The Odyssey Fate and Free Will Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
(Polyphemos, in Odysseus’s tale:) ‘“Hear me, Poseidon who circle the earth, dark-haired. If truly I am your son, and you acknowledge yourself as my father, grant that Odysseus, sacker of cities, son of Laertes, who makes his home in Ithaka, may never reach that home; but if it is decided that he shall see his own people, and come home to his strong-founded house and to his own country, let him come late, in bad case, with the loss of all his companions, in someone else’s ship, and find troubles in his household.” ‘So he spoke in prayer, and the dark-haired god heard him.’ (9.528-536)
Wounded Polyphemos invokes his father Poseidon as well as Fate to his aid in cursing Odysseus. This is excellent evidence that notions of fate and free will are not mutually exclusive. Odysseus chooses to blind the Cyclops and to reveal his name, therefore it is his fate to suffer at sea. His pride, not his destiny, determines the following course of events.
(Circe, in Odysseus’s tale:) ‘“Son of Laertes and seed of Zeus, resourceful Odysseus, you shall no longer stay in my house when none of you wish to; but first there is another journey you must accomplish and reach the house of Hades and of revered Persephone, there to consult with the soul of Teiresias the Theban, the blind prophet, whose senses stay unshaken within him, to whom alone Persephone has granted intelligence even after death, but the rest of them are flittering shadows.”’ (10.488-495)
It might seem kind of weird how Circe just suddenly up and tells Odysseus that he has to go to the Underworld, though since she’s a (minor) goddess herself, it kind of makes sense that she would know the will of the gods. Anyway, it’s important to remember that this comes from the part of the story narrated by Odysseus himself, in which we never get a “behind-the-scenes” look at what the gods are planning. Like Odysseus, we’re just along for the ride in this part of the story.
(Elpenor, in Odysseus’s tale:) ‘“Son of Laertes and seed of Zeus, resourceful Odysseus, the evil will of the spirit and the wild wine bewildered me. I lay down on the roof of Circe’s palace, and never thought, when I went down, to go by way of the long ladder, but blundered straight off the edge of the roof, so that my neck bone was broken out of its sockets, and my soul went down to Hades’. […] I know that after you leave this place and the house of Hades you will put back with your well-made ship to the island, Aiaia; there at that time, my lord, I ask that you remember me, and do not go and leave me behind unwept, unburied, when he leave, for fear I might become the gods’ curse upon you; but burn me there with all my armor that belongs to me, and heap up a grave mound beside the beach of that gray sea, for an unhappy man, so that those to come will know of me. Do this for me, and on top of the grave mound plant the oar with which I rowed when I was alive and among my companions.”’ (11.60-65, 69-78)
We wish every drunken mistake we make could be chalked up to luck or fate. Oh, and if you wanted, you could read Elpenor’s fate as a test for Odysseus, a test of his own piety and, in turn, whether or not he is worthy of his own destiny.