Odysseus, An Egotistical Cretan. Odysseus tells Athena, whom he believes is a shepherd, a false account, of how he came to Ithaca, primarily since he needs to keep his identity a secret, familiarize himself with the situation on Ithaca and formulate a pl
Legacy of the Mediterranean
Odysseus, an Egotistical Cretan
Odysseus tells Athena, whom he believes is a shepherd, a false account, of how he came to Ithaca, primarily since he needs to keep his identity a secret, familiarize himself with the situation on Ithaca and formulate a plan to execute the suitors. He perceives that he has arrived in a mist-shrouded and unknown land. And thus secondarily, he needs to present a feasible reason for being alone and stranded with copious amounts of treasure for safety reasons as well as to allay suspicion in relation to his identity. Athena affects how he tells his lie because he can see and listen to her. To manipulate her more effectively, Odysseus exploits these factors to produce a story specifically tailored to the information Athena provides.
Odysseus considers Athena’s, or the shepherd she appears to be, appearance and response to his inquiry about where he is; by doing this Odysseus can form ideas about her social status, her intelligence, her nationality, and if she is hostile and unwelcoming or friendly. He does with the intention of creating a lie that she will believe as well as of sending a clear message that fulfills his primary goals concerning the suitors and himself. Athena is masquerading as a young man, a shepherd “…like a King’s son, all delicately made.” and is holding a hunting lance (Fitzgerald Book 13, Page 237, Line 282). From this physical appearance alone Odysseus first knows he is not a lord or royalty as he is a shepherd and obviously would not be out dressing as a shepherd if he were royal or wealthy. He also knows that the shepherd is most likely going to know the immediate area fairly well since he probably lives and tends animals in the region. Additionally, he notes that the shepherd is carrying a weapon and since he has a great deal of treasure he knows he must discourage the shepherd from killing him and stealing his possessions. To discourage the shepherd from this Odysseus portrays himself as aggressive, but not entirely bloodthirsty which could dissuade the shepherd from helping him. He gains still more information by simply asking where he is. The shepherd responds that Odysseus is either unintelligent or from “the other end of nowhere” since he doesn’t recognize where he is. He proceeds to describe the land and inform him that he is in Ithaca. By somewhat insulting Odysseus, the shepherd basically tells Odysseus to be cautious because he is not particularly friendly.
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Odysseus utilizes the information to construct a custom-made anecdote for the shepherd. First, he informs the shepherd that he is from Crete and here with his fortune which he split equally between his children who still reside there. He gains credibility by making Crete his home, since it is extremely unlikely a shepherd of Ithaca knows the affairs of Crete and clearly protects his identity. Besides adding believability, being from Crete subtly warns the shepherd that he is not someone easily gotten rid of as people from Crete have a reputation for being scoundrels and pirates. He also reveals that he has family who would come to avenge him as they have a good relationship, since he divided his fortune among them, and the means to fund such an expedition.
Odysseus continues with his murder of Orsilokhos, the King Idomeneus’s son whom he killed for “desir[ing] to take away [his] Trojan plunder, all [he] had fought and bled for” (Fitzgerald Book 13 Page 238 Line 334-335). He describes the murder; he “hit him with a spearcast from a roadside…[and] took his life in secret, finished him off with [his] sharp sword”(Fitzgerald Book 13 Page 238 Lines 341-347). The event took place when “murky night shrouded all heaven” and he “made [the] ambush with one man at arms” (Fitzgerald Book 13 Page 238 Line 345). This depicts Odysseus ultimately as having acted without kleos or glory; he used the cover of night to ambush Orsilokhos giving Odysseus the advantages of location, concealment, and surprise. Furthermore, Odysseus brought a man at arms and thus outnumbered Orsilokhos two to one and still Odysseus used a ranged weapon to first injure Orsilokhos rather than engage him equally with melee weapons and then “finished him off.” To the ancient Greek kleos is usually achieved through greatness in open and honest combat. Hence, this absence of kleos portrays Odysseus as calculating, merciless and dishonorable. This would warn the shepherd not to try to steal from Odysseus as Orsilokhos attempted because Odysseus does not care for glory and will slaughter him in any way he can whether or not it damages his reputation. The images evoked from Troy, “all I had fought and bled for”, serve to somewhat justify his murder of Orsilokhos and show some appreciation for honest work, when it serves him, and could function to make the shepherd feel less fear towards a murderous foreigner. Mostly, this information gives the shepherd a distinct warning not to attempt to harm or steal from him because not only is he a hardened warrior who survived a ten-year war at Troy, but he has already murdered royalty, dishonorably, in his own homeland for trying to take his hard-earned possessions. Obviously, he would have no qualms about killing a shepherd in a different country for attempting the same.
Odysseus also mentions that he was not subservient to Idomeneus at Troy. He even led a command of men not under Idomeneus, which would be skirting on treason. Though it was not admirable to disregard duty, it allowed Odysseus a unit of men who would presumably die for him and could potentially be used to overthrow Idomeneus and further Odysseus’s political status and power if he so desired. Essentially, Odysseus’s neglect of both kleos and duty characterizes him as severely egotistical. He would do anything, like commit murder or treason, to further his own interests.
Odysseus goes on to describe his actual voyage to Ithaca. In this description, he includes that he paid some Phoenician sailors to aid him in his escape from Crete and his true destination was either Pylos or Elis. Here he emphasizes the honesty of the Phoenicians by telling the shepherd that they did not rob him and only left him on Ithaca because a storm blew them off course. Ironically, he recognizes the value of honest men or at least men who are honest in dealings with him. He paid the Phoenicians to transport him because it was in his best interest to escape from Crete. This gives the shepherd motivation to assist Odysseus because though Odysseus is willing to kill, or commit treason to serve his interests, he is not averse to paying honest men for assistance.
With this short fiction, Odysseus has essentially prevented the shepherd from trying to kill him, gained some of his trust, motivated him to aid him, and placed himself in a position to make a move against the suitors. Regrettably, his meticulously well-crafted narrative is not exceptionally useful as Athena was the shepherd all along. She went to advise him, unnecessarily, not to disclose his identity and did not need to be convinced to help him. Athena thoroughly enjoys his lie because as the goddess of wisdom, she appreciates the cunning with which he has established an alternate identity. She then warns him about the suitors, disguises him, and sends him on his way. Unfortunately, for this particular instance, his story only functions to amuse and impress Athena. Had there actually been a shepherd, Odysseus would have placed himself in a remarkable position to manipulate the shepherd and move forward with slaughtering the suitors; for the small price of portraying himself as an egotistical Cretan.