Athena’s Role in Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’
The story of Homer’s epic poem the “The Odyssey” takes place ten years after the Trojan War is over. There are many heroes of the war that come home to their families, however there are even more that are lost through the long struggling years of the war. Of the few who stayed behind, Odysseus goes through battle after battle, problem after problem, and has had the most trouble coming home. The story opens in the tenth year since the war has ended, almost 20 years since our mighty hero Odysseus went to war and left his palace, his wife Penelope, and even his infant son Telemachus behind. Telemachus grew up without a father wondering if Odysseus will ever return home. The story of the “Odyssey” captures the reunion between long lost father with his son, and taking back the land from the horrible suitors that fill the king’s palace.
Herein emerges another hero that would save this family from all the problems of their Epic poem. The mighty Goddess of wisdom and strategy and daughter of Zeus, Athena play a significant role throughout “The Odyssey”. Too Athena, our world is not like her own world of gods and goddess She can walk freely in any form, even the face of characters who have long past from the world of the characters in “The Odyssey”. It is through her every word she speaks and every action she takes that affects the lives of the millions that look up to her for guidance. Athena can bring those people together, and acts as the savior and protector of the people. In this essay I will analyze Athena’s major role of protection and guidance throughout the epic, and how her use of disguise and transformation affects their motivation and choices in the epic poem.
Athena takes the role of both protection and wisdom as she not only leads but fights alongside both Odysseus and Telemachus. She instills confidence and strength into Telemachus and helps him in his journey into manhood. Athena also helps Odysseus, giving him both advice and assistance as he faces the many problems through his journey back to home. Athena doesn’t just help Odysseus and his son; she helps to develop them as epic heroes. It is through her they learn the qualities that define a hero. From her first act of assistance to her final peacemaking, she is largely responsible for the creation and conclusion of the plot.
Telemachus’ daydreams before meeting Athena for the first time: “â€¦sitting among the suitors, heart obsessed with grief. He could almost see his magnificent father, here” (B1:L134-136). Growing up without his father Odysseus, the only knowledge Telemachus knows of him are only the stories told to him by his consorts. With all the suitors roaming freely through the great halls of his father’s palace, chasing after his mother Penelope’s hand in marriage, Prince Telemachus is left hopeless to stop them. Athena uses her great skills of strategy and wisdom to quickly find a way to inspire our hero Telemachus to journey to find his father. She shape shifts into Odysseus’ old friend Mentes, and predicts that Odysseus is still alive and that he will soon return to Ithaca.”Take my words to heart. At daybreak summon the islands lords to full assembly, give your orders to all and call the gods to witnessâ€¦ sail in quest of news of your long- lost father,” Athena declared (B1:L315-325). With these words of encouragement, Athena uses her disguise to influence the prince to find his father. If it not for Athena, Telemachus might have taken his father for dead and encouraged his mother to marry one of her suitors. The journey is also important because the journey of Telemachus plays an important part of him becoming a man on his own.
When Telemachus reaches Nestor’s kingdom, Lord Nestor tells Telemachus the story of his father after the war and what happened to Agamemnon. As Menelaus set sail for Greece immediately after the war, Agamemnon decided to wait a day and continue sacrificing on the shores of Troy. Nestor tells Telemachus that he left the island with Menelaus, while Odysseus stayed behind with Agamemnon, and since then Nestor has heard no news of Odysseus. Nestor continued and suddenly Athena “winged away in an eagle’s form and flight” (B3:L410). Nestor, astonished, prayed that Athena will show Telemachus the kindness that she showed Odysseus “Dear boy- never fear you’ll be a coward or defenseless, not if at your young age the gods will guard you so. Of all who dwell on Olympus, this was none but sheâ€¦” (B3:L415-424). Homer chose this moment to show that Athena is truly with the boy and his journey to find his father and protect his family. Athena would quickly become a major part of Telemachus and his journey to find news of his father.
Athena not only used her power of disguise and transformation to inspire Telemachus however, she also brought together many people to help in his journey, and kept those people strong through all the doubt they had for the heroes success. Before Telemachus even set sail from his home, Athena disguised herself as the prince and brought crewman to his ship: “Gather beside our ship at nightfall- Be there” (B2:L425). Athena brings hope to those who need it the most. Once she learns of her son leaving, Penelope cries at the thought of losing her son Telemachus to the suitor’s plot of ambush against her son. Athena quickly thinks of one more way to help Penelope, by becoming a phantom of Iphthime, sister of Penelope: “Courage! Don’t be overwhelmed by all your direst fears. He travels with such an escort, one that others would pray to stand beside them” (B4:L928-930). Later on, Penelope weeps again but Athena made sure to take care of her:” ‘Daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope, be of good cheer, and let not things distress your heart’ until bright-eyed Athena cast sweet sleep upon her eyelids” (B16:L451). Athena shows great care for the main heroes of “The Odyssey” and protects those who are too weak to be on their own. A quality of an epic hero is to protect the weak, goddess or not, she proves over and over again that she is a true hero and a protector of the people.
Athena offers not only protection, but gifts to her followers. In “The Odyssey” Athena brings together the skills of women: “For as the Phaeacian men are skilled above all others in speeding a swift ship upon the sea, so are the women cunning workers at the loom, for Athena has given to them above all others skill in fair handiwork, and an understanding heart” (B7:L110). Athena’s heart is pure and it is through her divinity that she grants the power and will to be strong. Before Telemachus grows weary of travel during his journey to find his father Athena urges him to head steadfast home to protect his mother: “Telemachus, do not well to wander longer far from your home, leaving behind you your wealth and men in your house so insolent, that they divide and devour all your possessions. Nay, rouse with all speed â€¦find your noble mother still in her home” (B15:L9-15).
Athena watches over Telemachus like he was her own child sending him on the right wind for his journey home: “And bright-eyed Athena sent them a favorable wind, blowing strongly through the sky, that, speeding swiftly, the ship might accomplish her way over the salt water of the sea” (B13:L292). It is with Athena’s divine powers and blessings both Telemachus and Odysseus are reunited as father and son. Athena truly believes in Telemachus and his people, and brings them closer together with her blessings of strength and wisdom against the many trials the gods have put between him, as well as Odysseus and his journey home. With Odysseus she not only gives him advice but also assistance against the forces that stand in front of him. During the scene of the slaughter of the suitors, she moves deadly spears that are aimed at Odysseus (B22: L 268-270). She has a love for Odysseus and his family that only a god can have for their followers.
Even though she is the goddess of strategy, it never meant she wants war. Even though all her quick thinking and fighting would protect her people, Athena never wanted to bring more pain to anyone. This is apparent when after the vicious massacre of the suitors, the families of the suitors army tracks Odysseus to Laertes’ house and plot to attack Odysseus when he least expects it. Athena decides to stop to the violence between the aggressive families. Disguised again as Mentor once again Athena ; “handed down her pacts of peace between both sides for all the years to come” (B24:L599-601). Peace is restored to the palace of Odysseus and Athena’s mission is finally complete
Athena is the caretaker of Odysseus and Telemachus. It is with her help Odysseus can become a stronger, nobler Homeric hero. Telemachus on the other hand, becomes a man by stepping forth on his journey to find his father. Without her push he would not have had the courage to step out of the protection of the palace and into the wild sea where his journey leads him. Who knows what might have happened to Odysseus and his family had Athena not provided the great assistance that she did. In many ways, Athena demonstrates several qualities of a hero; strength, wisdom, courage, and the power to lead. With her divine powers of disguise and strategy, she is the protector of our heroes in “The Odyssey”.