Conversation of Actions and Mutual Exchanges in The Odyssey

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Agarwal |

Rachit Agarwal
Pre-IB English 9
September 18th, 2012

Conversation of Actions and Mutual Exchanges in The Odyssey

For some, the concept of retribution and reward from gods is key in the world. This is indirectly shown in The Odyssey by Homer. In this epic, there are many examples showing that characters are greatly affected by the gods when they respond to situations in their experiences in certain ways, but it is equally important to examine the reasons behind these exchanges of actions between the gods and humans. The humans provide services for the gods, and in return, the gods do the same. The relationship of mutual benefit between Odysseus and the gods Kirke, Athena, and Poseidon reveals the role of gods in Greek culture as drastically important in intervening in the lives of humans.

When Odysseus is leaving the island of Aeaea to head home, the island goddess Kirke advises Odysseus of many obstacles that he will need to overcome on his journey.   For example, Kirke warns Odysseus to “steer wide, keep well to seaward; plug [his] oarsmen’s ears with beeswax kneaded soft… let the men tie [him]” [12.57-62].  Kirke aids Odysseus in his journey home, and without her advice, the hero could have fallen prey to the Sirens, sparking potentially fatal consequences. However, the content beneath the surface is equally important.  She tells Odysseus that “one of two courses [he] may take, and [he himself] must weigh them” [12.68-69]. Here, Kirke doesn’t want to “… plan the whole action for [him]” [12.69-70].    Kirke directly says that she will not directly affect Odysseus’ journey. She wishes for Odysseus to make the right decisions by trusting himself, and using his instincts and heroic decision-making skills. Just as Kirke symbolizes the Greek gods in general (like the others), the warnings she provides here are representative of life obstacles. Kirke is showing that in life, there will be problems that one needs to overcome, with different ways to approach the solution. One should learn to make good decisions and choose the path they think is correct for them. As well as general values, this embodies different Greek cultural values: the value of decision-making and prudence in heroes and the importance of examining what lies beneath the surface in Greek written art. Evidently, Kirke indirectly helps Odysseus by reinforcing his abilities and advising him of obstacles to overcome in his adventure through the Homeric and real world.

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While Kirke plays a minor role in the epic, Athena is the paramount goddess in the positive intervention upon humans in The Odyssey.  As the most influential goddess, Athena affects Odysseus in several instances throughout the text.  For one thing, the goddess repeatedly “[casts] sweet sleep upon [one’s] eyes” [19.699] and “[showers] sleep [so] that [one’s] distress should end” [5.517-518].  She says this many times to various characters, calming them down in times of need. Furthermore, Athena makes visual changes to Odysseus to assist him in carrying out his cunning plans. When Odysseus is with the Phaiakians for the games, ...

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