How important is Odysseus’ disguise as a beggar to the success of The Odyssey?
Odysseus is disguised as a beggar by the goddess Athena, who helps him plot his revenge against the suitors who are courting his wife. From the vantage point of a beggar in his own court, Odysseus is able to assess who remains loyal to him, who the suitors are, their habits, and he is able to create disagreements amongst them. The information he collects allows him to formulate a plan for revenge. It also adds an element of surprise, so they don't recognize him and kill him first. It is undoubtedly important to the success of the epic to an extent seeing as without his disguise Odysseus’ homecoming would not have been as impressive as it is now; the delay he disguise provides to the plot increasing the anticipation for Odysseus’ true return.
He doesn't disguise himself, Athena does it for him, and he conceals his identity at her urging as well. In this way, the creation of his disguise also displays the wisdom of Athene as it is she who disguises Odysseus into a beggar and leads him to the swineherd and plots and plans the fall of the suitors in Odysseus' house. Athena demonstrates her role as an active leader in her protection of Odysseus and his family by helping Odysseus with minor things such as his disguise, enhancing his physical appearance or making sure the suitors’ arrows miss Odysseus at one point in the massacre, as well as giving Odysseus the grounds to be a hero in his own right by leaving vital decisions up to him. The mastery of such a skill as disguise is an accomplishment that demonstrates the self-discipline that only Athene, the goddess of wisdom and strategy, would value. Odysseus, favoured by Athene in return for his devotion to her, would also understand this value. Never does Homer negatively imply that the practice of disguise should be understood as false pretence. Both, Odysseus and Athene unashamedly practice disguise and therefore fits Homer’s notion of heroism; a positive quality.