Kleos in The Odyssey by Homer

Heroic glory occupies a very crucial place in the Indo-European epic tradition, because the Greek society is a shame culture, in which being honoured is one of the primary purposes of people’s lives. Hence, the concept of kleos formed an essential part of the bardic tradition which helped the people to maintain the heroic stature of the mythical heroes from generation to generation. This is why, it has got an important place in the Greek epics also.

In The Odyssey by Homer also, we find indirect references to the kleos of the eponymous hero Oddyseus and his son Telemachus. In the words of Nagy, “Kleos is the formal word which the singer himself used to designate the songs which he sang in praises of God and man or by extension the songs which people learnt to sing from him.” Kleos is also the objectification of the hero’s personal survival in epic song, the imperishable fame which lives among men and keeps alive the hero’s name.Thus as Nagy points out, “The usual translation of Kleos as fame is inadequate, for fame indicates only the consequences rather than the full semantic range.

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” He says that the actions of gods and heroes gain fame through the medium of the singer’s words, and the singer calls his medium kleos.So, simplistically, kleos is the sung and heard glory of a person. In the 9th book of the epic, titled The Cyclops, Odysseus tells the Phaecian king Alcinous about his glory. He says ‘I am Odysseus, Laerte’s son.

The whole world talks of my strategems,and my fame has reached the heavens.’ Usually, kleos is mainly dependent upon what the world thinks of the character, but this is the only instance in the epic where a character talks about his own kleos, which is usually sung by the bards. Kleos is usually attained and portrayed in the battlefield. But here, Homer views Odysseus’ kleos retrospectively, when Odysseus glorifies himself while being at a safe place away from the battlefield.

Aware of the increasing discrepancies between the heroic world of the epic cycle and the contemporary world of his audience, the poet of the Odyssey tries to draw attention of the audience to the fact that kleos exists only through songs, because kleos depends on hearsay. The magic of the singer is necessary to make these deeds appear glorious and reputable in the society.In book 4, Penelope’s speech also hints at the glory of Odyssey, when she, lamenting upon the apparent loss of her noble and courageous husband, says, ‘I had a husband years ago, the best and the bravest of the Danaans, a lion hearted man, famous from Helas to the heart of Argos. That husband I have lost.

’ This, in a way, metaphorcically depicts the needy perspective of Ithaca, which has a dire requirement for a leader like Odyssey. Here, Penelope, endows Odysseus with the traditional, wide spreading kleos. This also, is an unusual form in which kleos is spread, on the basis of remembrance of Odysseus’ deeds when simultaneously he’s fighting enemies, earning more kleos. Now we also look into the kleos of Telemachus which is unknowingly earned by him in order to be able to remove the suitors from the palace.

In the epic, he is guided throughout his journey by goddess Athene who asks Telemachus to make a journey in order to find his father so that he may gain some credits from people who knew Odysseus to add some kleos to his name as it was a tradition to pass down their kleos to thier sons. It seems that this is finally achieved when Athene disguised as Mentor says,”I think Gods have blessed…

your progress to manhood”. Another instance of kleos in The Odyssey is in book 19, named ‘Euricleia recognizes Odysseus’ when Odysseus says to Penelope that no man could find fault with her and that her praises have reached the heavens, like that of an illustrious king whose rule is very just. This is one of rare instances where a woman is seen to have earned kleos. An irony regarding kleos in The Odyssey is seen when Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, asks Penelope to not to inquire about his lineage as he thinks that it would make him weep.

This is in stark contrast of heroic nature, when the hero proudly wishes to hear the songs of his glory from others. The importance that the Greeks assign to Kleos is evident in the speech of Penelope addressing Odysseus when he is disguised as a beggar when she says that her name would be embellished and enhanced if her husband would return, still devoted to her. Penelope’s concern about her kleos shows the significance it holds for her in the shame culture that she’s a part of. However, in one instance, the concept of Kleos is depicted in a different light.

It has been portrayed as something futile and irrelevant when contrasted with the value for life. This is when, in book 11, The book of the dead, Homer provides us with the viewpoint of Achilles,a great Greek warrior, who lost his life in the Trojan war. Here, Achilles clearly states that he would rather work the soil as a serf on hire to some landless impoverished peasant than be the King of all the lifeless dead. This is suggestive of the fact that dying a glorified death gets reduced to an act of sheer foolishness when the importance of life dawns upon the one who actually dies.

In this case, we get to know a dead warrior’s take on the futility of glory after death.

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