The Development of Odysseus Story in ‘The Odyssey’

The story of The Odyssey was written by the great epic poet Homer. In twenty- four books, the author presents the trials and tribulations of the protagonist Odysseus, and his voyage back to his home state of Ithaca. It contains so many and such striking adventures, some have called it an adventure story (n.a. 115). Over the course of the story through the foreshadowing and flashbacks; the question is over the course of the epic does the character of Odysseus change, evolve, or does he remain the same? Different from the characters in the Iliad and characters in Homer’s other works; usually remaining flat or static, Odysseus in The Odyssey, is a dynamic or round character. Through the story he does evolve and develop as a character. Therefore this essay will explain whether or not Odysseus developed as a character at all over the course of the narrative. In saying that, who was Odysseus in The Odyssey?

Odysseus is the protagonist or main character and the hero of this epic poem. Odysseus was the king of Ithaca, was married Queen Penelope and was also the father of Prince Telemachus. Odysseus was portrayed as a great warrior, who sets off at the beginning of the poem to go fight amongst the toughest warriors in the battle of Troy. He was a man of a very wise and shrewd man; resourceful, but also eloquent, courageous, full of endurance, and lastly extremely cunning in some sort as cunning as Niccolò Machiavelli. Throughout the book Odysseus has a number of adventures and encounters with the gods, sea creatures, other humans, and also giants, all of which play dominate roles in his development as a character throughout the book (Levine 6).

Taking it back to Homer’s other great epic, The Iliad, in which Odysseus is also a character who goes through dramatic changes while the poem progresses. At the beginning of Homer’s book The Iliad, Lord Agamemnon and Menelaus sail to Ithaca to convince Odysseus to join them in battle. Although, when asked about setting off on this voyage Odysseus was very hesitant to go, because Penelope had just given birth to his dear son Telemachus. He even tries to convince Agamemnon and Menelaus that he is deranged; however he fails and sets off to battle, with them. Over the course of ten years the battle of Troy goes on. During this battle Odysseus evolves from husband, father, king into a warrior, which is where The Odyssey begins.

The book begins with Odysseus the warrior, however as stated earlier with all the valor and honor and gratitude given to Odysseus he is greatly known for being cunning. Throughout the book Odysseus uses deceptive speech or voices and disguise to trick and or confuse people. He often altered his appearance and changing the way he spoke and sounded. In Book I for example Odysseus tells the Cyclops Polyphemus, his name is “Nobody.” While beating Polyphemus he exclaims “Nobody is beating you,” when the Cyclops asked who was doing so (Homer 7). He did so when others would ask Polyphemus, what was wrong and responded “Nobody is hurting me.” the others would assume that, “If alone as you are [Polyphemus] none uses violence on you, why, there is no avoiding the sickness sent by great Zeus; so you had better pray to your father, the lord Poseidon”(Homer 8). Also, in the poem when he first meets and addresses Nausicaa on the island of Scheria, his suave, comforting approach quickly wins her trust. He could win over and manipulate his audience, which he did all of the way through the book.

Homeric characters are generally static. Though they may be very complex and realistic, they do not change over the course of the work as characters in modern novels and stories do (SparkNotes 1). However, in The Odyssey the main character Odysseus breaks this tradition. Early on in his journey, Odysseus being head strong and wanting to be known and shown all of the glory: he waits too long in the cave of Polyphemus, enjoying the free milk and cheese he finds, and is trapped there when the Cyclops returns. He even reveals his true self to the Cyclops and brings Poseidon’s wrath down on him. Henceforth, by the end of the story, he is more patient and is able to put his pride to the side. He even disguises himself as a beggar. As a beggar he is abused and beat on, but he does not react as quickly to the suitors’ abuse. He instead, take the beating until he sets up a trap and the loyalties put him in a position to where he can strike back effectively.

Athena the goddess of wisdom and battle is Odysseus’ favorite goddess. She often saves him in his times of need, like Odysseus Athena too shares a dislike for Poseidon, who is the sea god, and the antagonist in the poem. He tends to frustrate Odysseus every chance there is to do so, during the tenure of his journey. However, throughout the poem Athena helps Odysseus to disguise himself.

Odysseus shares the character traits of a leader from the Homeric era: he was a very noble man, had enormous strength, very courageous, a thirst for glory and was very confident in his ability to rule and in his authority. Although all of these traits distinguished him, Odysseus has a very sharp intellect. When placed in some sticky situations throughout the epic, his quick thinking gets him out. For example in Book IX, his ability to think fast allows him to escape from the Cyclops’ cave. Even in Book XXIII, when he has a minstrel strike up a wedding sign in book to hide where he slaughtered the suitors.

Similar to other Homeric heroes, Odysseus wants to win the glory, so he does great deeds, and he hopes to complete homecoming. He enjoys his luxurious life with Calypso in an exotic land, but only to a point. As he grows and misses home, he is eager to return home. In Homeric Greece wives were only property, desirable as overseers of the female servants and as means of securing identifiable heirs and descendants. Men did not impose upon themselves the chastity necessarily required of the women, and were more angry than grieved if their wives showed a preference for other men (n.a. 115). He even admits that his wife Penelope could not compete with Calypso. He thinks of home throughout the time he spends with the Phaeacians and also while on Circe’s island (n.a. 115). Often times his glory seeking ways seem to get in the way of his vision of going home.

In the final books of The Odyssey, Odysseus begins to smile; his confident smile helps set the tone for the rest of the story. Odysseus’ smiles express his confident superiority: while being abused, at the close of the annihilation of the suitors (Levine 2). He eventually makes it back home regardless of all the turmoil he went through over the course of his adventure.

In conclusion, Odysseus started out this great egoistic warrior, confident, not being able to swallow and put his pride aside, wanting everyone to know his name, the husband and father. Over the course of the story through the foreshadowing and flashbacks; the answer to the question yes, the character of Odysseus does in face change; he does not remain the same. Through the story he does evolve and develop as a character; by the end of the story, he is more patient and is able to put his pride to the side, and becomes more cunning and even reduces his stature of King of Ithaca, and disguises himself as a beggar, and allowing abuse from the suitors. Therefore Odysseus is a round character and does develop as a character in the epic of The Odyssey.

 

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