Themes and Symbols in the Odyssey

Hospitality Hospitality is a major theme in the Odyssey. – Zeus’ law of hospitality (food, bath, rest, gift)- When Odysseus is on his journey, he is let into people’s homes such as Alcinous, king of Phaecia. (Alcinous helps Odysseus sail back home, to Ithaca)-the suitors take advantage over the law of hospitality in Ithaca, they make a mess of Odysseus’s home and they don’t respect Penelope and Telemachus – After Odysseus defeats Circe, she becomes very helpful to Odysseus (she tells him how to get past the sirens, Charybdis and Scylla)
The bed (made from the olive tree) The bed is an example of symbolism in the Odyssey- Odysseus built their (Odysseus and Penelope) bed from an olive tree (one of the bed posts is an olive tree)- The olive represents peace and it is Athena’s tree- When Odysseus returns home, Penelope doesn’t trust him and tests him using the bed. She tells him that he can stay and that Eurycleia will take their bed and move it into the hallway. Odysseus knows that that is impossible because the bed is rooted to the ground since it is part of the tree. This shows Penelope that Odysseus has really come back home and he is not an imposter. – Only Odysseus and Penelope know about the olive tree and the bed
Argos (Odysseus’s dog) Argos is an example of symbolism in the Odyssey- Before Odysseus left for war he took care of a puppy named Argos- When Odysseus returned to Ithaca in disguise Argos was still there, grown up, old and lonely. Argos heard odysseus’s voice (even though he sounded like an old man) and started barking- Odysseus and Argos are reunited – Sadly, soon after they saw each other again, Argos died and Hermes carried him to the Underworld.-This shows that even though Odysseus was gone for so long, he is still remembered in his home town. It also shows loyalty- Argos could not die until his owner came back home
The bow The bow is an example of symbolism in the Odyssey- Penelope decides to hold a contest, in which the suitors first have to string Odysseus’s bow and then be able to shoot the arrow through 12 axe heads. (none of the suitors are able to do this)- Then Odysseus, in the disguise of an old man, strings the bow and shoots it through 12 axe heads, he then transforms back into his original self and starts fighting the suitors. (This all happens with Penelope out of the room)- This shows Odysseus’s power and how he supposed to be king and with Penelope, none of the suitors can replace him
Loyalty Loyalty is a theme in the Odyssey-Penelope remains loyal to her husband even though 20 years have passed since he left for the Trojan War, and she is not sure if Odysseus is still alive- Telemachus is loyal to his father even though he didn’t remember him- Telemachus helps Odysseus defeat the suitors- Eumaeus and Eurycleia stay loyal to Odysseus and his family- Unlike Eumaeus, Melantho becomes more loyal to the suitors and she becomes unloyal to Odysseus’s family(Melantho was one of Odysseus’s and Penelope’s servants)
Disguise Disguise is a major theme/motif in the Odyssey- In the beginning of the Odyssey, Athena dresses up as Mentor and goes to Telemachus, she convinces him that he has to grow up and that there is still hope that Odysseus is alive-At the end of the Odyssey, Odysseus is disguised by Athena into an old man. He uses the disguise to get into the palace and defeat the suitors- Odysseus also disguises his name when with Polyphemos (the cyclops). He tells Polyphemos that his name is “Nobody”, this is clever because when Polyphemos calls for help (after he was stabbed in the eye) he screams “Nobody hurt me!” and the other cyclopses ignore him. When Odysseus escapes he reveals his identity to the cyclops (this happens because of his hubris, he needs to gain credit for what he did, he wants glory), when he reveals his name Poseidon wants to destroy Odysseus since Polyphemos is his son.
Man’s place in the universe Man’s place in the universe is a theme in the Odyssey-Odysseus has to accept that he can’t be better than the gods-Man are under the gods- “Contempt was all you had for the gods who rule wide heavenContempt was all you had for what men would say of you”- (This quote is an example of an anaphora)- Contempt means hostility, anger- In this quote it shows that man are supposed to be under the gods
Revenge Revenge is a theme in the Odyssey- When Odysseus hurts Polyphemos’s eye, Poseidon decides to take revenge because Polyphemos is his son. -Poseidon makes Odysseus’s journey home, long and difficult and Odysseus loses all of his crew along the way.He gets punished because of his hubris -(hubris- he reveals his name to Polyphemos while escaping, and Poseidon hears it. Odysseus needs glory)- At the end of the book, Odysseus and Telemachus kill all the suitors. The suitors have tortured Penelope for years, made a mess of Odysseus’s home, and disrespected Odysseus’s family, so they definitely deserve to be punished
Peace and War Peace and War is a theme in the Odyssey- Athena realizes that you can’t fight violence with violence- The story starts with a war, but it ends with peace(Odysseus is about to go into war again but, Athena stops him.)
The sea The sea is a symbol in the Odyssey- Odysseys can only get to where he needs to go because of the sea- When Odysseus meets Scylla, the six headed, human eating monster, he and his crew need to row their boat as fast as they can to get away from her. They lose 6 of their men (one for each head) while escaping from Scylla, but Odysseus thinks that losing 6 of his crew, is better than losing all.- At the end of the book, Odysseus listens to Teiresias (the guy from the underworld who told him to plant an oar so far inland nobody will know what it is) – When Odysseus plants the oar a child asks what is the sea? – Odysseus might want to teach the child about the sea- Odysseus plants the oar to make peace with Poseidon- When Odysseus upsets Poseidon ( the cyclops scene), Poseidon makes Odysseus journey longer and longer.-Poseidon is the god of the sea
Home Home is a major theme in the Odyssey- From the very beginning the only thing Odysseus really wants is to go home- Sometimes his hubris prevents him from getting back to Ithaca and his family, and his hubris also creates a longer and more painful journey backFor Example: When he reveals his name to the cyclops and Poseidon, he creates a problem for him self. Poseidon decides to make Odysseus lose all of his crew, arrive late to Ithaca, and make his journey a lot longer. Odysseus also becomes lonely at times on the way home.- In the Iliad Odysseus wants to stay at home with his baby, Telemachus and his wife, Penelope. He creates a plan using salt and a plow to try and trick the recruiters into leaving him alone, but it doesn’t work and he is taken to war. He fights in the Trojan war for 10 years then the journey back home is another 10 years. In total Odysseus spends 20 years away from his home.- Odysseus is unlike Achilles. Achilles had a choice: 1. stay home with your family and never become famous or 2. go to war and die there and become famous. Achilles chose the 2nd choice. When Odysseus visits Achilles in the Underworld, Achilles tells him that he would rather be alive and live a simple life, then dead and famous.
Hubris Hubris is a major theme in the Odyssey- Odysseus’s major flaw- In the end Odysseus realizes that he can’t be greater than the gods,but he can still be proud of his achievements- During the Scylla scene he realizes that he can’t fight Scylla, he has to sacrifice 6 of his men in order to save himself and the others- Also during the cyclops scene his hubris creates a bigger problem for him. He reveals his name to the cyclops and Poseidon. Poseidon punishes him and his crew.- During the javelin scene, Odysseus becomes very full of himself. Athena helps Odysseus throw the javelin far, but Odysseus takes all the credit for himself – Also when Odysseus arrives at Phaecia, he adds to the amount of days that he was a sea. When he meets Nausicaa, he tells her the amount of days that he was out at sea. But, each time someone else asks him about the number of days that he was at sea, he adds to the amount. This is part of his hubris because he wants to show off to everyone that he survived a lot of days at sea
The cloak Odysseus’s cloak is a symbol in the Odyssey- When Odysseus is at war and Telemachus is still young, he wears Odysseus’s cloak and it doesn’t fit him. This shows that Telemachus is not grown up yet.- When Odysseus returns to Ithaca in the disguise of an old man, he is wearing a cloak. Odysseus while wearing the cloak is able to string the bow and shoot the arrow through 12 axe heads, he then rips the cloak off and reveals himself. He and Telemachus defeat the suitors together.- The cloak represents being king and powerful. Although when Telemachus was young and wearing the cloak he was not powerful, he becomes powerful later on.
What it means to be human What it means to be human is a theme in the Odyssey- Odysseus learns that humans come after the gods- Humans have their flaws (Odysseus’s hubris), but they manage to overcome them and they can get to where they want to go (for Odysseus that place is home)- Humans have their weaknesses and their greatnesses- Odysseus learns that he will care for his family and his home, even though he though he doesn’t see them for years

You Might Also Like