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Odysseus: Critical analysis

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Odysseus: Critical analysis Throughout Homer's The Odyssey there is the motif of xenia, or zenophilia, the great ethical imperative, the obligation to entertain outsiders. It is the sacred Greek custom of hospitality. Mortals as well as gods have to adhere to it. Zeus, the most powerful of the Olympian gods, is the patron of this custom. In Book 6, Princess Nausicaa, daughter of Alcinous, King of the Phaeacians, offers help and hospitality to Odysseus, who was washed ashore. "This man is an unfortunate wanderer who has strayed here, and we must look after him, since all strangers and beggars come under the protection of Zeus..." While Odysseus is enjoying the hospitality offered to him in the palace of Alcinous, he tells his hosts of his journey from Ogygia to Scherie. This offers (Homer) a clever way to cover past events, providing background information that bridges past to present, therefore allowing the action to progress and the characters evolve. Odysseus' son Telemachus gives the goddess Athene the welcome that is traditional for guests and strangers. However, Athene comes in disguise, then "she assumed the appearance of a family friend, the Taphian chieftain Mentes" In return for his hospitality Athene gives him advice.


Thus she obeys Zeus' command and fulfils her obligation to be a hospitable hostess. This not only reinforces a civilised custom, but also allows the plot to continue to unfold. After seven years of stagnation, Odysseus can resume his journey home to Ithaca and fulfil his destiny. When the suitors abuse Penelope's hospitality, overextending their stay and displaying gross and disrespectful behaviour, they create chaos. They dare to break the rules of hospitality. The peaceful, orderly social structure of Odysseus' household breaks down. But when the suitors plot to kill Telemachus, they dare to challenge the gods. They act selfishly; out of greed to obtain wealth and power. They prove that they are immoral men, not worthy of divine protection, but worthy of divine punishment - death. Even Odysseus, a favourite of the gods, is not spared: "I yearning to get back to Ithaca but harassed and kept in exile by Zeus and all the gods" . He has to face challenges along the way to prove his worth - worthy of his life, worthy of being King of Ithaca, but most of all worthy of the god's favour.


Her son Telemachus, who has shown himself worthy of being Odysseus' son, is allowed to fight side by side against the suitors. The suitors are warned that their conduct will end in death, that they will suffer the consequences of their actions. But they choose to ignore the divine warnings; they choose to dishonour the gods, as well as break the rules of social convention. "These men fell victim to the will of the gods and their own infamy. They paid respect to no one on earth who came near them - good or bad. And now their own transgressions have brought them to this ignominious death" . Mortals have to honour the gods, obey their will and abide by the social rules of conduct. Justice will prevail in the end. Whatever the deeds and actions, choices and mistakes - in the end there is a system of rewards and punishments that upholds the social and divine structure. Homer, The Odyssey, translated by E.V.Rieu (1991), Penguin Books, Book 6, p.91, ll 205-210 ibid, Book 1, p.6, ll 104/105. ibid, Book 5, p.71, ll 28-30. ibid, Book 23, p.353, ll 351-353. Ibid, Book 22, p.340/341, ll 413-417

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