Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Power of Cunning over Strength
If the Iliad is about strength, the Odyssey is about cunning, a difference that becomes apparent in the very first lines of the epics. Whereas the Iliad tells the story of the rage of Achilles, the strongest hero in the Greek army, the Odyssey focuses on a “man of twists and turns” (1.1). Odysseus does have extraordinary strength, as he demonstrates in Book 21 by being the only man who can string the bow. But he relies much more on mind than muscle, a tendency that his encounters showcase. He knows that he cannot overpower Polyphemus, for example, and that, even if he were able to do so, he wouldn’t be able to budge the boulder from the door. He thus schemes around his disadvantage in strength by exploiting Po1yphemus’s stupidity. Though he does use violence to put out Polyphemus’s single eye, this display of strength is part of a larger plan to deceive the brute.
Similarly, Odysseus knows that he is no match for the host of strapping young suitors in his palace, so he makes the most of his other strength—his wits. Step by step, through disguises and deceptions, he arranges a situation in which he alone is armed and the suitors are locked in a room with him. With this setup, Achilles’ superb talents as a warrior would enable him to accomplish what Odysseus does, but only Odysseus’s strategic planning can bring about such a sure victory. Some of the tests in Odysseus’s long, wandering ordeal seem to mock reliance on strength alone. No one can resist the Sirens’ song, for example, but Odysseus gets an earful of the lovely melody by having his crew tie him up. Scylla and Charybdis cannot be beaten, but Odysseus can minimize his losses with prudent decision-making and careful navigation. Odysseus’s encounter with Achilles in the underworld is a reminder: Achilles won great kleos, or glory, during his life, but that life was brief and ended violently. Odysseus, on the other hand, by virtue of his wits, will live to a ripe old age and is destined to die in peace.
The Pitfalls of Temptation
The initial act that frustrated so many Achaeans’ homecoming was the work of an Achaean himself: Ajax (the “Lesser” Ajax, a relatively unimportant figure not to be confused with the “Greater” Ajax, whom Odysseus meets in Hades) raped the Trojan priestess Cassandra in a temple while the Greeks were plundering the fallen city. That act of impulse, impiety, and stupidity brought the wrath of Athena upon the Achaean fleet and set in motion the chain of events that turned Odysseus’s homecoming into a long nightmare. It is fit that the Odyssey is motivated by such an event, for many of the pitfalls that Odysseus and his men face are likewise obstacles that arise out of mortal weakness and the inability to control it. The submission to temptation or recklessness either angers the gods or distracts Odysseus and the members of his crew from their journey: they yield to hunger and slaughter the Sun’s flocks, and they eat the fruit of the lotus and forget about their homes.
Even Odysseus’s hunger for kleos is a kind of temptation. He submits to it when he reveals his name to Polyphemus, bringing Poseidon’s wrath upon him and his men. In the case of the Sirens, the theme is revisited simply for its own interest. With their ears plugged, the crew members sail safely by the Sirens’ island, while Odysseus, longing to hear the Sirens’ sweet song, is saved from folly only by his foresighted command to his crew to keep him bound to the ship’s mast. Homer is fascinated with depicting his protagonist tormented by temptation: in general, Odysseus and his men want very desperately to complete their nostos, or homecoming, but this desire is constantly at odds with the other pleasures that the world offers.
More main ideas from The Odyssey
Athena Essay examples
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With a battle cry that resounded through the kingdom of heaven and earth she sprang from the head of Zeus. She is one of the most powerful forces on Mount Olympus, representing war and the immortal spirit of wisdom. Athena embodies the matriarchal goddess, a complex figure of internal strength and reflection. She is a powerful source of interpretation for the idea of the goddess as a balance between nature and humanity. In one aspect she embodies the civic patron of Athens, with her benevolence and strategic defenses. However her mythological nature as the mother goddess and eternal being connects her with four thousand years of sacred expression through intuition, creation and instinct. Athena represents the unity of these…show more content…
In birth she is a symbol of the threatening force of dominance and aggression. An oracle of Gaea, the goddess of the earth, knew of Athena's power and potential. She warned Zeus of a third generation child who would overthrow him and inherit his kingdom. Metis was a clever goddess and took on the disguise of various creatures such as hawks, fish, and serpents to avoid Zeus. However Zeus could change into many forms as well and he devised a plan to trick the pregnant Metis and swallow her. When Promethius split Zeus's head open, it was the beginning of Athena and eternal wisdom.
Metis was the greek goddess of wisdom and the first wife of Zeus. Athena inherited the qualities of Metis and due to her manner of birth became the symbol of intellect and insight. The ability to reflect that Athena posesses is known as "Metis" becuase of her mother and gives her practical wisdom and craftiness. Her reflective nature gives her insight and knowledge to offer those she guides.
The image of Athena mourning, a marble bas-relief from the high classical Greek period of 480-450 BC, shows her reflective quality. This quality gives her the advantage over her opponents because it is a premeditated strategy rather than impulsive action. There are endless examples of her benevolence and strategy. Odysseus was one of her mortal companions who she helped return to his family after his long journey.
Odysseus was one