name. The literal interpretation of which is ‘much speech’. This initial introduction to communication however proved to be detrimental for the cyclops since it led to his blindness and the loss of his identity. At another level, one might note that the introduction of communication led to the loss of the colonized entity’s identity [wherein Polymphemus is the colonized entity and Odysseus is the colonizer]

            As opposed to Odysseus who encountered Polymphemus before he has been affected by travelers both physically and culturally, Aeneas encountered Polymphemus after he was blinded by Odysseus. One might thereby state that Aeneas encountered Polymphemus when he had lost his identity. As opposed to The Odyssey which features an escape, The Aeneid features a rescue. Within the text, Aeneas is depicted as enabling the rescue of one of Odysseus’ men who was left behind during Odysseus escape. One might thereby state that The Aeneid presents an instance wherein Aeneas rescues the product between the intermingling of Polymphemus and his unknown captive’s way of life. In accordance to aforementioned allegory, one might state that Virgil depicts the results of this colonization upon a part of the colonizer’s identity.

Question Number Three

            The sins of incontinence are the sins of the she-wolf [la lupa]. Like the other sins, these sins affect the heart rather than the mind of the individual. Dante states, “Albeit in horrible inversion. Malice, bestiality, and incontinence, the dispositions incarnate in fraud, violence and lust, correspond to disorders in the rational, irascible, and concupiscent appetites” (Dante 274). The effects of these sins on the appetites of man are evident if one considers that Dante’s classification of sins cohere with the combination of Aristotle’s virtue ethics and Aquinas’ scholastic ethics.

It is important to note that Aristotle’s ethical system considers vice, incontinence, and bestiality as corresponding to the three degrees of badness which are a result of the weakness of an individual’s will. In line with this, Aquinas’ scholastic ethics considers the weakness of the will as a sin which leads either to the aversion from the good or the conversion towards the good. In both cases, the individual is prone to experience punishment.

The manifestations of these ethical systems in Dante’s The Inferno are evident if one considers that the sins are arranged in a hierarchy, each of which is prone to punishment, the scale of which is determined by the scale to which the individual experiences and acts as a result of the weakness of his will. In the case of the sins of incontinence which involves the sins of impulse brought about by reason’s inability to curb the desires of the individual [more specifically the sins of carnal lust, gluttony, avarice, and anger] the punishments vary and are dependent upon the degree to which the aforementioned sins leads to an individual’s incontinence. Consider for example, in Upper Hell [which refers to Circles Two to Five] carnal lust is punished in Circle Two by continuously tossing and whirling the individual upon the wind thereby forever damning the individual to the feelings of uncertainty which he succumbed to in life. Since carnal lust stands as a result of an individual’s inability to curb his passions [e.g. sexual passions] with reason, the punishment is apt given that it continuously places the individual in a position of doubt as to whether he will or will not succumb to his passions. The dreadfulness of this punishment is evident if one considers that the assumption of the ethical systems that Dante used in The Inferno assumes that the individual constantly desires the attainment of a good life. In the context of Aristotle’s ethical system, this refers to a virtuous life whereas in the context of Aquinas’ ethical system, this refers to a life in accordance to the will of God. Since being continuously placed in control of the wind leads to the feelings of the continuous inability to decide against one’s passions and since this feeling negates the individual’s desire for the ‘good’, the punishment is apt since it continuously reminds the individual of his inability to attain the ‘good’ as a result of the importance he placed on carnal lust during his life.

Works Cited

Dante. The Inferno. Trans. John Ciardi. London: Rutgers, 1954.

Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. Intro. Bernard Knox. London: Penguin Classics, 1997.

Virgil. The Aeneid. Trans. Robert Fagles. Intro. Bernard Knox. London: Viking, 2006.

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Homer’s The Odyssey. (2016, Jul 01). Retrieved from


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