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Themes

In the Odyssey, honesty is most definitely not the best policy. In fact—as we learn when Odysseus idiotically tells Polyphemos his name and address—it's usually a pretty bad policy. All the good guys tell lies: Telemachos sneaks away from his mom; Athene is constantly dressing herself up as some old man or other; and even Penelope comes up with a rad deception about Laertes's magically shrinking shroud. That's not even mentioning Odysseus, who's practically the king of lies. What makes all this deception acceptable to the gods? (Besides the fact that they do it themselves, all the time?) It's all for a good cause: reuniting Ithaka's First Family.

Questions About Lies and Deceit

  1. For what purposes is deception used in the Odyssey? Are these mainly benevolent? When (if ever) do we see deception being used for bad purposes?
  2. Odysseus's cunning certainly gets him out of some tight spots, but does it ever work against him?
  3. Is a particular sex—male or female—more associated with cunning and trickery? Which characters exemplify this? Which characters buck this trend?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In the Odyssey, deception is just fine as long as you're in good with the gods. If not—look out for some divine retribution.

When Odysseus resumes his rightful place as king of Ithaka, we get the sense that he's done with lies and trickery for good.

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