"The Odyssey"


Literary Analysis of The Odyssey with Close Reading

On the way of homecoming after the Trojan War and reaching the goal in reunion with his family in Ithaca, Homer’s Odyssey seems to reflect a particular set of values, which are viewed in his character beyond all the adventures that happen to him and his men during the ten-year journey. Throughout the epic poem, Odyssey, or Ulysses in its Roman equivalent, displays his characteristic solicitude as a leader trying to make the journey home as safe as it depends on his strengths for his companions. As a leader, he possesses all the aspects of heroic code being brave, selfless, initiative, and skillful in long-term journeys. Nonetheless, Odyssey makes a lot of crucial choices that expose his crew to danger, though it gives him leadership experience and, despite all the losses, creates a great leader worthy of leading the crew. Besides, Ulysses is regarded as an excellent sample of an inhabitant of Ithaca Island, who feels homesick and even nostalgic, to some extent. Therefore, the paper will deal with two brief passages that serve the deductive function of the whole poem and provoke in a reader’s mind a certain prototype of the main hero’s character, who is being a leader and a caring husband to his Penelope and father to their son Telemachus. These extracts embrace the scenes of meeting with Cyclops Polyphemus and homecoming while taking into consideration the moment of Ulysses’ recognition by his wife, which precisely characterize the hero from both leadership and domestic perspectives.

Cyclops Polyphemus

  • The first scene stands for Ulysses and his crew’s having reached the cave of Cyclops who at that time “was out shepherding”, which serves as one of the Ulysses’ narratives of their adventures on the way home from Troy within a literary technique in media res that is used in the Book Nine (Homer 105). Thus, it is the first-person narrative and a flashback that is ascribed to revealing hero’s characteristics as a person who is able to lead a crew homeward. Besides, Ulysses tends to narrate in accordance to his experience focalization concerning the events that were undergone in the past. The storytelling that takes place in the temporality of reaching Cyclops’ cave is equal to describing the spatial peculiarities of the monster’s dwelling. The description of the cave resembles peculiar features of Cyclops being a thrifty owner who had “more lambs and kids than his pens could hold” and whose “cheese-racks were loaded with cheeses” (Homer 105). These quotes describing Cyclops’ properties speak out about farming nature of the owner though do not necessarily mean his hospitality as mistakenly considered it to be so by Ulysses. It has been rather a bad decision than an advantage of the leader to expose his companions to be trapped by the giant.

The Ulysses’ narrative comprises a great amount of cultural references and proper names like “Achaeans” (as the inhabitants of Achaea in Greece), “Troy” (as the city of King Priam), “Agamemnon, son of Atreus”, a god “Jove” who “takes all respectable travelers under his protection”, etc (Homer 106). These historical and mythological names create verisimilitude of the intro-diegetic author. Relying on respected among his people gods and some outstanding persona, Ulysses is expected to obtain the obligatory hospitality and presents to the “respectable travelers” (Homer 106). In addition, Ulysses had shown his leadership qualities in terms of showing courage, fearlessness, and, above all, willingness to save his companions, when reached forward right in front of the giant, in order to ask him for hostility and shelter. Nevertheless, a self-confident leader could not anticipate a “pitiless answer” that the whole crew had to witness, which tended to be rude from the first Cyclops’ utterance that called in question the descent and positions of the crew members (Homer 107). Besides, it is presented in the form of stylistic device chiasmus “… do you sail the as rovers, with your hands against every man, and every man’s hand against you” that also serves as an ironical technique (Homer 106). Cyclops has shown his total disrespect towards those people and gods they worship. Ulysses proves to be not only a brave but a clever and cunning leader, as well; thus, having not told the correct place of their ship location, which is also described by the non-standard linguistic structures. The metaphor “the jaws of death” stands for Ulysses’ creativity and charismatic personal traits (Homer 107).

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Concerning structural elements, this extract is regarded to be quite simple and logically bound, though there are several contextual repetitions that color the content. Therefore, Cyclops tends to be a creature of habits and repeated actions in terms of having a meal. He was eating two human beings for the evening and morning meals as a delicacy to his habitual food “like lion in the wilderness… without leaving anything uneaten” (Homer 107). This simile serves as a stylistic device in order to describe Polyphemus’ wild nature and emphasize on his inalienability to natural processes. The contextual repetition is strengthened by stylistic repetitions, which are met in text within some passage span. Book Nine embraces the stylistic repetition viewed through the description of morning emergence. Thus, the metaphor “when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared” that is repeated on the pages 104 and 107, draws a parallel to Cyclops’ repetition of his ritual with a breakfast (Homer 107).

Self-Confident Leader

Undoubtedly, Ulysses tends to become guilty because of having exposed his companions to “the jaws of death” in terms of being obsessed with the feeling of his own solemnity, greed, and irrational desire to receive presents from ‘humanlike’ giants. Moreover, it entailed a great amount of losses and deaths. Despite all the negative consequences, Ulysses has proven to be a courageous, clever, initiative, and reasonable leader in having though a way out from the crucial situation, in which they found themselves. He believed that Polyphemus would show an act of compassion while offering him to drink their wine that tasted “like nectar and ambrosia in one” (Homer 109). Nevertheless, Cyclops had not changed his plans of eating them all for his ingestions. First, Ulysses called himself Noman, though after having blinded Polyphemus and having got free from trap (not taking into account his crew members’ warnings), he asked Cyclops to eternalize the fame of “the valiant warrior Ulysses, son of Laertes, who lives in Ithaca” (Homer 112). For this witless boasting, the whole crew was suffering during ten years while Poseidon, Polyphemus’ father, cursed Ulysses to wander the sea.

  • The second excerpt chosen for the analysis deals with the episode of Ulysses’ returning to his home till the moment he discloses his true identity. This episode offers a quite double-sided depiction of the hero’s character, which may also be observed from the closer inspection of various exploited stylistic means and devices. Thus, periphrasis is used more than once to denote Ulysses, for instance, “master”, “a child of anger”, “stranger”, and “dear husband” (Homer 239-245). Nonetheless, the presented character of the hero truly corresponds to the names referring to a child of anger and stranger. Over the years of wandering and fighting for his life, Ulysses has undergone a radical transformation of becoming quite ruthless and merciless to the ones who have betrayed him. He is no longer the person he has been. There is a stark contrast between Ulysses depicted in the scene of hunting with his grandfather and the stranger talking to Penelope on the eve of the final conquest. Hence, the scene of hunting may be viewed as retardation that contributed to suspend the moment the old nurse recognizes her master.

Nonetheless, even in his youth despite his good looks and “beautiful eyes”, he was a decisive man, “the first to raise his spear and try to drive it into the brute”, yet he was not quick and sly enough to come out of a hazardous situation with maximum benefit and minimum harm (Homer 241). In the analyzed episode, he is depicted as an angry, ruthless man who knows how to achieve his ultimate goal in the most efficient way. He awaits the most suitable moment to reveal his true identity and pretends to be a stranger in his own home. However, his transformations are not entirely positive. He has acquired a mean and cruel streak in his personality as he threatens his nurse with death: “I will not spare you, though you are my own nurse, when I am killing the other women” (Homer 242). From this quote, it is obvious that he is no noble warrior combating people who are equally strong and skilled. On the one hand, his readiness to kill all women in his court, including the ones who have always loved him dearly, signifies his cruelty and meanness in his attempt to satisfy his suppressed anger. On the other hand, it may be interpreted as wisdom as he is going to get rid of traitors. It seems to be cruel and unthinkable in the contemporary world, but in the times of Homer, gender stereotypes concerning women’s slyness and evil were quite common.

Moreover, Ulysses is still arrogant despite all his adventures and the supposedly acquired wisdom. It is evident from his harsh comment after the nurse’s sincere desire to assist her master in revealing traitors: “I am well able to form my own opinion about one and all of them: hold your tongue and leave everything to heaven” (Homer 242). His authoritarian mode of communication changes a bit when he is talking to Penelope. He seems to be not so quite arrogant and cruel as he even tries to soothe her worries. However, he is also suspicious as he does not tell his wife the truth when she confesses that her life has become full of “unmeasurable woe” and “weeping and lamenting” (Homer 245). Homer depicts Penelope through the use of epithets and gradation in order to express her sorrow and faithfulness to her husband. Their attitudes to the happening events are contrasted due to her unwillingness to appease her suitors and his urge to organize the shooting contest. He is used to being listened to and his orders being fulfilled at once. Thus, his harshness and anger are expressed when he does not discourage Penelope from grieving and crying for him. It seems that her sorrow appeals to him because it is, in his understanding, a distorted way of proving her loyalty.

Therefore, the main hero tends to be quite ambiguous character while having analyzed his personality as a military leader and a layman in position of a husband, a father, and a ruler. Besides, his leadership qualities do not present a distinct picture as well in terms of his wise and irrational role-models of a leader. Further investigation in the field of literary analysis, and namely within Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey may concern the contrasting of two characters, Ulysses and Penelope, in terms of leadership and their implementation into development of their native city Ithaca.

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