Study Guide

The Odyssey Home

By Homer

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All Odysseus wants it to go home. Sure, the goddess-sex is nice; yeah, Nausikaa is kind of cute; but he really just wants to go home. He tells us that "what I want and all my days I pine for is to go back to my house and see my day of homecoming" (5.219-20); and then that "there is nothing worse for mortal men than the vagrant life" (15.343); and then, when he finally does make it home, hugging his wife is like arriving on shore after nearly drowning.

Yeah, we think "home" is important. There's even a fancy Greek word for how important the concept of "homecoming" was to the Greek: nostos. Recognize that? It's the room of our word "nostalgia": the longing for home.
The thing is, the desire to be home conflicts with the ancient Greek imperative to go out and win honor. You can't become a hero if you're sitting by the fireside with your wife. And a lot of scholars see the Odyssey as specifically about nostos, in contrast to the Iliad, which is about kleos, or fame and glory. Notice how Odysseus' desire for kleostelling Polyphemos his name and address—is exactly what gets him farther and farther away from nostos?

But twenty-four books later, and we're still not sure which one wins. Is nostos the higher good, after all? Remember that Achilleus in the underworld says that he regrets his choice to go for glory: he'd rather be a slave on earth than a king in the underworld. Or is kleos still the better option—no matter how much you miss your wife's white arms?

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