I believe that the main human conflict of the Odyssey is perseverance. Throughout the novel it shows Odysseus’s multiyear journey back home from the Trojan War with his comrades even after most of them die on the journey. The modern work that I will be comparing the Odyssey to is O Brother, Where Art Thou. Both of the works are about the perseverance of a group of men that are encountered by numerous people that get in the way or attempt to stop them from accomplishing their mission. The similarities between O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Homer’s Odyssey are numerous, ranging from the obvious to the obscure. The only direct reference is the line of text shown at the beginning of the film, “O Muse! Sing in me, and through me tell the story…”, which is one translation of the first line of the Odyssey.
In addition to this, there are a few characters in the film that share names with similar characters in the Odyssey, Ulysses which is the Latin form of the Greek name Odysseus is the first name of the film’s main character, Ulysses Everett McGill. Menelaus ‘Pappy’ O’Daniel, who releases the group of men at the end, shares his first name with the King of Sparta who fought alongside Odysseus at Troy. Pappy O’Daniel’s rival in the election is Homer Stokes, who shares his first name with the author of the classical text. Odysseus’ wife was named Penelope. Penny, a shortened version of Penelope, is the name of Everett’s wife. The blind man in the radio station may also represent Homer, the author of the Odyssey who was also blind. Just as Homer was the first to record the story of Odysseus, the blind radio station operator is the first to record Everett and his group. Similarities between Odysseus and Everett Odysseus’ pride works against his success.
Such as when he yells his name and hometown to Polyphemus the Cyclopes and now knowing that, Polyphemus is able to ask Poseidon to cause more trouble for Odysseus. All throughout the film Everett applies a product to his hair, suggesting his pride, and in one scene after he refuses to be baptized, viewers learn that the smell of the pomade is how the dogs are able to track the group so easily. Pete even mentions that, had Everett agreed to be baptized, “At least it would’ve washed away the stink of that Pomade.” Parallels between Penelope and Penny at the end of the film, Everett’s wife sets him a near-impossible task of retrieving a ring. At the end of the Odyssey, Odysseus still has a quest left as well: he must string the bow and fire it through a row of 12 axes. Odysseus tested Penelope’s faith by first appearing before her in disguise, and Penelope does not recognize him, until he later reveals himself. Everett appears in disguise on stage when the group sings “Man of Constant Sorrow.” Penny also does not recognize him until he reveals himself to her.
There are also comparisons of the monsters and others met by Odysseus. Big Dan Teague is related to Polyphemus the Cyclops. In the Odyssey, the cyclops falls asleep drunk and has his eye put out by Odysseus and his crew with a sharpened log. In the film, Big Dan is almost blinded by the sharpened pole of the Confederate flag but catches it, only to be crushed underneath the flaming cross that Everett releases. The falling burning cross then drives the pointed stake into Teague’s only good eye, therefore completing the parallel to the Cyclops. The Sirens on the island try and lure Odysseus and his men with their singing. In the film they do the same and hypnotize Everett, Delmar and Pete, and coerce them to drink alcohol until they pass out. The sorceress Circe successfully turns the companions of Odysseus into pigs. In the film, the group of sirens goes and turns Pete into a toad. The blind black man on the railroad push car could be a parallel to Nestor, who is consulted by Odysseus’ son Telemachus. As another parallel Homer himself was according to tradition blind and bearded. The merciless sheriff is perhaps analogous to Hades and his hound echoes Cerberus. A link between Satan and Poseidon may be being made when Everett mentions that Satan carries “a giant hay fork” (a trident); both figures are often depicted with just such an instrument. The travelers’ siege in the Hogwallop barn relates to Odysseus’s dangerous time between Scylla and Charybdis when Everett helplessly cries “Damn! We’re in a tight spot!”. There is a trance-like progression of worshippers seeking to be baptised. Their quietness draws a parallel with the Lotus-Eaters of the Odyssey. Immediately after Delmar is baptized, he proclaims he will only follow “the straight and narrow from here on out.” This may be an allusion to the crew of Odysseus no longer wanting to continue on their quest after an encounter with the Lotus-Eaters. At one point George Nelson shoots at a herd of cattle. Odysseus and his fellow travelers slaughter the cows of the sun god Helios.
Odysseus warns his men against killing the sacred oxen. Delmar warns Nelson, “Oh, George, not the livestock!” In addition to this, in the Odyssey Odysseus’ ship is struck by a thunderbolt killing all but him. In the film, George is sent to be executed in the electric chair. During the parade to the execution, someone leading a cow behind the mob yells, “Cow killer!!!” George Nelson is a parallel to Agamemnon, who persuaded Odysseus into joining the Greeks against Troy, while Nelson enlisted Everett and the boys as accomplices in his bank-robbing spree. When the guys sneak into the city hall towards the end of the movie, they disguise themselves by wearing beards. This could reference how Odysseus sneaks into his hometown dressed in beggars clothes with long hair and beard. The scene in the theater, when Pete tries to warn Everett and Delmar, parallels Odysseus’ descent into the underworld, Hades. Delmar, believing that Pete had died, mistakes him (and thus also the other people in the theater) for a ghost. In this scene Pete parallels Tiresias in the underworld. Another underworld parallel is the KKK’s cross-burning ceremony. Pete, Delmar, and Everett fall down a steep incline (hence, a descent), and rise bathed in the red light of the flames of the Klan’s ceremony. The flames, chanting chorus of a song and the grand wizard in his red robes all suggest a hellish place. Everett’s daughters stand for Odysseus’s son Telemachus. In the film, Everett first meets his daughters again, before he meets his wife, as Odysseus first meets his son, and later on Penelope. The movie follows the theme of “in media res”, which means “in the middle of things.”
The Odyssey begins by telling of Odysseus being trapped on Calypso’s island without telling how he became trapped there until later in the epic. The film begins with Everett, Delmar, and Pete escaping from the labor farm without telling how they arrived there in the first place. The dialogue in a scene between Everett and his daughters also use a reference to its ancient influence. Using Latin terms, one of the girls says that Waldrip is bona fide, and Everett responds that he is the pater familias. The girls also use the word suitor twice. In the scene where the trio and George Nelson are sitting around the fire after the robbery at Itta Bena, there are Greek columns in the background. Everett also comes back to stop the marriage and fight Vernon, much as Odysseus comes back to kill the suitors. Everett, however, is badly beaten by Vernon. These examples tie together the fact that the novel the Odyssey and the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou are connected. The directors of the movie claim to not have read the book and used it as an influential piece but how can you get such a similar result without having that background knowledge. This source supports my claim here (http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/mou/summary/v007/7.3.siegel.html). Though some view it as a loose comparison I believe just like many other people that it was a heavy influence.