Irony in The Odyssey
Dramatic irony is used throughout the story to build tension and suspense for the listening audience. Because the narrator invokes a muse at the beginning of the tale, he, and by extension his audience, are given privileged sight of Odysseus’s tale. For this reason, the audience often knows things that the characters in the story cannot, creating the dramatic irony and providing tension for the story.
Irony Examples in The Odyssey:
Book III 2
"I can expect nothing of the kind..." See in text (Book III)
This is another example of dramatic irony since the audience knows that Telemachus is being guided by the goddess Athena, who is disguised as Mentor, while searching for Odysseus. This emphasizes Telemachus’ slight ignorance, as well as dependence on Athena.
"praying heartily to Poseidon..." See in text (Book III)
It is ironic that Athena prays to Poseidon since she is actively working against the god who is punishing Odysseus by giving advice to his son, Telemachus.
Book V 1
"I am going to send you away of my own free will..." See in text (Book V)
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.
Book XIII 1
"may I find my admirable wife living in peace among friends..." See in text (Book XIII)
As readers we are given the information that a large group of suitors has descended upon Penelope, trying to convince her Odysseus is dead and she should take one of their hands in marriage. By having Odysseus hope for something that directly contrasts the reality of the situation, Homer uses dramatic irony here to foreshadow further conflict in the story.
Book XV 1
"and their hair always tidy..." See in text (Book XV)
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).
Book XVII 1
"like a man..." See in text (Book XVII)
Note the irony of this statement. Melanthius, a man of little to no means and a servant with no respect for his master, would never receive a sword or a cauldron as a gift, making him, by his own definition, less of a man. This further underscores how unhealthy the gender roles in ancient Greece were.
Book XVIII 3
"married the best man..." See in text (Book XVIII)
Homer uses dramatic irony to humorous effect. Antinous demands Penelope pick the “best man” to marry, while her husband, Odysseus, is also standing in the room unbeknownst to them.
"of the same mind as I am..." See in text (Book XVIII)
Homer uses irony to emphasize Telemachus’s cleverness. Telemachus means exactly the opposite of what he says about Antinous and Eurymachus being “understanding”, but he is using it as a cover-up so that they don’t interfere. His craftiness deepens the connection between him and his father.
"Irus..." See in text (Book XVIII)
This is another example of Homer’s wordplay. “Irus” is a play on “Iris”, a messenger goddess. Some of the townspeople nicknamed him this ironically because he is the complete opposite of any godly being: a beggar and a drunkard. He delivers messages out of dire need, not out of divine duty.