Character Analysis in The Odyssey
Characters in The Odyssey are defined by the qualities that they represent for Greek society. Rather than creating unique characters with believable human characteristics, Homer constructs the ultimate hero in Odysseus, the archetypal faithful wife in Penelope, and the portraits of temperamental gods as they interact with humans. With the exception of the gods, each mortal character strives to uphold the tenants of bravery, honor, courage, justice, and glory because these were the qualities that the story was meant to instill in those who heard it.
Character Analysis Examples in The Odyssey:
One of only a few servants to receive a name in The Odyssey, Euryclea is one of the oldest and most trusted servants in Odysseus's household. In the course of the poem, we'll see her working as a maid, a nurse, a confidante, and even a friend, as she helps both Telemachus and Odysseus with their plans.
"Sooth" means truth, so a soothsayer is literally a "truth-teller" and acts like a fortune teller. In ancient Greek and Shakespearean tragedies, soothsayers were wise men who foretold the future, but often left somewhat cryptic clues as to what that future would be. Penelope's desire to speak to a soothsayer signifies that she's become desperate for answers, whereas Telemachus had given up hope, until Athena came.
That is, before they could get to know his intentions. The suitors, having lived off of Odysseus' wealth for the past few years, are naturally very possessive and want to protect their claim to Penelope. Any outsiders, even Athena in disguise, would be considered a threat to their livelihood and would need to either be brought into the fold or eliminated.
The second suitor to speak out against Telemachus, his name means "wide-fighting one" and his reputation is one of cunning and deceit. Even though he promises in this passage that no harm will ever befall Telemachus, neither the reader nor Telemachus believes him or his fellow suitors. This exchange, terse with threats of violence and displays of courage, sets the tone for future scenes between Telemachus and the suitors.
This functions as both a question and a challenge. Telemachus knows very well that all the suitors would like him out of the picture and that they would, if given the opportunity, kill him themselves. It's possible they're already plotting against him. That Telemachus says this and that he goes on to say he'd like to be chief, like his father, indicates that he's coming into his own power.
Based on this line, we can assume that Antinous is one of the most aggressive suitors present, willing both to confront Telemachus and to speak for the others when Telemachus finally takes charge. Though he's bold enough to speak up, he's not foolish enough to believe that he's in the right. By extension, all of the suitors are perfectly aware of how rude they're being, which only makes it ruder that they're doing it anyway.
This item, traditionally worn by widows, indicates that Penelope is in mourning for Odysseus, whose return seems less and less likely with each passing day. It appears that this veil is the only thing keeping her suitors from forcing her to make a decision about them, because, in spite of their bad manners, they still respect Greek traditions of mourning.
Although their situations aren't exactly analogous, the comparison to Orestes is apt, because he and Telemachus are both the sons of returning war heroes, and their houses are both in some way ruined by the time their fathers return. Throughout this speech, Athena tries to boost Telemachus' low self-esteem by comparing him to other great men, but it remains to be seen whether this tactic will be effective.
It's unclear whether Telemachus means this in a literal or metaphorical sense. It may well be both, in the sense that he's afraid his for emotional stability (having to constantly cater to these unwanted guests) and for his physical safety, as a young man in a house full of older and stronger men with combat experience.
Homer never fully explains Penelope's indecision here. This line makes clear that, if she were simply to say no to all the suitors, then she'd have the authority to throw them out, but for some reason she isn't able to do this. Likely, she's afraid of the retribution this will wreak, and of the dangers of being a "widow" on an island full of drunken, jilted men. These suitors then become a form of protection against an even worse future.
In ancient Greek tradition, heroes were burned on a funeral pyre built of wood, then the ashes were lain in the ground and covered with a mound of dirt. Often in war men will not have this luxury, and when men are lost at sea, their bodies can't be glorified this way. Telemachus wishes there had been a body because that would've made him the rightful heir to Odysseus' home and solved all of his problems with the suitors.
Here we see the theme of man's fate versus the gods' will in action. Telemachus believes that the gods have done this to him, but we know from earlier passages that this isn't true, so the tension between gods and mortals becomes instead just a question of perception. In the end, Telemachus's inability to cast away the suitors isn't because of the gods, but rather due to his own youthful lack of courage and experience.
At this point in the narrative, Odysseus has been gone for twenty years (ten of which were spent fighting Troy). It's clear that, while Telemachus would certainly like his father to return, he's given up all hope and has begun to question if, after all this time, he can even refer to himself as Odysseus' son, since his father didn't raise him. This suggests that even in Homer's day fatherhood was more than a mere question of paternity.
Odysseus' father. With Odysseus away, Laertes should've taken over his house, as the eldest male in the family, but the narrative requires that no strong figure be present in the household, and thus, Homer made Laertes old and feeble so he wouldn't be able to fulfill his duties to Odysseus. Athena mentions this as a way of commenting on the confluence of bad luck that led to this situation with the suitors.
A poet, like Homer, who performs with his lyre in front of the suitors. Phemius has been forced to perform against his wishes, despite the fact that, as guests, the suitors have no authority to compel him to do anything. Only Telemachus, as the male head of the household, is allowed to give orders in the house, but because of his age, and because of his father's absence, he doesn't have the authority or the courage to speak out against the suitors.
Odysseus' house and possessions are reflections of his great social standing, with items like this ewer, or oval pitcher, displaying his considerable wealth and prestige. Even before Odysseus fought in the Trojan War, he was a respectable man with lands and money to his name. His absence, however, has depleted his wealth considerably, as the suitors eat up his flock.
In the company of his mother's suitors, Telemachus naturally would rather not discuss his father, in case the suitors in their greed learn of Odysseus' location and take measures to make sure he'll never return home. This suggests both that the suitors aren't honorable men (as evidenced by their mooching) and that Telemachus understands the very real danger his father is in at this point in the poem.
Ancient Greeks had a strong sense of etiquette and decorum. Their word for this was xenia, which dictates that hosts follow very formal procedures in the care of their guests. Any breach of xenia would've constituted an unforgivable breach of their moral code and would've reflected poorly upon Telemachus (and, by extension, Odysseus). In this tradition, any question the guest had would've been asked only after their other needs (for food and drink, etc.) had been met.
Zeus uses phrases like "of a mind" and "let us lay our heads together" to allude to Athena's origin story. In doing so, he aligns himself and Athena with wisdom, implying that, while she is the goddess of wisdom, intelligence and cleverness are not exclusively her domain. In this, we see a system of checks and balances by which the various gods keep each other in line.
In the beginning, Telemachus appears to be a weak young man, disheartened by his father's absence and uncertain of his position. With Athena's intervention, Telemachus will become, in the course of the poem, his father's son and will be able to stand up to his mother's suitors, thus taking control of the household.
As the goddess of wisdom, Athena can be blunt where other gods wouldn't dare to be and here points out the essentially aimless tangent about Aegisthus, which serves no purpose other than to allow Zeus to speak ill of the mortals. Athena (and, by extension, the reader) notes the essential selfishness of this act and does her best to shift the focus to Odysseus.
This phrase appears again and again in Homer's works. It means that one must necessarily do something or that it's in one's nature to do something. There's a tension in this about whether or not it's speaking to fate (as in, he must do this to finish the story) or if it's just a part of his character (as in, he would do that). In this example, it appears that Orestes "must needs" kill Aegisthus because he wanted to.
Notice that the other gods are actively cutting Poseidon out of the loop on this. In Greek mythology, this kind of behavior was common on Mount Olympus and led to much inner turmoil, including an attempt by Hera to overthrow Zeus and take the throne for herself. Zeus punished Poseidon for his role in this attempted overthrow by forcing him to build a great wall around the city of Troy.
As the goddess of wisdom, Athena had power over the minds of mortals, which she occasionally "befuddled" to suit her purposes, either by making them sleep (as she did to Penelope in Book I) or by messing with their food and drink. That she has the power to do this suggests that Greek gods, though most powerful within their domains, had a number of skills that had nothing to do with their specific realm.
This line, read together with Antinous's invitation for Telemachus to sit and eat with them "as [he] used to" implies that there was a time, before Telemachus grew up, when he thought the suitors were his friends and didn't understand the financial repercussions of their prolonged presence. This would've lulled the suitors into a false sense of complacency, allowing them to feel secure in their position.
A hand-picked crew of men loyal to the suitors, not to Telemachus, and likely to get rid of him the first chance they get. This is what Athena is guarding against by "beating up" her own volunteers. It's obvious that the suitors are pleased to have Telemachus out of their hair, and that's reason enough for him to decline their invitation to join them.
This marks the first and only time that Mentor speaks in the poem as himself. In every other case, "Mentor" is actually Athena in disguise, appearing to guide Telemachus in his journey in much the same way she appeared earlier. It's her guidance in The Odyssey that led to the word "mentor" being adopted in the English language to mean a teacher or a wise person who provides guidance.
Remember that this is Athena's plan, not Telemachus', and that these are her words, not his. Thus far, Telemachus has merely been following instructions, which might've worked in his favor, had he not squandered the beauty Athena endowed him with by behaving in such a childish way. His repetition of her plan word for word must be comforting to him in this stressful time.
Keep in mind that the suitors aren't that interested in Penelope herself, but want control over Odysseus's land, livestock, and estate. Though Eurymachus claims they can't go after other women, in fact, they can, but choose not to do so. Their brash refusal to change course is a fine example of "hubris," the Greek word for pride. In a classic Greek tragedy, hubris would be the primary character flaw of a hero, but in The Odyssey, it's a trait of the villainous suitors, who are blinded by their self-interest.
A prophet and friend of Odysseus who, like Mentor, remained in Ithaca to help Telemachus while his father was at war. Like Penelope's soothsayer, his ability to read the future is questionable, but is used by Homer as a way to foreshadow things that take place later in the poem. In that sense, Halitherses' prophecy is a way for Homer to structure the narrative and establish the timeline (up until this moment, we didn't know that Odysseus had been gone twenty years).
Telemachus leveled this same threat at the end of Book I. The repetition implies that it hasn't been effective and that Telemachus still feels insecure about his position here. This entreaty to the gods and councillors wouldn't be necessary if Telemachus had control of the situation, and in emphasizing the fact that he doesn't, Homer makes it all too clear that Telemachus can't live up to his father. Even this meeting, so seemingly bold, is someone else's idea.
In ancient Greece, if a widowed woman didn't remarry, the custom was that she return to her family home. In this case, doing so would require Telemachus to pay back Penelope's dowry in livestock and find some way to save their estate without going bankrupt. As a suitor, it's not Antinous' place to demand anything but an answer, but because there is a power vacuum, he feels he has the right to do so.
Modern readers will recognize this as a stalling tactic used by someone with a reason to believe that a straightforward rejection would result in some backlash or violence. Penelope's "artful" scheme is in reality a way to hold off making her decision about remarrying in the hopes that Odysseus will come save her from the suitors. It remains to be seen if he'll make it back in time.
Though Telemachus's grievances are in fact legitimate and the councillors might be sympathetic to his cause, his speech makes him seem childish and immature and destroys any good will he'd earned in the community. It's important to note that, while he's written like a child or an unruly teenager, Telemachus is in fact the same age as many men were when they went to fight in the Trojan War.
In Odysseus's long absence, Ithaca has been a largely lawless state, with the suitors taking advantage of Odysseus's house without fear of retribution. Telemachus calls for a meeting of the councillors to hail a return to a just and lawful state, aligning himself with the side of the good and the just while implying that the suitors are criminals.
"Criers" were men who ran through the streets of a city, giving its citizens news and announcing meetings. Telemachus wants to make a show of this gathering and intends to finally put the suitors in their place. Otherwise, there would be no reason to call them together at the assembly. All of this is meant to bolster Telemachus' ego.
Nestor recounts the story of how Orestes avenged his father’s (Agamemnon’s) death and suggests that Telemachus take a similar course of action and avenge Odysseus. Notice how Telemachus focuses on the renown he would receive. This is another example of his desire for kleos.
Nestor describes how Athena has not always been so benevolent, being the cause of many deaths and great strife. Athena takes notice of Odysseus’s great display of courage and wit and shows sympathy towards his quest, justifying his heroic status.
Telemachus bears an uncanny resemblance to Odysseus, even though the two don’t have much of a father-son relationship. This proves to be important at a vital moment later in the story when Telemachus must call upon his cunning, a trademark of his father’s character.
Telemachus’ language reveals his troubled relationship with Odysseus. Since Odysseus left for the Trojan War when Telemachus was just an infant, Telemachus knows little of his father except from what others have said about him. Telemachus’ image of Odysseus has been framed by the stories that have been told about his guile that led him victoriously during the Trojan War.
Nestor is introduced in Homer's Iliad as the oldest Greek warrior fighting the Trojans. He is respected for his good judge of character and unfailing honesty. Nestor’s appearance in both of Homer’s poems is an example of parallel structure, since he provides guidance and reason for characters in both stories.
Iphthime, Penelope's sister, would've had reason to want to stay and engage in idle conversation, but since this is only a vision and was created for one person (to encourage Penelope), it doesn't want to stay and doesn't have (or isn't authorized to give) the information that Penelope so desperately seeks.
Arceisius, son of either Zeus or Cephalus and father to Laertes. Zeus decreed that Arcesius' bloodline would consist of only sons, making Laertes Arcesius' only son, Odysseus Laertes' only son, and Telemachus Odysseus' only son.
Penelope essentially says that if she'd known about Telemachus' trip she would've told him, "Over my dead body." Though Penelope and Telemachus' relationship has been portrayed as strained, the familial ties in ancient Greece were particularly strong and demanded utter devotion on the part of mothers. Penelope's threat here is all too real.
Telemachus is the last in his line, the only son of Odysseus and heir to his kingdom. If Odysseus doesn't come back, and Telemachus fails to produce a male heir before he dies, then the estate will be broken up regardless of whether or not the suitors manage to take it.
Note that Penelope has never explicitly said that she doesn't want the suitors here before this moment. It may be that her son's journey has strengthened her resolve to remain faithful, or it could be that she's been begrudgingly hosting the suitors all along.
It was fairly common for gods to take the form of humans, and the suitors would be familiar with this phenomenon. However, for them to assume that Telemachus was being helped by a god, they would necessarily have to think that he's in the right and that their position is in danger. We'll see how this plays out later.
Rhadamanthus, son of Zeus and Europa, brother of Minos, the first king of Crete, who ordered that every nine years seven boys and seven girls be sent to the Minotaur in the labyrinth. Rhadamanthus led a just life and upon his death became a judge of the dead and the ruler of the Elysian plains.
The ancient Greeks, drawing on Aristotle's philosophies about human behavior, believed in hamartia, or a fatal flaw of personality that affected many heroes. One of the most common flaws was hubris, that is, pride or boasting.
Though Telemachus was just an infant when Odysseus left, and he's not personally familiar with his father, he's nevertheless heard many stories of his father's deviousness and his tendency to get himself in and out of trouble.
Menelaus attempts to explain away this act of treachery as the gods' will, but Helen's measured and deliberate actions in this scene seem to suggest that she's trying to lead the Trojans to their hiding place. An alternate reading would be that she's trying to draw the Greeks out to ambush the Trojans, but this seems unlikely.
Deiphobus, son of Priam, king of Troy, was the prince of Troy and one of its most effective warriors. His presence here clearly indicates that Helen was scheming something, though whether it was to betray the Greeks or ensure that Deiphobus be among the first killed, it's not clear.
At this point in Helen's story, we can assume that everything she says is in fact the exact opposite of how she really feels, which then suggests that her husband, here described as "by no means deficient," is, in fact, disappointing to her, a fact that led her to run away with Paris.
Remember that Helen has just drugged all of these "honorable" men in an act equally as cunning as those of Odysseus. In this line, she isn't denigrating herself by suggesting he put one over on her but rather expressing her respect and admiration for another cunning character.
In public, at least, Menelaus and Helen have restored the relationship that was destroyed when Helen ran off to Troy with Paris. In private, the reader has no way of knowing from this line whether Helen and Menelaus have been able to make amends. If they aren't on good terms, this may be one reason for Helen not producing male heirs.
In ancient Greece, as in many cultures, the traditions of mourning required that the Greeks perform their grief in a number of highly ritualized ways, including the observation of burial rites, periods of mourning, and the wailing Menelaus refers to here, which saw men and women alike crying melodramatically in public. Menelaus tired of this mourning, which is to say, he tires of the performance.
Regardless of whether or not Telemachus looks like a son of Zeus, he is still a guest at Menelaus' house and should be treated according to the rules of xenia, as the suitors as treated at Odysseus' house. This parallel further underscores the reluctance on Eteoneus' part to accept the visitors, whose intentions he doesn't yet know.
In ancient Greece, the appearance of men who appear to be gods or the sons of gods would've been both an event of great importance and a cause of considerable trepidation, as the Greek gods were notoriously selfish and often brought disaster to houses they visited. Eteoneus should know better than to hesitate around them, and Menelaus is wise in treating them kindly.
Hermione, first of her name, was betrothed by her grandfather Tyndareus to Orestes, son of Agamemnon, who avenged his father's murder by killing his mother, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus, who plotted Agamemnon's death. It would appear that this led to the end of their engagement, as Hermione is here wed to someone else.
In Greek and Roman culture, men of the upper classes routinely had affairs with women of the lower or slave classes in order to produce male heirs. Since Helen was seduced by Paris and lived with him in Troy, Menelaus named his son "Megapenthes," meaning "great sorrow," in recognition of his grief over the loss of Helen.
Calypso fails to understand why Odysseus refuses her offer to stay with her and become immortal, saying that no mortal woman can match her beauty. Odysseus states his loyalty to his wife and desire to go home are all he wants, even if that means the gods will torment him on his journey. Odysseus's choice shows how he resists Calypso's temptation to choose loyalty and love, which he considers the marks of highest honor. If Odysseus were to succumb to his baser nature, he would give up on his higher purpose as a husband and father.
Throughout his torturous journey home, Odysseus has been the constant victim of deceit from mortals and immortals alike. This builds Odysseus into a cautious character, who has a difficult time deciphering who wants to help or hurt him.
The reader knows Calypso is lying, which makes this an example of dramatic irony. She tells Odysseus that she is letting him free because she still cares about him even when he will be gone, and she wants him to care about her when he leaves.
After the turmoil of his last few weeks, Odysseus finds himself alone, but safe. Odysseus is depicted as a brave man, a war hero fueled by the love of his country and his people. Now that he is alone, he must find the strength within himself to conquer all enemies in order to return home.
Athena again demonstrates great humility in this instance. Although she creates the dangerous obstacles for Odysseus during his voyage home, she also consistently aids him with his journey. This relationship alludes to the historical treatment of Greek parents to their children. Sometimes parents would make growing up difficult, so that their children would grow to be strong when they were older.
Although Odysseus doesn’t know this, Poseidon cannot kill him with the storm because Zeus would not allow it. The ultimate punishment Poseidon gives him is torture; he brings him to the brink of death without ever letting Odysseus finally rest.
When Odysseus believes he is about to die, his mind wanders back to the battlefield. If he had died during the war he would have obtained one of the things he cares about most: the admiration of his country. However, if he were to die now, in the ocean, he would never see his family or friends, and his country would not see his death as a heroic battlefield sacrifice.
Calypso attempts to persuade Odysseus by emphasizing that she is both beautiful and immortal. Odysseus not only demonstrates his growing level of maturity by refusing this rather shallow plea but also his dedication to returning home.
This epitomizes Zeus’s power over the other gods. Even though Calypso loves Odysseus and desires to be with him in a state of immortality, she does not push back very much against the will of Zeus because she knows it is a battle that she could never win.
Even though Odysseus has enchanted her somewhat, Nausicaa still demonstrates her own cunning by considering how people will react to her being seen with Odysseus in the city and how this will affect her reputation.
Odysseus has begun to learn humility and realize that he needs to ask for help from others. While he doesn't touch Nausicaa, clasping one's knees was the customary way to beg because it places oneself in a posture of complete vulnerability.
While all of her handmaidens flee at seeing him covered in filth, notice how Homer establishes Nausicaa's strength of character even before she speaks to Odysseus by having Athena fill her with courage.
Odysseus, being a clever man, realizes that the little girl he met was far too eloquent and knowledgeable for her age and that she was likely a god in disguise. He of course turns this into a compliment in order to curry her mother's favor.
Arete has become suspicious of Odysseus, who hasn't yet made his identity or his intentions perfectly clear. Likely, she's still in shock over his sudden appearance at her feet and believes that there has been some form of magic or divine interference that brought him to their court.
Alcinous, unaware that this stranger is in fact Odysseus, intends to only give him the bare minimum of help as required by the traditions of xenia. If he really wanted to help, he would give Odysseus some soldiers and guards to make sure that he'll be safe when he arrives, but as it stands all Alcinous means to do is get Odysseus there.
Note that Echeneus isn't expecting Alcinous to give Odysseus, a stranger, the best of everything (the wine is mixed with water before it's served, he takes a seat of silver instead of gold, and eats "whatever there may be" instead of the best food in the house).
Notice the beauty and the grandeur of Erectheus' palace. Though we have seen many impressive estates in this poem, none have been as extravagant as Erectheus', suggesting that in terms of wealth and prestige he's the highest and most well-regarded of the men in the poem.
Though Odysseus has proven himself time and time again as a great and cunning warrior, he's just spent seven years as a captive and has been psychologically and emotionally damaged by the experience. He needs the encouragement of Athena, in the form of this child, to enter Alcinous' court.
Like Mentor, this little girl isn't what she seems. Here Athena is using a double disguise, at once cloaking Odysseus to make him invisible and appearing to him as a little girl in order to guide him. Odysseus would trust this girl because of her youth and innocence.
Nausicaa, daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete of Phaeacia. Her name literally means "burner of ships," and she was said to be very lovely and to look much like Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. Aristotle claims that she married Telemachus and bore him sons, but that isn't portrayed in The Odyssey.
Remember that Poseidon hasn't looked favorably on Odysseus' previous attempts to return home and that he might be particularly mad at the Phaeacians for helping him this time. If Alcinous knew this, he might be less likely to help Odysseus, which is another good reason for Odysseus to keep his identity secret.
The bard very wisely attributes the Greek victory to Athena. After the war, the Greeks boasted that they alone brought about the defeat of the Trojans, and it was this arrogance that led to Athena's wrath and the difficulties the Greeks faced returning home. Their hubris has, in this case, been their downfall.
Odysseus speaks of himself in the third person in order to incite the bard to tell stories about the Trojan Horse. Keep in mind that we've heard another version of this story from Helen, and that it wasn't uncommon in ancient Greek texts for there to be multiple conflicting accounts of a single event.
The Graces, or Charities, were several minor goddesses said to be the daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, one of the Oceanids, or daughters of the ocean. They were goddesses of charm, beauty, and fertility and were often depicted in the nude in paintings and sculpture.
Modern readers will no doubt recognize how degrading this situation is for Aphrodite. She's tied up (presumably naked) and being laughed at and fantasized about by all too violent men. Hermes' statement reveals something ugly about the hyper-sexualized nature of the gods, who are constantly depicted as having affairs.
In ancient Greece, physical deformities and birth defects were thought to be a result of the sins and character flaws of a child's parents. For Hephaestus to be thus deformed would mean that his parents had committed some terrible acts that blemished him forever.
Aphrodite, the goddess of love and cause of much quarreling on Mount Olympus. Zeus feared that the contest for her affections would tear the gods apart, so he married her off to Hephaestus, who, because of his deformity, was not considered a threat. Naturally Aphrodite wasn't happy with this arrangement and cheated on her husband regularly.
Ares, god of war, one of the Twelve Olympians and son of Zeus and Hera. Ares was known to be a particularly hot-headed and violent god associated with battle and slaughter. He also happened to be a great lover, and there are almost as many tales of his love affairs and offspring as there are of his participation in wars.
After Euryalus' remark, Alcinous' expresses some concern for his and his kingdom's reputation. He doesn't want it to get back to the Greeks that he's breached the codes of hospitality and doesn't, in case Odysseus does turn out to be a nobleman, cause some kind of feud between his kingdom and Odysseus'.
Philoctetes, the son of King Poeas of Meliboea, and a great archer in his own right. According to legend, he was stranded on the island of Lemnos by the Greeks after a wound on his foot began to fester and smell. The Greeks later came back in search of his weapons, which had once belonged to Hercules, and rescued Philoctetes.
Homer uses foreshadowing here to build the audience's anticipation and hint at the events to come. Odysseus' prowess as an archer was well-known throughout Greece and Troy and would've been part of the stories told about him. In that sense, Odysseus is giving himself away through his boasting.
Note that Athena's presence here defuses the situation. By speaking highly of Odysseus, she shows that he has some admirers in the audience, thus defusing the situation. If she hadn't done this, it's possible that his act of showmanship would've lost him Alcinous' favor and thus cost him his escort.
Modern readers will likely see this speech as an act of over-compensation on Odysseus' part. Given the degree to which he tries to put Euryalus in his place, we can assume that Odysseus not only took offense at his statement but that he's out of practice in handling these kinds of insults graciously.
That is, of small stature. Odysseus here makes a generalization about men who are "of weak presence" (not very strong or skilled in battle), who nevertheless become leaders because of their quick mind. Keep in mind that Euryalus has just accused Odysseus of this exact thing and that Odysseus is turning it back on him.
In Euryalus' speech we see a strong animosity between the members of the upper class and the working class. These "grasping traders" or merchants would be at sea most of their lives, have few ties to lands, and have less loyalty for their country, on top of being day laborers. Euryalus doesn't have much respect for these men, and neither, we can assume, does Alcinous.
To force a stranger, particularly one who has clearly suffered much, to engage in sports would be a serious violation of xenia. Euryalus's speech either indicates he doesn't understand his duty to Odysseus or doesn't adhere to the traditions of xenia.
Demodocus, a blind man, may be based on Homer himself, who was known to be blind and recited his poem from memory. That Demodocus was endowed with "both good and evil" emphasizes the ambivalent nature of the gods, who never seem content simply to assure a man's happiness.
This translation, done by Samuel Butler, is disputable. The original Greek indicates that Odysseus considers his revenge, and even prays to Pallas Athena for guidance, but does not imply that Odysseus is thinking about glory at this point. He is still overwhelmed by having seen his men eaten alive.
The Cyclops’s hubris that came with his great size got the best of him. He did not treat Odysseus with the same regard as a larger competitor and paid the price for his pride with his life.
Not only do some of his men fall prey to temptation, but they disregard the Greek virtue of temperance. Their excessive pride, or hubris, they get from sacking the town results in a bloody battle. The virtuous Odysseus triumphs over temptation and survives, as opposed to some of his men, who serve as foils for his heroic character.
Odysseus’s steadfastness in the face of temptation is another facet to his heroic character. Odysseus is rewarded for his unwavering dedication to returning home, while those who succumb to temptation are punished.
As the leader of his men, Odysseus is bound to go after those whom he sent into danger. If here were to not go seek his men, he would lose the allegiance of those who remain.
A reference to Eurystheus, king of the Tyrins. After being driven mad by Hera, Hercules consulted the Oracle of Delphi, who advised him to serve Eurystheus for twelve years in exchange for immortality. His Twelve Labours were assigned to him in this time and included slaying the Nemean Lion, killing the Hydra, and stealing the Mares of Diomedes.
Ajax and Odysseus are both proud men with good reason never to bend their principles or allow themselves to be dishonored. Many of their problems stem from this pride, and one of the central themes of The Odyssey is the difficulty of controlling that pride and preventing further disaster.
The chaotic nature of war is reflected in the Greek view of Ares, whose short temper and frequent fits of rage make his dealings with both fate and warriors inconsistent. Neoptolemus wouldn't necessarily have had the blessing of Ares, but he would've been much indebted to the god in any case.
In ancient Greek tradition, one retained one's social status even in death, and being a great warrior in life meant being revered in the afterlife. It should be noted, however, that Achilles isn't in the Elysian fields, and that his experience of death might not be very pleasant.
That is, Achilles. Aeacus was said to be the king of the island Aegina and the father of Peleus, who sired Achilles. Thus, Aeacus is Achilles' grandfather, and Achilles is his descendant, known as being particularly fleet of foot and skilled in battle.
Agamemnon's own personal experiences fuel his suspicions, which will later contribute to Odysseus's caution when he returns to Ithaca. It should be noted, however, that the suitors are the ones Odysseus can't trust, and they are without exception male.
Alcinous here refers to Odysseus' facility with speech, for which he was well-renowned in both The Iliad and The Odyssey. In ancient Greece, the ability to speak with such style was considered a quality of the upper class, and thus Alcinous is also making a comment about Odysseus' social status.
Twins Pelias and Neleus were abandoned on a mountain by Tyro, who was upset with Poseidon for disguising himself as Enipeus. The twins were raised by a stranger but later returned to kill Tyro's stepmother. Pelias, the more power-hungry of the two, banished his brother and Tyro's other children and made himself king of Thessaly.
Persephone, the queen of the underworld, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest. Hades abducted Persephone, then tricked her into eating pomegranate seeds so that even when her mother did secure her release she would have to spent part of every year in the underworld.
Anticlea means this both literally and figuratively. It's difficult to reach Erebus, because it's so far from the mainland, but it's also difficult for Odysseus to see it, as a man whom we're led to believe has many years ahead of him.
It was considered a great dishonor to leave a corpse unmourned or unburied in ancient Greece, and the fact that Odysseus did so further underscores the danger of the situation he and his men faced with Circe. Had there been time, they would've buried their comrade, but they had to get out of there as quickly as possible.
While Odysseus ensures that his men stop their ears with wax, he has them bind him to the ship so he can hear the Sirens' call. The Sirens are synonymous with temptation, and in this moment, Odysseus accepts the pull of temptation and his own weakness. However, he also relies on the help and faithfulness of others to protect him. This passage shows that while he perhaps should have simply stopped his ears and avoid the peril, Odysseus has recognized a weakness of his and demonstrated that accepting that weakness and relying on others is a valuable way to overcome temptation.
Odysseus constantly tests the gods to achieve glory for himself, and these actions have evolved into hubris. He asks Circe if he and his men might fight Scylla, escape Charybdis, and avoid any casualties. Circe chides him for his pride and recklessness, and she is one of the first to open his eyes to his headstrong and adventure-seeking ways. Odysseus soon comes to realize that his actions have worn down the patience of the gods.
By driving them to the brink of starvation to see if they will eat the sun-god's cattle, the gods are testing the oaths that the men have made to not touch the herds of Hyperion.
Considering the awful things he has encountered, Odysseus' declaration that this was the worst thing he had encountered likely indicates the high level of guilt and remorse that he feels.
Odysseus has to make a difficult decision. He will lose at least six of his men going between Scylla and Charybdis; if he is honest with them, though, he will probably lose them all. He makes the decision to lie and avoid the greater danger, so the losses will be minimal and will not include him.
Circe's instructions involve telling Odysseus that he will need to sacrifice more of his men. To successfully avoid Charybdis, the crew is forced to stay on the side of the pass where the six-headed Scylla waits to snatch up six men to eat them. At the same time, the crew must move quickly so Scylla can make only one pass at them.
Athena’s fog would make it difficult for Odysseus to tell, at first, where he lands. However, Odysseus’s confusion and despair is more likely to be a reminder to the reader of how he has been gone for twenty years. In this time, he has lost some familiarity with his homeland.
Earlier in the story when Poseidon punishes Odysseus with a great sea storm, he is careful not to kill him because he doesn’t want to disrespect Zeus’s desire for Odysseus to return to Ithaca. Even though Poseidon is careful to respect his brother, he is jealous of Zeus’s absolute power.
By not having Odysseus immediately tell the truth upon returning to Ithaca, Homer reminds audience that Odysseus is characterized by his cunning. He knows that he has been away from home for so long, and he is taking cautious measures to assess the situation before revealing himself.
Just as Odysseus was gladdened earlier in the tale by Athena's appearance as a young girl, her appearance as the young shepherd also improves his mood. However, note that Odysseus is glad at the sight of a shepherd; he does not recognize this person as Athena.
Notice how Homer depicts Poseidon with almost childish envy as he approaches Zeus. Portraying the god in this way demonstrates another another example of the anthropomorphism with which the gods have been characterized throughout the tale.
Thus we see the limits of Greek hospitality. Eumaeus lives in relative poverty and is unable to lavish Odysseus with the kinds of presents that his previous hosts have given him. It's possible that Eumaeus is withholding these presents because of Odysseus' lies, but that's less likely.
Eumaeus rightly points out that it would be unwise for him to make this wager, since as a guest this "stranger" becomes by default his friend, deserving of all the protections of a friend. Odysseus in his arrogance has overplayed his hand and made it impossible for his swineherd to show the loyalty he was expecting.
Notice that this line contradicts Odysseus' previous statement that Zeus "devised evil" against him. If Odysseus (in this fictional story) conceived of this plan himself, it would not be Zeus' fault, but Odysseus', which further proves that this story, while entertaining, isn't the wisest or most logical lie Odysseus has told.
A very telling bit of information that also serves as characterization of Odysseus, who was never truly happy at home in Ithaca. He was a man of action and enjoyed being at war, leaving his wife and son behind to look over the household and take care of all things domestic.
Remember that Telemachus' mind has been "unsettled" by Athena, the goddess of wisdom. It would appear that Eumaeus has become so dejected by Odysseus' absence that he's given up hope and has come to believe that resignation in this case is a form of wisdom. Thankfully for Odysseus, Eumaeus is wrong.
Odysseus tests Eumaeus' loyalty, asking him to reveal his true feelings about his master. This is at once a testament to Odysseus' ego, which will be stroked by Eumaeus' description, and a tactic used by Homer to delve into Eumaeus' character and backstory as it relates to Odysseus and the household.
Xenia was not only heeded by the nobility but by all social classes in ancient Greece. Eumaeus, though a swineherd, would be obliged to share his meager possessions with Odysseus, even if this was a burden on him. Luckily, Eumaeus doesn't seem to have many visitors, so this doesn't become a problem.
Notice how Telemachus' advice to Theoclymenus changes after the prophecy. Thus far, Telemachus has been helping him because he's a compassionate person, but now that he see Theoclymenus can be useful to him, he takes extra care to keep him safe.
Even though the men have sworn an oath not to harm this woman, it's entirely likely that they'll break this off if she doesn't give them good reason not to. Thus, she promises them gold and a nobleman's son that they can sell for a good price as a slave. This isn't just an act of disloyalty on her part. It's self-preservation.
Note the uneasy balance that holds kings in power: if they give their servants enough material happiness and respect, then their servants will supposedly support them and do them no harm, but if they can't make time to treat their servants well, then they could be destroyed from within their own house.
Even among servants, Eumaeus implies, there's a social hierarchy, as we see when the "upper" servants who work in the house look down on the swineherds and laborers. Odysseus, as he appears in this scene, wouldn't be fit even to work on his own lands (an irony that cannot be overstated).
Odysseus again seeks to test or "prove" Eumaeus by saying one thing while intending to do the other. If Eumaeus hadn't objected to Odysseus' plan to beg in the streets, Odysseus would almost certainly have revealed himself to punish the swineherd for his lack of loyalty.
Polypheides, father of Theoklymenus, the seer whom Telemachus meets in this scene. Polypheides was granted the gift of sight by Apollo, who made him the greatest seer in the world after the death of Amphiarus, a great warrior who was swallowed by the earth when Zeus threw a thunderbolt in front of his chariot.
Aurora, the goddess of the dawn. Aurora was the Roman epithet for the goddess, who was traditionally known in Greece as Eos, a Titaness, who rose each morning from her home on the far shore of Oceanus. Eos had a brother, Helios, god of the son, and a sister, Selene, goddess of the moon.
Unlike Menelaus, Nestor isn't very level-headed and doesn't strike a balance between fondness and polite disregard. He's wholly invested in Telemachus as a guest and expects some consideration in return. Homer draws this parallel to emphasize that the principles of xenia are not always applied in the same way.
Telemachus realizes that if Nestor hears of the danger Telemachus faces with the suitors Nestor will insist that Telemachus stay with him and avoid the problem entirely. By refusing to be Nestor's guest, he risks offending Nestor and Pisistratus, but he feels it must be done in order to speed his journey home.
Menelaus indirectly characterizes himself in this line, implying that he himself responds neither too fondly nor too rudely to Telemachus. He instead extends only as much favor as is befitting a king of his stature, thus suggesting that, though their dinner went well, Menelaus doesn't consider Telemachus anything more than a guest.
Xenia has two sides: it demands that hosts lavish their guests with food and wine, according to their means, and offer them gifts and assistance where appropriate; but it also demands that hosts follow the same rules and show their hosts the same deference shown to them.
Remember that Athena in the guise of Mentor has been traveling with Telemachus since he left Ithaca and that she hasn't been back to Olympus in all this time. For a goddess to spend so much time with a mortal was nearly unprecedented and proves how important both Odysseus and Telemachus are to Athena.
Most scholars attribute this chapter to the maturing of Telemachus. Up until now, Telemachus has simply been a young man waiting for his father to return. Now he's had his own adventures and can be considered a hero in his own right and a credit to Odysseus' family.
Eurymachus is purposefully ambiguous here because he wants to murder Telemachus; however, he cannot appear obvious about this desire while speaking in front of Penelope or others in the house. He uses fate and the will of the gods as a way to cover his own murderous plans.
Homer indicates that Amphinomus appears to be the most ethical suitor and even has a small measure of Penelope's favor. However, despite this, his association with the other suitors and failure to heed Odysseus's warning prove to be his undoing.
Considering the years he spent without his father, Telemachus has likely developed a fear of fate. This attempt to plead represents his desire to try and maintain as much control of his life as possible.
Notice how Odysseus declares what he would do were he in Telemachus's shoes. In doing so, Odysseus not only foreshadows his own triumph, but he also uses this as an opportunity to stir up his son's anger.
Telemachus's decision to gather information about his mother prior to seeing her demonstrates that despite not being raised with Odysseus as a father, the two of them share the same level of cunning and caution.
Throughout the tale, Odysseus has been quick to protect his ego and his pride. However, at this point in the tale, he has learned some humility and demonstrated it through patience. Melanthius the goatherd treats him like a beggar and even lashes out at him. Odysseus's natural response is to retaliate, but he checks himself this time, trusting that he will have his revenge eventually.
Typically, a woman whose husband was absent wouldn't receive guests after sundown for fear of an assault or a perception of impropriety. Odysseus here assumes a privilege that beggars weren't allowed, but which Eumaeus grants him because he's been injured and earned the respect of the house.
This entire interaction is atypical of beggars and noblemen. A beggar wouldn't have dared to cry out against the suitors, nor would a host have been so willfully cruel to a poor wretch, but because both men are arrogant and have opposing plans, the situation escalates unnecessarily.
Antinous suggests that he and the suitors are being wasteful with Odysseus' property merely because they can, which implies that, if they were in their own houses, they wouldn't be nearly as generous, if at all. This calls all their acts of generosity into question and makes it impossible to know who's good and who's bad.
There are no other accounts of these characters in Greek literature, suggesting that Homer made them up entirely, as Odysseus has, or that they were of such insignificance that they were not documented in their time.
Antinous mocks Telemachus by offering Odysseus this much food. It's clear from his tone that he's momentarily saving face and that if Odysseus says or does anything to displease him this generosity will turn quickly to violence and hatred.
Recall that Telemachus and Eumaeus are sitting together and that the swineherd wouldn't normally be invited to sit at the table. That Telemachus says "hush" suggests that's he's whispering his advice to Eumaeus, who doesn't seem to care.
It should be noted that Odysseus is merely paying the suitors a courtesy in not assuming that every single one of them deserves to be punished. In the end, they will all get their due, but Athena's intentions are clear in this line: any show of good will or morality will not restore their standing with the gods, who've already made their decision in this matter.
Odysseus expresses his willingness to suffer here in order to carry out his plan. This is at once a testament to his character, which proves strong enough to withstand being "buffeted" about, and an attempt on Homer's part to prepare him for the scene to come, in which Odysseus allows himself to be scorned.
Eumaeus has noticed how unusually perceptive and intelligent this "stranger" is for a beggar. Some of this has been explained away by Odysseus' fake backstory, but Eumaeus still has reason to believe that there's more to this beggar and that he may be worth keeping around.
Melanthius may not be the most loyal or respectful servant, but he is familiar with the suitors and knows how they behave. Likely, he's seen the suitors throw stools at strangers before, which prepares us for what actually happens when Odysseus meets the suitors.
A simple goatherd on Odysseus' estate, Melanthius is one of the suitors' favorite servants, along with Medon, and is often allowed to eat in the same dining hall as them, despite their difference in status. Here, he expresses disdain for the loyal Eumaeus and unknowingly insults his master, Odysseus.
Recall that Penelope has consulted many soothsayers and heard a lot of stories about Odysseus over the years. This one, though the most accurate and most hopeful, is in effect the same as the others, and receives the same hesitant response: "may it be so," suggesting that Penelope doesn't think it will.
Theoclymenus makes a mistake here in suggesting that Telemachus has withheld information from Penelope. He either doesn't know that this isn't goof etiquette or doesn't think that their plan can be ruined by his revealing Odysseus' whereabouts. Either way, showing off his powers like this isn't very wise.
Homer arranges it so that Euryclea sees Telemachus first to emphasize her close relationship with Telemachus and his family. As Nurse, she has been Telemachus' primary caregiver and thus the one most likely to support him. This also foreshadows her later recognition of Odysseus.
Telemachus appears to be having some fun with this speech. At this point, it's too risky for him to reveal Odysseus' true identity, because too much rides on a successful disguise, but that doesn't mean he can't still make a joke about his father, who almost never says what he means.
Telemachus subtly asserts control, indicating a shift in power from the suitors to the rightful possessors. His advice is similar to his father’s earlier, when Odysseus suggested Aphinomus go home before the bloodshed occurs. Again, Homer creates a parallel between father and son, with Telemachus’s burgeoning heroism measured against the success of his father.
Odysseus patronizes Eurymachus for believing he has any authority. Because of his quest, Odysseus is much more cultured and knowledgeable than Eurymachus and has faced far greater enemies than this ignorant man who lives in a “little world”.
The relationship between Penelope and Telemachus has been strained since the beginning of the Odyssey. His mother’s complaints symbolize the pressures Telemachus faces to establish his masculinity without a father figure and to prove his heroism regardless of his father’s reputation.
Odysseus reflects on the struggles he’s faced at the hands of the gods on his journey back to Ithaca. He has changed from the beginning of the story and become more self-aware and humble.
If the geese in Penelope's dream represent the suitors, as Odysseus claims, then her feelings in the dream suggest that she would accept a suitor to remarry. This is not surprising that after years of doubting whether Odysseus was alive and after being pursued by this large group of men, Penelope would start to feel attracted to at least some of those who want her hand.
Having heard his stories, Penelope persists in testing the stranger's knowledge about Odysseus to see whether or not the tales are true. In doing so, she proves that she is Odysseus's equal at questioning.
Odysseus is purposefully testing Penelope's loyalty by telling her these stories. The long simile in this sentence not only indicates the grief and care that she still has for her husband but also satisfies Odysseus.
This line would suggest that the darkness is entirely in Theoclymenus' head, but we can't be certain of this, since the suitors' eyes began to fill with tears even before his moment of insight or prophecy. Eurymachus might be hiding his fear, or he might be one of the few suitors who doesn't feel it.
Agelaus' speech seemed so reasonable up until now, when his motives for being so considerate and friendly reveal themselves to be self-serving: he wants Penelope to choose a new husband, which is to say, he wants Odysseus' money, and he's tired of waiting.
In the beginning of the poem, Telemachus made a similar speech to the suitors which also caused them to bite their lips until Alcinous spoke up. Here, he again speaks out against Telemachus, but doesn't have the courage to silence him because their attempt on his life has already failed (a bad omen if there ever was on).
Telemachus has never spoken this forcefully to the suitors. It could be a sign that he's matured, or he could be drawing strength from his father's presence, knowing that if he's ever truly in danger his father will rush to help.
This isn't the first time that one of Odysseus' servants has expressed the desire to leave the household and strike out on their own. Eumaeus himself has said that servants begin to feel thus when their masters are cruel or absent, which suggests that the servant-master bond was tenuous at best.
There's no way for Melanthius to know how he begs, in fact, because he's never been around to see it and has only met him once in passing on the way to the house. Melanthius' dislike for Odysseus has no foundation and reflects poorly on his character.
This miller-woman is essentially piggy-backing on Odysseus' prayer, hoping that Zeus, whose attention has already been won, will decide to listen to her as well. Luckily for her and Odysseus, she shows her master loyalty, and thus her prayer will be granted.
Like Penelope, Odysseus appears to have dreamed that she was by his side. This suggests something about the psychological and emotional depth of their connection, which has survived the twenty years of their absence, making it the most stable relationship we've seen in The Odyssey.
It's curious that Penelope has dreamed (or fantasized) about a young Odysseus, and that this happened directly after meeting a much older and presumably unrecognizable Odysseus. This might suggest superficiality on her part, or it might foretell trouble in the relationship, because Odysseus has changed, and Penelope might not like the man he's become.
Here we plainly see Odysseus' priorities: he's first and foremost a soldier and his primary loyalty is to his men, whose deaths affect him more than the insolence of the suitors; his wife and son, and the glory of his estate, come second to this love of war and his relationships with his fellow soldiers.
It's highly unlikely that these women, many of which are called maids, would be old enough for him to remember all of them, since he's been gone for twenty years. It's also somewhat unlikely that they would want to embrace him when he's covered in blood, but Homer overlooks this to make Odysseus seem like a beloved king.
At this point, the surviving suitors have likely taken cover, hiding behind tables and columns to prevent Odysseus from shooting them at a distance. Agelaus has to shout because the suitors are spread out around the room and have no other way of communicating.
Notice that Eurymachus doesn't suggest that they kill Odysseus. He instead says that they get past him, suggesting that he doesn't think it's possible for the suitors to defeat Odysseus in combat. This is a rare display of wisdom on Eurymachus' part, and will also be his last.
Eurymachus attempts to subjugate himself to Odysseus. Technically speaking, Odysseus is still king and the suitors are all his citizens, but since they've proven themselves to be unworthy of that status time and time again, this tactic, while clever, proves ineffective.
Eurymachus tries to lay all the blame on what happened on Antinous, forgetting that Odysseus has been observing them for two days now and knows very well who is responsible for what. Still, Euymachus has proven himself to be a crafty speaker and thinks he can talk his way out of this.
Remember that Telemachus removed all weapons from the walls earlier in the poem and that the suitors are now left only with what they have on them: their own swords, perhaps a few spears, and no shields whatsoever. If they'd been less arrogant, perhaps they would've been prepared for this attack.
Even though he is reunited with his wife and in Ithaca, Odysseus still has to repay his debt to Poseidon, as Teiresias had foretold, to finally be able to live out the rest of his life in peace.
No other man would know the unique construction of Odysseus and Penelope's bed. When he finally gives her the proof that she needs, Penelope has no more doubts about the stranger's identity and can finally embrace him.
As with the suitors, Odysseus kills the ringleader first, hoping that this will cause the group to disband without anymore needless killing. This tactic didn't work with the suitors, but fortunately Athena intervenes this time, averting more needless death.
One of the rare instances in which Zeus practices restraint and acts like a diplomat. Notice that while he's not telling Athena what to do, he's giving her advice that it would be unwise for her to ignore. Thus, he allow her to feel autonomous even while controlling her actions.
Agamemnon refers to his own wife, Clytemnestra. His comparison here emphasizes Penelope's essential faithfulness and goodness (as a woman who resisted taking a lover and betraying her husband) and Clytemnestra's deceit, which seems especially cunning when stacked against Penelope's virtue.