The Odyssey comparison

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The main conflict in the Odyssey is Odysseus’s perseverance. Despite the death of most of his comrades during his journey back home from the Trojan War, he continues on. O Brother, Where Art Thou shares a similar theme of perseverance, as a group of men face obstacles and people trying to hinder their mission. There are numerous similarities between O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the Odyssey, from explicit references to more subtle connections. The film includes a direct quote from the Odyssey’s first line, “O Muse! Sing in me, and through me tell the story…”

The film features several characters with names that closely resemble those in the Odyssey. The main character, Ulysses Everett McGill, bears the name Ulysses, which is the Latin equivalent of Odysseus, a Greek name. Menelaus ‘Pappy’ O’Daniel, who ultimately releases the group of men, shares his first name with the King of Sparta who fought alongside Odysseus during the Trojan War. Homer Stokes, Pappy O’Daniel’s rival in the election, shares his first name with the renowned author of the classical text. Everett’s wife goes by Penny, a shortened form of Penelope—the wife of Odysseus. The blind man at the radio station may represent Homer himself as he was also blind and wrote down Odysseus’ story; similarly, this blind radio operator is the first to document Everett and his companions. Additionally, both Odysseus and Everett encounter similar obstacles due to their excessive pride hindering their success.

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In the film, there are several similarities between Everett and Odysseus. For example, when Everett calls out his name and hometown to Polyphemus the Cyclopes, it causes more trouble for him, just like when Polyphemus asks Poseidon for help against Odysseus. Throughout the movie, Everett consistently uses a hair product, symbolizing his pride. Interestingly, it is revealed that the pomade’s scent allows dogs to easily track the group after Everett refuses baptism. Pete even mentions that if Everett had agreed to be baptized, it would have removed the pomade’s scent. Furthermore, at the end of the film, there are parallels between Penelope and Penny. Like Penelope in The Odyssey, Penny gives Everett an almost impossible task of finding a ring. Similarly, Odysseus has one final quest in The Odyssey involving stringing a bow and shooting through a line of 12 axes. Additionally, just as Odysseus tests Penelope by disguising himself before her eyes, Everett also disguises himself on stage during “Man of Constant Sorrow” performance. It is only when he reveals himself that Penny recognizes him as well.

In the film, comparisons are made between the monsters and other characters encountered by Odysseus in the Odyssey. Big Dan Teague is connected to Polyphemus the Cyclops from the original story. Just like Odysseus and his crew, who used a sharpened log to put out the sleeping Cyclops’ eye, Big Dan is almost blinded by the sharpened pole of the Confederate flag but manages to catch it. However, he meets his ultimate fate when Everett releases a flaming cross that crushes him. The falling burning cross then drives a pointed stake into Teague’s remaining eye, completing the parallel to the Cyclops.

Another parallel can be seen with the Sirens on an island, who try to lure Odysseus and his men with their enchanting singing. In this film, they do exactly that and successfully hypnotize Everett, Delmar, and Pete, coercing them into drinking alcohol until they pass out. Furthermore, similar to how Circe transforms Odysseus’ companions into pigs in the Odyssey, a group of sirens in this film turns Pete into a toad.

The blind black man on the railroad push car may also draw parallels with Nestor in the Odyssey. Both Homer himself (the author of Odyssey) and this blind black man possess blindness and beards which further connects them.

Lastly, one can interpret that Sheriff Cooley represents Hades in Greek mythology while his hound echoes Cerberus as they both symbolize mercilessness.In addition, a possible connection between Satan and Poseidon is mentioned by Everett when he describes Satan’s trident as a “giant hay fork”. Both characters are commonly depicted with similar tools. The dire situation faced by the travelers in the Hogwallop barn can be compared to Odysseus’ perilous time navigating Scylla and Charybdis. Similar to the Odyssey, Everett expresses his frustration by exclaiming “Damn! We are in a difficult situation!” A group of devoted followers eagerly seek baptism, displaying a calmness reminiscent of the Lotus-Eaters from the Odyssey. After Delmar receives his baptism, he vows to only follow a righteous path going forward, possibly mirroring Odysseus’ crew’s lack of desire to continue their journey after encountering the Lotus-Eaters. George Nelson shoots at a herd of cows, similar to how Odysseus and his companions kill Helios’ sacred cows.

Odysseus advises his crew against killing the sacred oxen, just like how Delmar warns Nelson by exclaiming “Oh, George, not the livestock!” Furthermore, in Odysseus’ tale, a thunderbolt strikes his ship and everyone except him perishes. Similarly, in the movie, George is sentenced to death by electric chair. During the parade leading up to his execution, someone shouts “Cow killer!!” while walking a cow behind an angry mob. George Nelson can be associated with Agamemnon who persuades Odysseus to join the Greeks in their battle against Troy, much like how Nelson convinces Everett and the boys to assist him in robbing banks. Towards the end of the film when they infiltrate city hall, they disguise themselves with beards similar to how Odysseus disguises himself with beggars clothes, long hair and a beard when he sneaks into his homeland. The scene at the theater where Pete tries to warn Everett and Delmar mirrors Odysseus’ journey into Hades in the underworld. Delmar mistaking Pete for a ghost represents Odysseus’ encounter with Tiresias in the underworld. Another parallel to this underworld experience is seen during KKK’s cross-burning ceremony where Pete, Delmar and Everett descend down a steep incline and emerge drenched in red glow from burning flames. These flames along with chanting chorus and grand wizard clad in red robes all contribute to creating an infernal atmosphere.Everett’s daughters represent Telemachus, the son of Odysseus. The film follows the concept of “in media res,” which refers to being in the midst of events. In this case, Everett encounters his daughters prior to his wife, mirroring how Odysseus first reunites with his son before seeing Penelope.

The text emphasizes the connections between the novel “The Odyssey” and the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Both narratives employ similar storytelling techniques. In “The Odyssey,” Odysseus’ entrapment on Calypso’s island is hinted at before being revealed later in the epic. Similarly, the film begins with Everett, Delmar, and Pete escaping from a labor farm without initially explaining how they got there. The influence of ancient literature is evident in the dialogue between Everett and his daughters who use Latin terms such as “bona fide” to refer to Waldrip while Everett identifies himself as the “pater familias.” The girls also mention the word “suitor” twice. Greek columns are seen in a scene where the trio and George Nelson gather around a fire after a robbery. At one point, Everett intervenes to prevent a marriage and fights Vernon, resembling Odysseus’ return to kill suitors. However, unlike Odysseus, Vernon severely beats Everett. These examples support the argument that “The Odyssey” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” have significant connections. Interestingly, although the directors claim not to have read the book, they acknowledge its influential impact. Nevertheless, many believe that achieving such similar outcomes would require prior knowledge of the source material.This source supports the claim that, despite some considering the comparison to be loose, it had a significant influence according to my strong belief and that of others.

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The Odyssey comparison. (2016, Oct 21). Retrieved from

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