Study Guide

The Odyssey Quotes

  • Tradition and Custom

    Book 1
    Telemachos

    [Telemachos] saw Athene and went straight to the forecourt, the heart within him scandalized that a guest should still be standing at the doors. He stood beside her and took her by the right hand, and relieved her of the bronze spear, and spoke to her and addressed her in winged words: ‘Welcome, stranger. You shall be entertained as a guest among us. Afterward, when you have tasted dinner, you shall tell us what your need is.’ […] [A]nd he led her and seated her in a chair, with a cloth to sit on, the chair splendid and elaborate. For her feet there was a footstool. For himself, he drew a painted bench next her, apart from the others, the suitors, for fear the guest, made uneasy by the uproar, might lose his appetite there among overbearing people […]. (1.118-124, 130-134)

    Telemachos shows his hospitality by inviting the guest in as soon as he sees him (well, technically “her,” but Telemachos doesn’t know that), refraining from asking his name and business, and immediately taking him inside, stowing away his effects, and feeding him at a fine table. He is thoughtful enough to consider the effect of the suitors’ uncouth noise on his guest’s appetite and locate him accordingly. In the following lines, we will see Telemachos’s generosity illustrated by the amount of good food he serves to his guest. Of course, his actions are not totally altruistic. He wants news of his father from the guest, but we think this sounds like a pretty fair trade.

    Telemachos replied: ‘My guest, your words to me are very kind and considerate, what any father would say to his son. I shall not forget them. But come now, stay with me, eager though you are for your journey, so that you must first bathe and take your ease and, well rested and happy in your heart, then go back to your ship with a present, something prized, altogether fine, which will be your keepsake from me, what loving guests and hosts bestow on each other.’ (1.307-313)

    Telemachos shows his hospitality and gratefulness to Athene even though he does not know her true identity; this may be one of the reasons Athene disguises herself, to discern the true nature of various mortals. Clearly, Telemachos passed the test.

    (Telemachos:) ‘For all the greatest men who have the power in the islands, in Doulichion and Same and in wooded Zakynthos, and all who in rocky Ithaka are holders of lordships, all these are after my mother for marriage, and wear my house out. And she does not refuse the hateful marriage, nor is she able to make an end of the matter; and these eating up my substance waste it away; and soon they will break me myself to pieces.’ (1.245-251)

    Telemachos isn’t just complaining about the obviously rude and disrespectful behavior of the suitors; he’s complaining about a far more serious transgression: that they are breaking Zeus’s rules of hospitality. He also hints at the impending plot against his life.

    Then the haughty suitors came in, and all of them straightway took their places in order on chairs and along the benches, and their heralds poured water over their hands for them to wash with, and the serving maids brought them bread heaped up in the baskets, and the young men filled the mixing bowls with wine for their drinking. They put their hands to the good things that lay ready before them. But when they had put away their desire for eating and drinking, the suitors found their attention turned to other matters, the song and the dance; for these things come at the end of the feasting. (1.144-152)

    Immediately after Telemachos demonstrates the proper way to act, the suitors come in and demonstrate…the not-so-proper way. The fact that these two passages are placed right next to each other only highlights the contrast.

    Book 3
    Nestor

    (Nestor:) ‘May Zeus and all the other immortals beside forfend that you, in my domain, should go on back to your fast ship as from some man altogether poor and without clothing, who has not any abundance of blankets and rugs in his household for his guests, or for himself to sleep in soft comfort. But I do have abundance of fine rugs and blankets. No, no, in my house the dear son of Odysseus shall not have to go to sleep on the deck of a ship, as long as I am alive, and my sons after me are left in my palace to entertain our guests, whoever comes to my household.’ (3.346-355)

    Nestor shows great hospitality not only because of the Greek tradition, but because Telemachos is the son of his good friend.

    (Nestor:) ‘Act quickly now, dear children, and do me this favor, so that I may propitiate first of all the gods, Athene, who came plainly to me at our happy feasting in the god’s honor. Come then, let one man go to the field for a cow, so that she may come with all speed, and let one of the oxherds be driving her, and one go down to the black ship of great-hearted Telemachos, and bring back all his companions, leaving only two beside her, and yet another go tell the worker in gold Laerkes to come, so that he can cover the cow’s horns with gold. You others stay here all together in a group but tell the serving women who are in the house to prepare a glorious dinner, and set chairs and firewood in readiness, and fetch bright water.’ (3.418-429)

    Feasting and sacrifice appear to be an intricate part of Greek hospitality, reminding us that the tradition has much to do with piety and reverence toward the gods.

    Book 4
    Menelaos

    (Menelaos:) ‘Surely we two have eaten much hospitality from other men before we came back here. May Zeus only make an end of such misery hereafter. Unharness the strangers’ horses then, and bring the men here to be feasted.’ (4.33-36)

    Menelaos’s reasoning for his generous hospitality is one of gratitude for the assistance given him on his way home from Troy.

    Book 5
    Kalypso

    (Kalypso:) ‘How is it, Hermes of the golden staff, you have come to me? I honor you and love you; but you have not come much before this. Speak what is in your mind. My heart is urgent to do it if I can, and if it is a thing that can be accomplished. But come in with me, so I can put entertainment before you.’ So the goddess spoke, and she set before him a table which she had filled with ambrosia, and mixed red nectar for him. (5.87-93)

    Even the gods have traditions of hospitality between one another.

    Book 6
    Nausikaa

    (Nausikaa:) ‘But now, since it is our land and our city that you have come to, you shall not lack for clothing nor anything else, of those gifts which should befall the unhappy suppliant on his arrival.’ (6.191-193)

    The generosity with which Odysseus is received by the Phaiakians recalls Telemachos’s experience with the various kings he visits.

    Book 7
    Alkinoös

    (Alkinoös:) ‘Now, having feasted, go home and take your rest, and tomorrow at dawn we shall call the elders in, in greater numbers, and entertain the guest in our halls, and to the immortals accomplish fine sacrifices, and after that we shall think of conveyance, and how our guest without annoyance or hardship may come again, convoyed by us, to his own country, in happiness and speed, even though it lies very far off […].’ (7.188-194)

    Because he doesn’t know who Odysseus is, Alkinoös’s excessive hospitality is based purely on Greek tradition.

    But when Alkinoös of the hallowed strength had heard this, he took by the hand the wise and much-devising Odysseus, and raised him up from the fireside, and set him in a shining chair, displacing for this powerful Laodamas, his son, who had been sitting next him and who was the one he loved most. A maidservant brought water for him and poured it from a splendid and golden pitcher, holding it above a silver basin for him to wash, and she pulled a polished table before him. A grave housekeeper brought in the bread and served it to him, adding many good things to it, generous with her provisions. Then long-suffering great Odysseus ate and drank. (7.167-177)

    It is important to note that Odysseus receives this royal treatment before revealing his identity as the famous hero who helped the Greeks win the Trojan war. Much like Athene in disguise, he is treated well even in anonymity.

    Book 8
    Alkinoös

    (Alkinoös:) ‘[…] one who is your companion, and has thoughts honorable toward you, is of no less degree than a brother […].’ (8.585-586)

    The notion of hospitality is so strong in the world of the Odyssey that guests can even be considered part of one’s family.

    (Alkinoös:) ‘Here is this stranger, I do not know who he is, come wandering suppliant here to my house from the eastern or western people. He urges conveyance, and entreats us for its assurance. So let us, as we have done before, hasten to convey him, for neither has any other man who has come to my house stayed here grieving a long time for the matter of convoy.’ (8.28-33)

    When Alkinoös refers to past visitors “to my house,” we see that this is no special case of remarkable hospitality. Clearly, this is the norm for the generous Phaiakians.

    Laodamas

    (Laodamas:) ‘Come you also now, father stranger, and try these contests, if you have skill in any. It beseems you to know athletics, for there is no greater glory that can befall a man living than what he achieves by speed of his feet or strength of his hands. So come then and try it, and scatter those cares that are on your spirit. Your voyage will not be put off for long, but now already your ship is hauled down to the sea, and your companions are ready.’ (8.145-151)

    We see from Laodamas that there are many different ways to show hospitality; it extends beyond mere provisions to friendly camaraderie.

    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) ‘Let any of the rest, whose heart and spirit are urgent for it, come up and try me, since you have irritated me so, either at boxing or wrestling or in a foot race, I begrudge nothing; any of the Phaiakians, that is, except Laodamas himself, for he is my host; who would fight with his friend? Surely any man can be called insensate and good for nothing who in an alien community offers to challenge his friend and host in the games. He damages what it is.’ (8.204-211)

    Odysseus shows the behavior of a good guest by refusing to challenge his host and protector. He places so much store by this that he compares it to the cutting away the ground from beneath one’s feet; in other words, insulting one’s host is akin to harming oneself.

    Book 9

    ‘From the start my companions spoke to me and begged me to take some of the cheeses, come back again, and the next time to drive the lambs and kids from their pens, and get back quickly to the ship again, and go sailing off across the salt water; but I would not listen to them, it would have been better their way, not until I could see him, see if he would give me presents. My friends were to find the sight of him in no way lovely.’ (9.224-230)

    Odysseus faults his own logic here; he was operating on the assumption that whoever inhabited the cave would follow the traditional rules of hospitality. Of course, that wasn’t the case here.

    Polyphemos

    (Polyphemos, in Odysseus’s tale:) ‘“Stranger, you are a simple fool, or come from far off, when you tell me to avoid the wrath of the gods or fear them. The Cyclopes do not concern themselves over Zeus of the aegis, nor any of the rest of the blessed gods, since we are far better than they […].”’ (9.273-287)

    The punishment that Polyphemos ultimately suffers is justified by his refusal here to play by the rules. On the other hand, you could argue if Polyphemos and his people have chosen to live outside of Zeus’s rules, why should they be forced to comply with them? This would be like traveling to another country and chastising them for not celebrating the Fourth of July. Again, the counter-argument would be that Zeus, as the King of the Gods, rules everything and everyone without question. What do you think?

    (Polyphemos, in Odysseus’s tale:) ‘“Give me still more, frely, and tell me your name straightway now, so I can give you a guest present to make you happy.”’ (9.355-356)

    The Cyclops shows false hospitality towards Odysseus, promising him a lovely gift if he will tell him his name. Readers know that Polyphemos is untrustworthy and suspect a trick.

    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) ‘I had with me a goatskin bottle of black wine, sweet wine, given me by Maron, son of Euanthes and priest of Apollo, who bestrides Ismaros; he gave it because, respecting him with his wife and child, we saved them from harm. He made his dwelling among the trees of the sacred grove of Phoibos Apollo, and he gave me glorious presents. He gave me seven talents of well-wrought gold, and he gave me a mixing-bowl made all of silver, and gave along with it wine, drawing it off in storing jars, twelve in all. This was a sweet wine, unmixed, a divine drink.’ (9.196-205)

    Odysseus reminds us that there is an exchange between host and guest: the guest must show kindness and good behavior, and the host returns the courtesy. This is why the suitors are not entitled to the hospitality of Telemachos and his mother.

    Book 10
    Aiolos

    (Aiolos, in Odysseus’s tale:) ‘“O least of living creatures, out of this island! Hurry! I have no right to see on his way, none to give passage to any man whom the blessed gods hate with such bitterness. Out. This arrival means you are hateful to the immortals.”’ (10.72-75)

    Aiolos no longer shows hospitality to Odysseus because he has squandered his gift.

    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) ‘So she spoke to them, and the rest gave voice, and called her and at once she opened the shining doors, and came out, and invited them in, and all in their innocence entered; only Eurylochos waited outside, for he suspected treachery. She brought them inside and seated them on chairs and benches, and mixed them a potion, with barley and cheese and pale honey added to Pramneian wine, but put into the mixture malignant drugs, to make them forgetful of their own country. When she had given them this and they had drunk it down, next thing she struck them with her wand and drove them into her pig pens, and they took on the look of pigs, with the heads and voices and bristles of pigs, but the minds within them stayed as they had been before.’ (10.229-241)

    Circe’s hospitality seems proper at first – before she changes her guests into pigs. Looks like the men should have looked this gift-horse in the mouth.

    Book 11
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) ‘O great Alkinoös, pre-eminent among all people, there is a time for many words, and a time for sleeping; but if you insists of hearing me still, I would not begrudge you the tale of these happenings and others yet more pitiful to hear, the sorrows of my companions, who perished later, who escaped the onslaught and cry of battle, but perished all for the sake of a vile woman, on the homeward journey.’ (11.378-384)

    Though it causes him pain, Odysseus tells his story in order to play the role of a good guest. He repays the generous hospitality with his words.

    Book 14
    Eumaios

    (Eumaios:) ‘You too, old man of many sorrows, since the spirit brought you here to me, do not try to please me nor spell me with lying words. It is not for that I will entertain and befriend you, but for fear of Zeus, the god of guests, and for my own pity.’ (14.386-389)

    Odysseus, for the first time, has proven an unworthy guest by telling lies to his host. Eumaios sees this, but overrides his hesitation at this dishonesty out of respect to Zeus. The rules of the gods, we see, are all-important.

    The swineherd stood up to divide the portions, for he was fair minded, and separated all the meat into seven portions. One he set aside, with a prayer, for the nymphs and Hermes, the son of Maia, and the rest he distributed to each man, but gave Odysseus in honor the long cuts of the chine’s portion of the white-toothed pig, and so exalted the heart of his master. (14.432-438)

    Eumaios honors his guest like a king, taking the cuts usually saved for a lord from the meat and giving them to Odysseus. He also honors him in the same ritual with which he honors the gods, practically equating his guest to a divine being.

    Book 15
    Menelaos

    (Menelaos:) ‘I would disapprove of another hospital man who was excessive in friendship, as of one excessive in hate. In all things balance is better.’ (15.69-71)

    Menelaos knows that a host can be just as ill-mannered by being too friendly when such behavior is not wanted by the guest. This is more complicated than we thought.

    Telemachos

    (Telemachos:) ‘I will not willingly thrust you away from my balanced ship. Come, then, with me. There you will be entertained, from what we have left.’ (15.280-281)

    Telemachos shows hospitality even to a complete stranger. This means the laws of the gods are more important than the laws of the mortals.

    Helen

    (Helen:) ‘I too give you this gift, dear child: something to remember from Helen’s hands, for your wife to wear at the lovely occasion of your marriage. Until that time let it lie away in your palace, in your dear mother’s keeping […]. (15.125-128)

    Helen shows her graciousness as a hostess by considering Telemachos’s future and family when giving her gifts.

    Book 19
    Penelope

    (Penelope:) ‘But come, handmaidens, give him a wash and spread a couch for him here, with bedding and coverlets and with shining blankets, so that he can keep warm as he waits for dawn of the golden throne, and early tomorrow you shall give him a bath, anoint him, so that he can sit in the hall beside Telemachos and expect to dine there; and it will be the worse for any of those men who inflicts heart-wasting annoyance on him; he will accomplish nothing here for all his terrible spite […].’ (19.317-325)

    Penelope is so generous that she offers a nameless beggar a place by Telemachos’s side, simply for bringing her news of her husband.

  • Fate and Free Will

    Book 1

    (Zeus): 'Oh for shame, how the mortals put the blame on us gods, for they say evils come from us, but it is they, rather, who by their own recklessness win sorrow beyond what is given […].' (1.32-34)

    "Fate" seems little more like cause-and-effect than some divine master plan: if you goof things up by, say, telling the giant you've just blinded your name, then you're going to get Poseidon after you. That's just how it works.

    (Zeus:) “For his sake Poseidon, shaker of the earth, although he does not kill Odysseus, yet drives him back from the land of his fathers. But come, let all of us who are here work out his homecoming and see to it that he returns. Poseidon shall put away his anger; for all alone and against the will of the other immortal gods united he can accomplish nothing.” (1.74-79)

    The way that Poseidon functions under Zeus’s will is a perfect example of fate and free will combined. While he must eventually allow Odysseus to go home, he gets to choose how long it takes and how much the man will suffer in the process. Similarly, Odysseus is fated 1) to suffer and 2) to eventually go home, but his actions along the way are a matter of choice. The question then is whether, with the end point decided, the path to get there matters at all.

    Telemachos

    (Telemachos:) ‘My guest, since indeed you are asking me all these questions, there was a time this house was one that might be prosperous and above reproach, when a certain man was here in his country.’ (1.231-233)

    Telemachos considers his bad luck the work of the gods. He feels that the gods who favored them so have vanished along with Odysseus. Being abandoned by the gods is, to the ancient Greeks, akin to being cursed.

    Book 2
    Halitherses

    (Halitherses): 'I who foretell this am not untried, I know what I am saying. Concerning him, I say that everything was accomplished in the way I said it would be at the time the Argives took ship for Ilion, and with them went resourceful Odysseus. I said that after much suffering, with all his companions lost, in the twentieth year, not recognized by any, he would come home. And now all this is being accomplished.' (2.170-176)

    Fair enough: Halitherses points out that his predictions were totally right. At the same time, anyone who knows Odysseus might be able to guess that some back stuff would happen to him. Right?

    Book 3
    Nestor

    (Nestor:) ‘Never once did the wind fail, once the god had set it blowing.’ (3.182-183)

    Nestor credits Menelaos’s safe journey home to the will of the Gods.

    (Nestor:) 'The will of the everlasting gods is not turned suddenly.' (3.147)

    It's hard to change a god's mind—but it sounds like Nestor is suggesting that it can be changed. Maybe if you sacrifice enough ram thighs.

    Book 4
    Proteus

    (Proteus, in Menelaos' tale:) '"But for you, Menelaos, O fostered of Zeus, it is not the gods' will that you shall die and go to your end in horse-pasturing Argos, but the immortals will convey you to the Elysian Field, and the limits of the earth, where fair-haired Rhadamanthys is, and where there is made the easiest life for mortals, for there is no snow, nor much winter there, nor is there ever rain, but always the stream of Ocean sends up breezes of the West Wind blowing briskly for the refreshment of mortals."' (4.561-568)

    Well, here's an example of fate planning something good: Odysseus isn't going to die and go to (presumably) Hades with the rest of us commoners. Instead, he's going to enjoy some immortality with the rest of the Greek heroes in the Elysian fields. Does that make his ten years of suffering any easier to deal with?

    Menelaos

    (Menelaos:) ‘[…] no one of the Achaians labored as much as Odysseus labored and achieved, and for him the end was grief for him, and for me a sorrow that is never forgotten for his sake, how he is gone so long, and we know nothing of whether he is alive or dead.’ (4.106-110)

    Menelaos seems to use fate for purposes of comfort; he is able to resign himself and accept his suffering (with regards to his missing friend) because it is the will of the gods.

    Book 5

    (Ino:) ‘Poor man, why is Poseidon the shaker of the earth so bitterly cankered against you, to give you such a harvest of evils? And yet he will not do away with you, for all his anger. But do as I say, since you seem to me not lacking in good sense. Take off these clothes, and leave the raft to drift at the winds’ will, and then strike out and swim with your hands and make for a landfall on the Phaiakian country, where your escape is destined.’ (5.339-344)

    Apparently, Odysseus’s fate is common knowledge – even among the lesser gods.

    (Zeus:) ‘[Odysseus] shall come back by the convoy neither of the gods nor of mortal people, but he shall sail on a jointed raft and, suffering hardships, on the twentieth day make his landfall on fertile Scheria at the country of the Phaiakians who are near the gods in origin, and they will honor him in their hearts as a god, and send him back, by ship, to the beloved land of his fathers, bestowing bronze and hold in abundance upon him, and clothing, more than Odysseus could ever have taken away from Troy, even if he had escaped unharmed with his fair share of the plunder. For so it is fated that he shall see his people and come back to his house with the high roof and to the land of his fathers.’ (5.31-42)

    Zeus reveals that it is his will – and thus Fate – that Odysseus should reach Ithaka safely and with treasure – but without his friends at his side. Fate, then, is determined by the will of this god and subject to change at his whim; it isn’t a pre-planned determination.

    Book 9
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) 'Next I told the rest of the men to cast lots, to find out which of them must endure with me to take up the great beam and spin it in the Cyclops' eye when sweet sleep had come over him. The ones drew it whom I myself would have wanted chosen, four men, and I myself was the fifth, and allotted with them.' (9.331-335)

    How convenient: Odysseus wants four men to draw the short straws, and those four men just so happen to draw the short straws (or whatever they're using to cast lots). It seems like fate is on Odysseus' side.

    (Odysseus, in his tale:) “We are Achaians coming from Troy, beaten off our true course by winds from every direction across the great gulf of the open sea, making for home, by the wrong way, on the wrong courses. So we have come. So it has pleased Zeus to arrange it.”’ (9.259-262)

    Here Odysseus tries to win sympathy from Polyphemos, the Cyclops, by pointing out that it wasn’t his fault that he came to his shore.

    Polyphemos

    (Polyphemos, in Odysseus’ 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.

    Book 10
    Circe

    (Circe, in Odysseus’ 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.

    Book 11
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus, in his tale:) ‘“Aias, son of stately Telamon, could you then never even in death forget your anger against me, because of that cursed armor? The gods made it to pain the Achaians, so great a bulwark were you, who were lost to them. We Achaians grieved for your death as incessantly as for Achilleus the son of Peleus at his death, and there is no other to blame, but Zeus; he, in his terrible hate for the army of the Danaan spearmen, visited this destruction upon you.”’ (11.553-560)

    Odysseus tries to reclaim Aias’s friendship by reminding him that his death was purely ill-starred and no fault of his. He blames Zeus, and not Aias, for taking his life and reminds his friend that one cannot always control his own fate.

    Teiresias

    (Teiresias, in Odysseus' tale:) '"Glorious Odysseus, what you are after is sweet homecoming, but the god will make it hard for you. I think you will not escape Shaker of the Earth, who holds a grudge against you in his heart, and because you blinded his dear son, hates you. But even so and still you might come back, after much suffering, if you can contain your own desire, and contain your companions'[…]."' (11.100-105)

    Teiresias is supposed to be a prophet, but check out how he uses words like "think" and "might." It doesn't sound like he's really standing behind his reading of the future.

    Elpenor

    (Elpenor, in Odysseus’ 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.

    Book 12
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) 'My men were thrown in the water, and bobbing like sea crows they were washed away on the running waves all around the black ship, and the god took away their homecoming.' (12.417-419)

    Okay, but as long as we're pointing fingers: was it "the god" who took away their homecoming—or was it they themselves, when the men chose to eat Helios' cattle after they'd been specifically warned against it? Or was it Poseidon, who trapped them on the island for a month, until all their food ran out? Or was it Odysseus, who got Poseidon mad at them by telling Polyphemos his name? You get the point.

    Book 13

    (Alkinoös:) ‘Ah now, the prophecy of old is come to completion, that my father spoke, when he said Poseidon someday would be angry with us, because we are convoy without hurt to all men. He said that one day, as a well-made ship of Phaiakian men came back from a convoy on the misty face of the water, he would stun it, and pile a great mountain on our city, to hide it.’ (13.172-177)

    Alkinoös interprets this sign as a fulfillment of the prophecy his father read. Do you think the Phaiakians could have done anything to avoid their fate?

    Book 15
    Theoklymenos

    (Theoklymenos:) "Telemachos, not without a god's will did this bird fly past you on the right, for I knew when I saw it that it was a portent. No other family shall be kinglier than yours in the country of Ithaka, but you shall have lordly power forever." (15.531-534)

    Because obviously the gods have nothing better to do than send birds flying around to serve as omens.

    Book 18
    Amphinomos

    [Amphinomos] went back across the room, heart saddened within him, shaking his head, for in his spirit he saw the evil, but still could not escape his doom, for Athene had bound him fast, to be strongly killed by the hands and spear of Telemachos. (18.153-156)

    Amphinomos, in a rare epiphany, realizes that what he has done as a suitor will bring death upon him. Is the fact that Homer tells us ahead of time of his death by Telemachos’s spear a nod to some form of pre-determination?

    Book 20

    ‘Poor wretches, what evil has come on you? Your heads and faces and the knees underneath you are shrouded in night and darkness; a sound of wailing has broken out, your cheeks are covered with tears, and the walls bleed, and the fine supporting pillars. All the forecourt is huddled with ghosts, the yard is full of them as they flock down to the underworld and the darkness. The sun has perished out of the sky, and a foul mist has come over.’ So he spoke, and all of them laughed happily at him. (20.351-358)

    The seer predicts damnation and darkness for the suitors for their treachery. He turns out, like most seers, to be right. What the heck is the rest of the suitors’ problem? We definitely wouldn’t be laughing in their place!

    Book 21

    [Antinoös] was to be the first to get a taste of the arrow from the hands of blameless Odysseus, to whom he now paid attention as he sat in Odysseus' halls and encouraged all his companions. (21.98-100)

    Notice how we get the construction "was to be." Who decided that Antinoös was going to be the first? Was it the gods? or Fate? Clearly, someone knew ahead of time.

    Book 22

    And now Athene waved the aegis, that blights humanity, from high aloft on the roof, and all their wits were bewildered; and they stampeded about the hall, like a herd of cattle set upon and driven wild by the darting horse fly […]. (22.297-300)

    Athene finally reveals what we all already know: that she will fight by Odysseus’s side. This was destined to happen and the sign bound to show, so the only question was when. Certain events, we see, are predetermined, but the execution and timing of those events are left to choice.

    Book 24

    Then standing close beside him gray-eyed Athene said to him: 'Son of Arkeisios, far dearest of all my companions, make your prayer to the gray-eyed girl and to Zeus her father, then quickly balance your far-shadowing spear, and throw it.' So Pallas Athene spoke, and breathed into him enormous strength, and, making his prayer then to the daughter of Zeus, he quickly balanced his far-shadowing spear, and threw it, and struck Eupeithes on the brazen side of his helmet, nor could the helm hold off the spear, but the bronze smashed clean through. (24.516-524)

    Laertes (he's the son of Arkeisios) smashes a spear right through the head of Eupeithes, Antinoös' father. It's fitting that Odysseus' dad kills Antinoös dad—and it would never have happened without Athene's help. Hm. It sounds like one side really has an unfair advantage.

  • Principles

    Book 1
    Telemachos

    (Telemachos:) ‘I should not have sorrowed so over his dying if he had gone down among his companions in the land of the Trojans, or in the arms of his friends, after he had wound up the fighting. So all the Achaians would have heaped a grave mound over him, and he would have won great fame for himself and his son hereafter. But now ingloriously the stormwinds have caught and carried him away, out of sight, out of knowledge, and he left pain and lamentation to me.’ (1.236-243)

    Telemachos holds the common belief that a death in arms is noble and honorable.

    Book 2
    Mentor

    (Mentor:) ‘Now it is not so much the proud suitors I resent for doing their violent acts by their minds’ evil devising; for they lay their hands on the line when violently they eat up the house of Odysseus, who, they say to themselves, will not come back; but now I hold it against you other people, how you all sit there in silence, and never with an assault of words try to check the suitors, though they are so few, and you so many.’ (2.235-241)

    Mentor points out the cowardice (and hence dishonor) of the majority, who stay silent out of fear and respect for the suitors. They passively dishonor Odysseus by not standing up for the proper treatment of his family and household.

    Telemachos

    (Telemachos:) 'For my mother, against her will, is beset by suitors, own sons to the men who are greatest hereabouts. These shrink from making the journey to the house of her father Ikarios, so that he might take bride gifts for his daughter and bestow her on the one he wished, who came as his favorite; rather, all their days, they come and loiter in our house and sacrifice our oxen and our sheep and our fat goats and make a holiday feast of it and drink the bright wine recklessly. Most of our substance is wasted.' (2.50-58)

    We're pretty sure that, no matter what the millennium, this kind of behavior is not cool. You have to respect your host's wine and oxen, people.

    (Telemachos:) ‘Antinoös, I cannot thrust the mother who bore me, who raised me, out of the house against her will. My father, alive or dead, is elsewhere in the world. It will be hard to pay back Ikarios, if willingly I dismiss my mother. I will suffer some evil from her father, and the spirit will give me more yet, for my mother will call down her furies upon me as she goes out of the house, and I shall have the people’s resentment.’ (2.130-137)

    Telemachos knows that kicking your mom out of your house is a definite "don't"—unless, of course, she's murdered your father (ahem, Klytaimestra). In that case, honor demands that you kill her.

    Book 3
    Peisistratos

    (Peisistratos:) 'My guest, make your prayer now to the lord Poseidon, for his is the festival you have come to on your arrival; but when you have poured to him and prayed, according to custom, then give this man also a cup of the sweet wine, so that he too can pour, for I think he also will make his prayer to the immortals. All men need the gods. But this one is a younger man than you, and of the same age as I am. This is why I am first giving you the goblet.' (3.43-50)

    Nestor's son welcomes Telemachos and Athene (disguised as Mentor), and explains why he's giving her the goblet first: Telemachos is younger. Apparently "respect your elders" is a principle that never goes out of style.

    Book 4
    Athene

    (Athene, disguised as Iphthime:) 'As for that other one, I will not tell you the whole story whether he lives or has died. It is bad to babble emptily.' (4.836-837)

    Here's another principle that is just as good in the 21st century as it was in ancient Greece: don't run off at the mouth.

    Menelaos

    (Menelaos:) ‘[…] and sitting well in order we dashed the oars in the gray sea, back to where Egypt is, the sky-fallen river, and there I stranded my ships, and there I rendered complete hecatombs. But when I had ended the anger of the gods, who are everlasting, I piled a mound for Agamemnon, so that his memory might never die. I did this, and set sail, and the immortals gave me a wind, so brought me back to my own dear country with all speed.’ (4.580-587)

    Proper burial rites are a big deal in this culture, as we see over and over in the Odyssey. A man is only honored in death when he is properly respected by those still living.

    Book 5
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) 'Three times and four times happy those Danaans were who died then in wide Troy land, bringing favor to the sons of Atreus, as I wish I too had died at that time and met my destiny on the day when the greatest number of Trojans threw their bronze-headed weapons upon me, over the body of perished Achilleus, and I would have had my rites and the Achaians given me glory. Now it is by a dismal death that I must be taken.' (5.306-312)

    If you can't manage to live up to your principles, you always have the option of dying by them—that is, dying in battle like a real man.

    Kalypso

    (Kalypso:) 'Earth be my witness in this, and the wide heaven above us, and the dripping water of the Styx, which oath is the biggest and most formidable oat among the blessed immortals, that this is no other painful trial I am planning against you […]' (5.184-187)

    It's a little hard to take the gods' rules seriously when they don't seem to abide by any recognizable code of conduct. But here, Kalypso sees to be acting on the level: she's promising Odysseus that her help is genuine.

    Book 6
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) 'Stand as you are, girls, a little away from me, so that I can wash the salt off my shoulders and use the olive oil on them. It is long since my skin has known any ointment. But I will not bathe in front of you, for I feel embarrassed in the presence of lovely-haired girls to appear all naked.' (6.218-222)

    Odysseus has no qualms about ripping off his shirt in a hall full of suitors, but he doesn't feel a little embarrassed about wandering around naked in front of girls with nice hair. (Well, to be honest, he's probably afraid that he'll end up having to fight them off, once they get a good look at his god-like physique.)

    Book 9
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) ‘Then I shoved the beam underneath a deep bed of cinders, waiting for it to heat, and I spoke to all my companions in words of courage, so none should be in a panic, and back out […].’ (9.375-377)

    In the Odyssey, honor is proven by showing courage in the face of adversity; Odysseus urges his men to action on the grounds that they must do just this.

    Book 12
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) ‘But when the young dawn showed again with her rosy fingers, then I sent my companions away to the house of Circe to bring back the body of Elpenor, who had died there. Then we cut logs, and where the extreme of the foreland jutted out, we buried him, sorrowful, shedding warm tears for him. But when the dead man had burned and the dead man’s armor, piling the grave mound and pulling the gravestone to stand above it, we planted the well-shaped oar in the very top of the grave mound.’ (12.8-15)

    Odysseus honors the dead Elpenor by setting up a proper burial for him. This ensures that he will not be forgotten among the living and will have respect among the dead.

    Book 16
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) ‘I wish that I were truly as young as I am in spirit, or a son of stately Odysseus were here, or he himself might come in from his wandering. There is time still for hope. If such things could be, another could strike my head from my shoulders if I did not come as an evil thing to all those people as I entered the palace of Odysseus, the son of Laertes. And if I, fighting alone, were subdued by all their number, then I would rather die, cut down in my own palace, than to have to go on watching forever these shameful activities, guests being battered about, or to see them rudely mishandling the serving women all about the beautiful palace, to see them drawing the wine and eating up food in this utterly reckless way, without end, forever and always at it.’ (16.99-111)

    Odysseus advises Telemachos that it is more honorable to die fighting on one’s feet than to live tolerating such behavior from the suitors. Honor, then, is valued above life in the Odyssey.

    Book 18
    Penelope

    (Penelope:) 'But tell Autonoë and Hippodameia to come, so that they can stand at my side in the great hall. I will not go alone among men. I think that immodest.' (18.182-184)

    Women can live up to their principles by being good hostesses, but most of their honorable actions seem to consist in not doing: not remarrying, not killing their husbands, not appearing in front of a crowd of men. Sounds pretty dull, if you ask us.

    Book 19
    Penelope

    (Penelope:) 'Human beings live for only a short time, and when a man is harsh himself, and his mind knows harsh thoughts, all men pray that sufferings will befall him hereafter while he lives; and when he is dead all men make fun of him. But when a man is blameless himself, and his thoughts are blameless, the friends he has entertained carry his fame widely to all mankind, and many are they who call him excellent.' (19.328-334)

    What's the point of living a totally dull, blameless life? Everyone will say nice things about you. Okay, so it's not exactly champagne and limo rides, but "fame"—what people said about you—was super important to the Greeks. Having a good reputation was just as important as it was to any 13-year-old.

    Book 20
    Telemachos

    (Telemachos:) ‘But if you are determined to murder me with the sharp bronze, then that would be my wish also, since it would be far better than to have to go on watching forever these shameful activities, guests being battered about, or to see you rudely mishandling the serving all about the beautiful palace.’ (20.315-319)

    Telemachos shows that he has indeed learned Odysseus’s lessons on honor; he would, like his father, rather die fighting than live humiliated.

    Book 22
    Telemachos

    Then the thoughtful Telemachos said to him in answer: 'Father, it was my own mistake, and there is no other to blame. I left the door of the chamber, which can close tightly, open at an angle. One of these men was a better observer than I.' (22.153-157)

    Remember how Odysseus shouted his name at Polyphemos? Telemachos' mistake wasn't quite that dumb, but it was along the same lines: impulsive and immature. Like his dad, he eventually realizes his mistake and apologizes for it.

    Book 24
    Laertes

    Laertes also rejoiced, and said to them: ‘What day is this for me, dear gods? I am very happy. My son and my son’s son are contending over their courage.’ (24.513-515)

    Laertes feels a surge of pride and honor to see himself the ancestor of two such strapping and courageous young men. They have brought honor back to his family’s name.

    Agamemnon

    (Agamemnon:) ‘So, even now you have died, you have not lost your name, but always in the sight of all mankind your fame shall be great, Achilleus.’ (24.92-94)

    Agamemnon reminds Achilleus that honor is forever, unlike the passing glory of life. Because of his actions, Achilleus has earned immortality for his name. Still, Achilleus’s earlier comments suggest that he doesn’t agree with this: he would rather be unremarkable and alive.

  • Lies and Deceit

    Book 1
    Telemachos

    (Telemachos:) ‘Eurymachos, there is no more hope of my father’s homecoming. I believe no messages any more, even should there be one, nor pay attention to any prophecy, those times my mother calls some diviner into the house and asks him questions.’ (1.413-416)

    Athene has just told Telemachos that his father is still alive, but the Prince chooses to deceive the suitors to keep him and his mother safe; it seems he fears a riot or coup if the men all knew the truth.

    Athene

    [Athene] caught up a powerful spear, edged with sharp bronze, heavy, huge, thick, wherewith she beats down the battalions of fighting men, against whom she of the mighty father is angered, and descended in a flash of speed from the peaks of Olympos, and lighted in the land of Ithaka, at the doors of Odysseus at the threshold of the court, and in her hand was the bronze spear. She was disguised as a friend, leader of the Taphians, Mentes. (1.99-105)

    We get why Odysseus needs to disguise himself, but Athene is a goddess—and a powerful one. Why does she have to show up at court in disguise, when she could easily kick out all the suitors single-handedly?

    Book 2
    Telemachos

    (Telemachos:) ‘Do not fear, nurse. This plan was not made without a god’s will. But swear to tell my beloved mother nothing about this until the eleventh day has come or the twelfth hereafter, or until she misses me herself or hears I am absent, so that she may not ruin her lovely skin with weeping.’ (2.372-376)

    Telemachos’s deception extends even to his own mother.

    Athene

    So he spoke in prayer, and from nearby Athene came to him likening herself to Mentor in voice and appearance. Now she spoke aloud to him and addressed him in winged words: ‘Telemachos, you are to be no thoughtless man, no coward, if truly the strong force of your father is instilled in you; such a man he was for accomplishing word and action.’ (2.267-272)

    Athene uses deception, but for the purpose of speaking the truth.

    (Antinoös:) And here is another stratagem of her heart's devising. She set up a great loom in her palace, and set to weaving a web of threads long and fine. Then she said to us: "Young men, my suitors now that the great Odysseus has perished, wait, though you are eager to marry me, until I finish this web, so that my weaving will not be useless and wasted. This is a shroud for the hero Laertes, for when the destructive doom of death which lays men low shall take him, lest any Achaian woman in this neighborhood hold it against me that a man of many conquests lies with no sheet to wind him." So she spoke, and the proud heart in us was persuaded. Thereafter in the daytime she would weave at her great loom, but in the night she would have torches set by, and undo it. So for three years she was secret in her design, convincing the Achaians […]. (2.93-106)

    Odysseus totally deserves a wife like Penelope. Her position as a married (and possibly) widowed woman may not give her much straightforward agency—she can't exactly pick up a sword and start lopping off heads—she does have her own sort of power: the power of lies.

    Book 4
    Helen

    (Helen:) ‘He flagellated himself with degrading strokes, then threw on a worthless sheet about his shoulders. He looked like a servant. So he crept into the wide-wayed city of the men he was fighting, disguising himself in the likeness of somebody else, a beggar, one who was unlike himself beside the ships of the Achaians, but in his likeness crept into the Trojan’s city, and they all were taken in.’ (4.244-250)

    Odysseus has built his reputation as a national hero from his ability to deceive.

    Menelaos

    (Menelaos:) 'Meanwhile she had dived down into the sea's great cavern and brought back the skins of four seals out of the water. All were newly skinned. She was planning a trick on her father. And hollowing out four beds in the sand of the sea, she sat there waiting for us, and we came close up to her. Thereupon she bedded us down in order, and spread a skin over each man. That was a most awful ambush, for the pernicious smell of those seals, bred in the salt water, oppressed us terribly.' (4.435-442)

    Here, the daughter of Proteus (named Eidothea) is getting ready to play a trick on her dad. Notice how the women seem to be the one playing all the nasty tricks?

    (Menelaos:) ‘Three times you walked around the hollow ambush, feeling it, and you called out, naming them by name, to the best of the Danaans, and made your voice sound like the voice of the wife of each of the Argives. Now I myself and the son of Tydeus and great Odysseus were sitting there in the middle of them and we heard you crying aloud, and Diomedes and I started up, both minded to go outside, or else to answer your voice from inside, but Odysseus pulled us back and held us, for all our eagerness.’ (4.277-284)

    It’s interesting that Menelaos is able to laugh at this story; remember, it was all for the sake of getting Helen back that the Achaians went to war with the Trojans in the first place. But that’s not all that’s weird—notice how Helen tricks the Achaians (whom she somehow knows are in the horse) by pretending to sound like their wives. Menelaos himself is fooled; does that mean Helen was pretending to be… herself? Weird. Anyway, with master tricksters, it apparently takes one to know one—notice that it’s Odysseus who prevents the other Achaians from letting the cat out of the bag, so to speak.

    So he [Noëmon] spoke, and they were amazed at heart; they had not thought he had gone to Pylos, the city of Neleus, but that he was somewhere near, on his lands, among the flocks, or else with the swineherd. (4.638-640)

    Telemachos: 1 The suitors: 0

    Now Helen, who was descended of Zeus, thought of the next thing. Into the wine of which they were drinking she cast a medicine of heartsease, free of gall, to make one forget all sorrows, and whoever had drunk it down once it had been mixed in the wine bowl, for the day that he drank it would have no tear roll down his face, not if his mother died and his father died, not if men murdered a brother or a beloved son in his presence. (4.219-225)

    Okay, usually when you give people drugs of forgetfulness, you're starting down a really bad path. Here, though, it seems to be okay—because Helen's acting out of kindness. Still, we really want to warn you against this.

    Penelope

    (Penelope:) ‘Hear me, dear friends. The Olympian has given me sorrows beyond all others who were born and brought up together with me for first I lost a husband with the heart of a lion and who among the Danaans surpassed in all virtues, and great, whose fame goes wide through Hellas and midmost Argos; and now again the stormwinds have caught away my beloved son, without trace, from the halls, and I never heard when he left me. Hard-hearted, not one out of all of you then remembered to wake me out of my bed, though your minds knew all clearly, when he went out and away to board the hollow black ship. For if I had heard that he was considering this journey, then he would have had to stay, though hastening to his voyage, or he would have had to leave me dead in the halls.’ (4.722-735)

    Penelope essentially says she would have let her son sail only over her dead body. She is angered not only by his absence, but by the deception that hid his departure from her. Moms will be moms.

    Book 6
    Athene

    [Athene] drifted in like a breath of wind to where the girl slept, and came and stood above her head and spoke a word to her, likening herself to the daughter of Dymas, famed for seafaring, a girl of the same age, in whom her fancy delighted. (6.20-23)

    One good reason for the gods to disguise themselves is that suddenly appearing in the middle of a human's bedroom could really freak that human out. Sure, Athene's probably not bad. But if Zeus appears in your bedroom? That is seriously bad news. Especially if you're a young, nubile woman. (And, let's face it: if Zeus is appearing in your bedroom, you're almost certainly a young, nubile woman.)

    Book 7

    Then Odysseus rose to go to the city. Athene with kind thought for Odysseus drifted a deep mist about him, for fear some one of the great-hearted Phaiakians, meeting him, might speak to him in a sneering way and ask where he came from. But when he was about to enter the lovely city, there the gray-eyed goddess Athene met him, in the likeness of a young girl, a little maid, carrying a pitcher […]. (7.14-20)

    Oh, no, that man-shaped cloud of mist isn't suspicious at all. Totally normal.

    Book 8
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus, to Demodokos): ‘Come to another part of the story, sing us the wooden horse, which Epeios made with Athene helping, the stratagem great Odysseus filled once with men and brought it to the upper city, and it was these men who sacked Ilion.’ (8.492-495)

    Odysseus uses his "disguise" to relive old memories and emotions. Notice, too, that he wants Demodokos to hurry up and get to the part of the story involving trickery!

    Pallas Athene went through the city, likening herself to the herald of wise Alkinoös, as she was devising the return of great-hearted Odysseus. (8.7-9)

    Athene takes on the guise of Alkinoös’s herald. Her objective is not necessarily to trick the townspeople about anything but only to spread the news, which she could not possibly do in her true form without causing a stir.

    Book 9
    Polyphemos

    (Polyphemos, in Odysseus' tale:) '"But tell me, so I may know: where did you put your well-made ship when you came? Nearby or far off?" 'So he spoke, trying me out, but I knew too much and was not deceived, but answered him in turn, and my words were crafty: "Poseidon, Shaker of the Earth, has shattered my vessel. He drove it against the rocks on the outer coast of your country, cracked on a cliff, it is gone, the wind on the sea took it […]." (9.279-285)

    Polyphemos is trying to trick Odysseus, but the man of lies is one (or two, or three) steps ahead of him. You can't play a player, especially when that player is world-renowned for his game.

    Odysseus

    (Odysseus, in his tale:) ‘“Nobody is my name. My father and mother call me Nobody, as do all the others who are my companions.”’ (9.366-367)

    Odysseus’s trick is the original "Who’s on First?"

    (Odysseus:) "[…] but I was planning so that things would come out the best way, and trying to find some release from death, for my companions and myself too, combining all my resource and treacheries, as with life at stake, for the great evil was very close to us." (9.420-432)

    Odysseus and his men are in a bad place in Polyphemos' cave, but he's still going to get them (or most of them) out of it, with the classic "hiding-under-the-ram's-belly" trick. Man, that's a good one.

    Book 10
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) "So she spoke to them, and the rest gave voice, and called her and at once she opened the shining doors, and came out, and invited them in, and all in their innocence entered; only Eurylochos waited outside, for he suspected treachery. She brought them inside and seated them on chairs and benches, and mixed them a potion, with barley and cheese and pale honey added to Pramneian wine, but put into the mixture malignant drugs, to make them forgetful of their own country. When she had given them this and they had drunk it down, next thing she struck them with her wand and drove them into her pig pens, and they took on the look of pigs, with the heads and voices and bristles of pigs, but the minds within them stayed as they had been before.' (10.229-241)

    Here, Odysseus is telling the Phaiakians about Circe's trick. We don't like to blame the victim, but we have to say: given the way that strange women usually behave in this tale, eating her food is kind of a boneheaded move.

    Book 13
    Athene

    (Athene:) ‘But come now, let me make you so that no mortal can recognize you. For I will wither the handsome flesh that is on your flexible limbs, and ruin the brown hair on your head, and about you put on such a clout of cloth any man will loathe when he sees you wearing it; I will dim those eyes, that have been so handsome, so you will be unprepossessing to all the suitors and your wife and child, those whom you left behind in your palace.’ (13.396-403)

    Odysseus’s disguise as a beggar is much like Athene’s former disguise as a mortal; by dressing below their stations, these two are able to test the integrity of those they deceive.

    So speaking the goddess scattered the mist, and the land was visible. Long-suffering great Odysseus was gladdened then, rejoicing in the sight of his country, and kissed the grain-giving ground […]. (13.352-354)

    Athene was actually hindering Odysseus’s ability to see clearly – by disguising him in the cloud of mist, she blocks his ability to perceive accurately.

    Book 16
    Telemachos

    (Telemachos:) ‘Suddenly you have changed, my friend, from what you were formerly; your skin is no longer as it was, you have other clothing. Surely you are one of those gods who hold the high heaven. Be gracious, then: so we shall give you favored offerings and golden gifts that have been well wrought. Only be merciful.’ (16.181-185)

    Interestingly, Telemachos finds it more believable that Odysseus is a god than that his father has finally returned home.

    Book 17

    Around him the haughty suitors clustered. They all were speaking him fair, but in the depth of their hearts were devising evils. (17.65-66)

    Here's the difference between Odysseus' deception and the suitors': he devises ways to save himself; they devise ways to kill their host. Big difference.

    Book 23
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) ‘So I will tell you the way of it, how it seems best to me. First, all go and wash, and put your tunics upon you, and tell the women in the palace to choose out their clothing. Then let the inspired singer take his clear-sounding lyre, and give us the lead for festive dance, so that anyone who is outside, some one of the neighbors, or a person going along the street, who hears us, will think we are having a wedding. Let no rumor go abroad in the town that the suitors have been murdered, until such time as we can make our way out to our estate with its many trees, and once there see what profitable plan the Olympian shows us.’ (23.130-140)

    Odysseus wants to trick all the Ithakans into thinking all the noise of the slaughter was the racket from a wedding celebration. How ironic, considering that was the very thing they wanted to avoid earlier.

  • Piety

    Book 2

    When they had made fast the running gear all along the black ship, then they set up the mixing bowls, filling them brimful with wine, and poured to the gods immortal and everlasting but beyond all other gods they poured to Zeus’ gray-eyed daughter. (2.430-433)

    Pouring out perfectly good wine (and burning perfectly good ram's thighs) definitely sounds like a "sacrifice": it's a good way to convince the gods that you take them seriously.

    Book 3

    Then in turn the gray-eyed goddess Athene answered him: ‘Telemachos, some of it you yourself will see in your own heart, and some the divinity will put in your mind. I do not think you could have been born and reared without the gods’ will.’ (3.25-28)

    Athene tells Telemachos to have faith in himself and in the gods since they have always favored him. She herself, loving Telemachos for Odysseus’s sake, gives him the words and courage to speak eloquently to Nestor.

    They came to Pylos, Neleus’ strong-founded citadel, where the people on the shore of the sea were making sacrifice of bulls who were all black to the dark-haired Earthshaker. There were nine settlements of them, and in each five hundred holdings, and from each of these nine bulls were provided. (3.4-8)

    The residents show their piety by holding ritual sacrifices to their patron god, Poseidon. Their piety implicitly renders Nestor, ruler of this land, a trustworthy friend for Telemachos.

    Athene

    (Athene:) 'Hear us, Poseidon, who circle the earth, and do not begrudge us the accomplishment of all these actions for which we pray you. First of all to Nestor and to his sons grant glory, and then on all the rest of the Pylians besides confer gracious recompense in return for this grand hecatomb, and yet again grant that Telemachos and I go back with that business done for which we came this way in our black ship.' (3.55-61)

    Weird. It's not just the humans who pray to the gods; gods also pray to other gods. Apparently there's a pretty strict hierarchy on Mount Olympus… but being Zeus' daughter does give you some perks.

    Nestor

    (Nestor:) 'Act quickly now, dear children, and do me this favor, so that I may propitiate first of all the gods, Athene, who came plainly to me at our happy feasting in the god's honor. Come then, let one man go to the field for a cow, so that she may come with all speed, and let one of the oxherds be driving her, and one go down to the black ship of great-hearted Telemachos, and bring back all his companions, leaving only two beside her, and yet another go tell the worker in gold Laerkes to come, so that he can cover the cow's horns with gold. You others stay here all together in a group but tell the serving women who are in the house to prepare a glorious dinner, and set chairs and firewood in readiness, and fetch bright water.' (3.418-429)

    Want your sacrifice to net you bonus points? Cover its horns with gold, first. We're getting the idea that pleasing the gods means performing extravagant wasteful actions—and, bear with us for a minute, but wouldn't people who have the means to perform extravagant wasteful actions have a leg up in the first place?

    Book 4
    Proteus

    (Proteus, in Menelaos' tale:) '"But you should have made grand sacrifices to Zeus and the other immortal gods, and so gone on board, so most quickly to reach your own country, sailing over the wine-blue water. It is not your destiny now to see your own people and come back to your strong-founded house and to the land of your fathers, until you have gone back once again to the water of Egypt, the sky-fallen river, and there have accomplished holy hecatombs in honor of all the immortal gods who hold wide heaven. Then the gods will grant you that journey that you so long for."' (4.472-480)

    Coulda, shoulda, woulda. We're pretty sure that Odysseus will do a lot of sacrificing before he steps one foot on a boat again.

    '[…] and Aias would have escaped his doom, though Athene hated him, had he not gone wildly mad and tossed out a word of defiance; for he said that in despite of the gods he escaped the great gulf of the sea, and Poseidon heard him, loudly vaunting, and at once with his ponderous hands catching up the trident he drove it against the Gyrean rock, and split a piece off it, and part of it stayed where it was, but a splinter crashed in the water, and this was where Aias had been perched when he raved so madly. It carried him down to the depths of the endless and tossing main sea. So Aias died, when he had swallowed down the salt water.' (4.502-511)

    Now for something completely different. We see a lot of examples of piety in the Odyssey, and here's an example of impiety. It buys you a one way ticket to certain, immediate death.

    Book 5
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) 'Hear me, my lord, whoever you are. I come in great need to you, a fugitive from the sea and the curse of Poseidon; even for immortal gods that man has a claim on their mercy who comes to them as a wandering man, in the way that I now come to your current and to your knees after much suffering. Pity me then, my lord. I call myself your supplicant.' He spoke, and the river stayed its current, stopped the waves breaking, and made all quiet in front of him and let him get safely into the outlet of the river.' (5.445-454)

    We get the feeling that praying to an unknown river god is sort of like begging your car to start or your computer not to crash when you have six pages full of unsaved work. And we really wish it worked. (Maybe if we poured some Diet Dr. Pepper on the floor?)

    Book 9
    Polyphemos

    (Polyphemos, in Odysseus' tale:) '"Stranger, you are a simple fool, or come from far off, when you tell me to avoid the wrath of the gods or fear them. The Cyclopes do not concern themselves over Zeus of the aegis, nor any of the rest of the blessed gods, since we are far better than they […]."' (9.273-287)

    Not all divinities live on Mount Olympus. You have to be careful in The Odyssey, because there's always that chance that you're inadvertently ticking off some immortal with powerful connections—like a close family tie to the god of the sea.

    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) '[…] for me alone my strong-greaved companions excepted the ram when the sheep were sheared, and I sacrificed him on the sands to Zeus, dark-clouded son of Kronos, lord over all, and burned him the thighs; but he was not moved by my offerings, but still was pondering on a way how all my strong-benched ships should be destroyed and all my eager companions.' (9.550-555)

    We have to ask: how do you know that a god isn't moved by your offering? And if he's not, do you get to eat it yourself?

    Book 11
    Teiresias

    (Teiresias, in Odysseus’ tale:) ‘“But after you have killed these suitors in your palace, either by treachery, or openly with the sharp bronze, then you must take up your well-shaped oar and go on a journey until you come where there are men living who know nothing of the sea, and who eat food that is not mixed with salt, who never have known ships whose cheeks are painted purple, who never have known-well-shaped oars, which act for ships as wings do. And I will tell you a very clear proof, and you cannot miss it. When, as you walk, some other wayfarer happens to meet you, and says you carry a winnow-fan on your bright shoulder, then you must plant your well-shaped oar in the ground, and render ceremonious sacrifice to the lord Poseidon, one ram and one bull, and a mounter of sows, a boar pig, and make your way home again and render holy hecatombs to the immortal gods who hold the wide heaven, all of them in order. Death will come to you from the sea, in some altogether unwarlike way, and it will end you in the ebbing time of a sleek old age. Your people about you will be prosperous. All this is true that I tell you.”’ (11.119-137)

    Here, Teiresias tells Odysseus about his ultimate fate – which will happen after the end of the Odyssey. How does this knowledge of Odysseus’ eventual death affect the mood at the end of the poem?

    Book 12
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) 'Then I went away along the island in order to pray to the gods, if any of them might show me some course to sail on, but when, crossing the isle, I had left my companions behind, I washed my hands, where there was a place sheltered from the wind, and prayed to all the gods whose hold is Olympos; but what they did was to shed a sweet sleep on my eyelids […].' (12.333-338)

    Check out how Odysseus washes his hands first. This is a cool little detail about everyday religion in Ancient Greece—and it probably says something about just how dirty they were.

    Book 22
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) ‘You dogs, you never thought I would any more come back from the land of Troy, and because of that you despoiled my household, and forcibly took my serving women to sleep beside you, and sought to win my wife while I was still alive, fearing neither the immortal gods who hold the wide heaven, nor any resentment sprung from men to be yours in the future. Now upon you all the terms of destruction are fastened.’ (22.35-41)

    Odysseus cites the suitors’ crime as one not only of incivility, but of impiety as well.

    (Odysseus:) 'Keep your joy in your heart, old dame; stop, do not raise up the cry. It is not piety to glory so over slain men. These were destroyed by the doom of the gods and their own hard actions […].' (22.411-413)

    Piety isn't just about sacrificing to the gods—it's also about how you treat your fellow men. It's not quite "do unto others," but Odysseus is reminding the overly enthusiastic woman that these men are dead because the gods wanted it to be that way. Making a fuss about it just isn't respectful.

    Eurymachos

    (Eurymachos:) ‘[…] in any case we fear no one, and surely not Telemachos, for all he is so eloquent. Nor do we care for any prophecy, which you, old sir, may tell us, which will not happen, and will make you even more hated.’

    Eurymachos and the suitors disrespect the gods by dismissing Telemachos, who is favored by Athene, and Halitherses, who speaks the gods’ will. By laughing off the words of those through whom the gods speak, they are placing themselves in opposition to divine law. So they will be punished.

  • Family

    Book 2
    Telemachos

    (Telemachos:) 'For my mother, against her will, is beset by suitors, own sons to the men who are greatest hereabouts. These shrink from making the journey to the house of her father Ikarios, so that he might take bride gifts for his daughter and bestow her on the one he wished, who came as his favorite; rather, all their days, they come and loiter in our house and sacrifice our oxen and our sheep and our fat goats and make a holiday feast of it and drink the bright wine recklessly. Most of our substance is wasted.' (2.50-58)

    The problem isn't just that the suitors aren't eating up all of Odysseus' goats; it's also that they haven't done the right thing by approaching Penelope's dad. They're totally ignoring the proper family structure—just one more reason they're in for a bloody demise.

    Book 4
    Menelaos

    (Menelaos:) ‘[…] and sitting well in order we dashed the oars in the gray sea, back to where Egypt is, the sky-falled river, and there I stranded my ships, and there I rendered complete hecatombs. But when I had ended the anger of the gods, who are everlasting, I piled a mound for Agamemnon, so that his memory might never die. I did this, and set sail, and the immortals gave me a wind, so brought me back to my own dear country with all speed.’ (4.580-587)

    Menelaos shows respect for his kin by honoring his murdered brother with a proper burial mound.

    (Menelaos:) 'Dear friend, since you have said all that a man who is thoughtful could say or do, even one who was older than you are— why, this is the way your father is, so you too speak thoughtfully. Easily recognized is the line of that man, for whom Kronos' son weaves good fortune in his marrying and begetting, as now he has given to Nestor, all his days, for himself to grow old prosperously in his own palace, and also that his sons should be clever and excellent in the spear's work.' (4.204-212)

    What more could a proud father ask for than sons who are good at throwing a spear? Well, if you're talking about the warlike culture of the ancient Greeks, probably not much. Today, we'd settle for a nice doctor or lawyer.

    They came into the cavernous hollow of Lakedaimon and made their way to the house of glorious Menelaos. They found him in his own house giving, for many townsmen, a wedding feast for his son and his stately daughter. The girl he was sending to the son of Achilleus, breaker of battalions, for in Troy land first he had nodded his head to it and promised to give her, and now the gods were bringing to pass their marriage; so he was sending her on her way, with horses and chariots, to the famous city of the Myrmidons, where Neoptolemos was lord, and he brought Alektor's daughter from Sparta, to give powerful Megapenthes, his young grown son born to him by a slave woman; but the gods gave no more children to Helen once she had borned her first and only child, the lovely Hermione, with the beauty of Aphrodite the golden. (4.1-14)

    We meet Menelaos as a family man—someone who's making sure to do the right thing by his kids (with the god's help). He and Nestor make us realize how much Telemachos is missing out on by not having an involved dad around. Who's going to choose his bride?

    Penelope

    (Penelope:) '[…] and now again a beloved son is gone on a hollow ship, an innocent all unversed in fighting and speaking, and it is for him I grieve even more than for that other one, and tremble for him and fear, lest something should happen to him either in the country where he has gone, or on the wide sea, for he has many who hate him and are contriving against him and striving to kill him before he comes back into his own country.' (4.817-823)

    Poor Penelope. She lost her husband and now her son—it's too bad she didn't have a daughter who could stay safely inside and spin all day with her. (Except for the whole super-high risk of dying in childbirth problem.

    Helen

    (Helen:) ‘Shall I be wrong, or am I speaking the truth? My heart tells me to speak, for I think I never saw such a likeness, neither in man nor woman, and wonder takes me as I look on him, as this man has a likeness to the son of great-hearted Odysseus, Telemachos, who was left behind in the house, a young child by that man when, for the sake of shameless me, the Achaians went beneath Troy, their hearts intent upon reckless warfare.’ (4.140-146)

    Telemachos has the handsome appearance of his renowned father, but more importantly has inherited Odysseus’s character.

    Book 5

    And as welcome as the show of life again in a father is to his children, when he has lain sick, suffering strong pains, and wasting long away, and the hateful death spirit has brushed him, but then, and it is welcome, the gods set him free of his sickness, so welcome appeared land and forest now to Odysseus, and he swam, pressing on, so as to set foot on the mainland. (5.394-399)

    Here's another of those epic similes (see "Writing Style" for more), where some big adventure is compared to a small domestic event. Most of us won't ever know what it's like to be shipwrecked, but we can probably all imagine what it's like to have a parent recover from illness.

    Book 7
    Athene

    (Athene, disguised as the little girl:) ‘So she was held high in the heart and still she is so, by her beloved children, by Alkinoös himself, and by the people, who look toward her as to a god when they see her, and speak in salutation as she walks about in her city. For there is no good intelligence that she herself lacks. She dissolves quarrels, even among men, when she favors them.’ (7.69-74)

    Queen Arete is so loved by her husband that she practically has as much ruling power as he does; her favor, not the king’s, must be won by a guest for them to stay in the kingdom, and she settles legal matters with the same authority as her husband.

    Book 8

    So the famous singer sang his tale, but Odysseus melted, and from under his eyes the tears ran down, drenching his cheeks. As a woman weeps, lying over the body of her dear husband, who fell fighting for her city and people as he tried to beat off the pitiless day from city and children; she sees him dying and gasping for breath, and winding her body about him she cries high and shrill, while the men behind her, hitting her with their spear butts on the back and the shoulders, force her up and lead her away into slavery, to have hard work and sorrow, and her cheeks are wracked with pitiful weeping. Such were the pitiful tears Odysseus shed from under his brows, but they went unnoticed by all the others […]. (8.521-532)

    Yet another epic simile uses the familial motif to shows the depth Odysseus’s emotion.

    Book 11
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) 'So I spoke, and my queenly mother answered me quickly: "All too much with enduring heart she does wait for you there in your own palace, and always with her the wretched nights and the days also waste her away with weeping. No one yet holds your fine inheritance, but in freedom Telemachos administers your allotted lands, and apportions the equal feasts, work that befits a man with authority to judge, for all to call him in. Your father remains, on the estate where he is, and does not go to the city. There is no bed there nor is there bed clothing nor blankets nor shining coverlets, but in the winter time he sleeps in the house, where the thralls do, in the dirt next to the fire, and with foul clothing upon him. (11.180-203)

    When Odysseus sees his mother in the Underworld, she updates him on his family. It's not as convenience as checking your Facebook newsfeed to see how your brother's doing—and it does involve some unsavory blood drinking—but it does the job.

    (Odysseus, in his tale:) "Mother, why will you not wait for me, when I am trying to hold you, so that even in Hades' with our arms embracing we can both take the satisfaction of dismal mourning? Or are you nothing but an image that proud Persephone sent my way, to make me grieve all the more for sorrow?" (11.210-214)

    Say what you want about Odysseus (he's full of himself, he's a player, he got all his men killed), but he sure does love his momma.

    Book 17
    Telemachos

    (Telemachos:) ‘We went to Pylos, and to Nestor, shepherd of the people, and he, in his high house, gave me hospitality, and loving free attention, as a father would to his own beloved son, who was newly arrived from a long voyage elsewhere. So he freely took care of me, with his own glorious children.’ (17.109-113)

    Telemachos himself is treated as family when in fact he is only a guest.

    Book 23
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) ‘But now I shall go to our estate with its many orchards, to see my noble father who has grieved for me constantly.’ (23.354-355)

    Odysseus shows his devotion and duty to his family by immediately leaving to see his father after his emotional reunion with his wife.

    Book 24

    He spoke, and the black cloud of sorrow closed on Laertes. In both hands he caught up the grimy dust and poured it over his face and grizzled head, groaning incessantly. The spirit rose up in Odysseus, and now in his nostrils there was a shock of bitter force as he looked on his father. He sprang to him and embraced and kissed him […]. (24.315-319)

    Poor Laertes. Having a grown-up son was pretty much the only Social Security people had for, oh, most of human history—so we can understand why he's so distressed.

    (Alkinoös:) 'Or could it then have been some companion, a brave man knowing thoughts gracious toward you, since one who is your companion, and has thoughts honorable toward you, is of no less degree than a brother?' (8.585-586)

    Alkinoös wants to know why Odysseus is crying while listening to his bard sing about Troy, and assumes that someone really close to his has died. But notice how he assumes a friend can be just as close as a brother. Does that seem true in the world of the Odyssey? Or are blood-bonds always deeper than companion-bonds?

  • Loyalty

    Book 2
    Eurykleia

    So he spoke and the dear nurse Eurykleia cried out, and bitterly lamenting she addressed him in winged words: ‘Why, my beloved child, has this intention come into your mind? Why do you wish to wander over much country, you, an only and loved son? Illustrious Odysseus has perished far from his country in some outlandish region. And these men will devise evils against you, on your returning, so you shall die by guile, and they divide all that is yours. No, but stay here and guard your possessions. It is not right for you to wander and suffer hardships on the barren wide sea.’ (2.361-370)

    Eurykleia’s loyalty to Odysseus’s household is seen in her love for Telemachos, whom she treats like her own son.

    Book 5
    Odysseus

    […] the sweet lifetime was draining out of him, as he wept for a way home, since the nymph was no longer pleasing to him. By nights he would lie beside her, of necessity, in the hollow caverns, against his will, by one who was willing, but all the days he would sit upon the rocks, at the seaside, breaking his heart in tears and lamentation and sorrow as weeping tears he looked out over the barren water. (5.152-158)

    Uh-huh. At least that's what he's going to tell Penelope.

    Book 6
    Nausikaa

    (Nausikaa:) ‘A while ago he seemed an unpromising man to me. Now he even resembles one of the gods, who hold high heaven. If only the man to be called my husband could be like this one, a man living here, if only this one were pleased to stay here.’ (6.242-245)

    Since we know Odysseus has no qualms about sleeping around on Penelope, we have to wonder why he holds no interest in the obviously beautiful Nausikaa. Might it have something to do with being a good guest? Hmm…

    Book 7
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) ‘[…] the gods brought me to the island Ogygia, where Kalypso lives, with ordered hair, a dread goddess, and she received me and loved me excessively and cared for me, and she promised to make me an immortal and all my days to be ageless, but never so could she win over the heart within me.’ (7.254-258)

    Odysseus’s claim that he "never gave consent" is worth a closer look. He seems to be saying that he passively gave into Kalypso, yet never truly desired to be with her.

    Athene

    (Athene, disguised as the little girl:) ‘So she was held high in the heart and still she is so, by her beloved children, by Alkinoös himself, and by the people, who look toward her as to a god when they see her, and speak in salutation as she walks about in her city. For there is no good intelligence that she herself lacks. She dissolves quarrels, even among men, when she favors them.’ (7.69-74)

    Loyalty here is merit-based; the Phaiakians don’t revere their Queen because of her title, rather it is because of her "grace" and "wisdom."

    Book 8

    So the famous singer sang his tale, but Odysseus melted, and from under his eyes the tears ran down, drenching his cheeks. As a woman weeps, lying over the body of her dear husband, who fell fighting for her city and people as he tried to beat off the pitiless day from city and children; she sees him dying and gasping for breath, and winding her body about him she cries high and shrill, while the men behind her, hitting her with their spear butts on the back and the shoulders, force her up and lead her away into slavery, to have hard work and sorrow, and her cheeks are wracked with pitiful weeping. Such were the pitiful tears Odysseus shed from under his brows […]. (8.521-532)

    This is a truly epic epic simile (see "Writing Style" for more about that), but notice that even here Homer beats us over the head with how important it is for men to have loyal wives.

    There, shedding tears, he [Odysseus] went unnoticed by all the others, but Alkinoös alone understood what he did and noticed, since he was sitting next to him and heard him groaning heavily. (8.93-95)

    Odysseus’s persistent loyalty to his fallen comrades is shown in his grief over their memories.

    Hephaistos

    [Hephaistos, in Demodokos' tale:] '"Father Zeus and all you other blessed immortal gods, come here, to see a ridiculous sight, no seemly matter, how Aphrodite daughter of Zeus forever holds me in little favor, but she loves ruinous Ares because he is handsome, and goes sound on his feet, while I am misshapen from birth, and for this I hold no other responsible but my own father and mother, and I wish they never had got me."' (8.306-312)

    We're not sure why the gods expect humans to be loyal when they're obviously not too good at it themselves—talk about making (wo)man in their own image.

    Book 9
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) 'My men went on and presently met the Lotus-Eaters, nor did these Lotus-Eaters have any thoughts of destroying our companions, but they only gave them lotus to taste of. But any of them who ate the honey-sweet fruit of lotus was unwilling to take any message back, or to go away, but they wanted to stay there with the lotus-eating people, feeding on lotus, and forget the way home.' (9.91-97)

    Put another way, the fruit of the lotus turns people disloyal by making them forget their homes. See? Drugs really do destroy families.

    Book 10
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) ‘Nevertheless we sailed on, night and day, for nine days, and on the tenth at last appeared the land of our fathers, and we could see people tending fires, we were very close to them. But then the sweet sleep came upon me, for I was worn out with always handling the sheet myself, and I could not give it to any other companion, so we could come home quicker to our own country; but my companions talked with each other and said that I was bringing silver and gold home with me, given me by great-hearted Aiolos, son of Hippotas; […] and the evil counsel of my companions prevailed, and they opened the bag and the winds all burst out.’ (10.28-36, 46-47)

    The Ithakans allow curiosity to trump their loyalty to their master Odysseus.

    (Odysseus, in his tale:) '"Oh, Circe, how could any man in his right mind ever endure to taste of the food and drink that are set before him, until with his eyes he saw his companions set free? So then, if you are sincerely telling me to eat and drink, set them free, so my eyes can again behold my eager companions."' (10.383-387)

    Aw, Odysseus is a really good friend—if you ignore the fact that he got his men into all this trouble in the first place by showing off in front of Polyphemos.

    Book 11
    Agamemnon

    (Agamemnon, in Odysseus’ tale:) ‘[…] most pitiful was the voice I heard of Priam’s daughter Kassandra, killed by treacherous Klytaimestra over me; but I lifted my hands and with them beat on the ground as I died upon the sword, but the sluttish woman turned away from me and was so hard that her hands would not press shut my eyes and mouth though I was going to Hades’. So there is nothing more deadly or more vile than a woman who stores her mind with acts that are of such sort, as this one did when she thought of this act of dishonor, and plotted the murder of her lawful husband. See, I had been thinking that I would be welcome to my children and thralls of my household when I came home, but she with thoughts surpassingly grisly splashed the shame on herself and the rest of her sex, on women still to come, even on the one whose acts are virtuous.’ (11.421-434)

    Where Penelope is a steadfast symbol of loyalty, Klytaimestra is quite the opposite. She betrays her lord by taking a lover in his absence and shows her treachery by killing her husband when he returns. She so hates him that she refuses to honor the rights of the dead – closing his eyes or shutting his lips so that he may be granted passage to the Underworld. So embittered is Agamemnon by her betrayal that he condemns all women on the grounds that they have the same sort of treachery in them.

    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) ‘But first there came the soul of my companion, Elpenor, for he had not yet been buried under earth of the wide ways, since we had left his body behind in Circe’s palace, unburied and unwept, with this other errand before us. I broke into tears at the sight of him, and my heart pitied him […].’(11.51-56)

    Oops. Odysseus loses major loyalty points for not noticing that he was missing one of his crewmen. (Seriously, the buddy system? It might have come in handy.)

    Book 12

    (The Sirens, in Odysseus’ tale:) ‘“Come this way, honored Odysseus, great glory of the Achaians, and stay your ship, so that you can listen here to our singing; for no one else has ever sailed past this place in his black ship until he has listened to the honey-sweet voice that issues from our lips; then goes on, well-pleased, knowing more than ever he did; for we know everything that the Argives and Trojans did and suffered in wide Troy through the gods’ despite. Over all the generous earth we know everything that happens.” So they sang, in sweet utterance, and the heart within me desired to listen, and I signaled my companions to set me free, nodding with my brows, but they leaned on and rowed hard, and Perimedes and Eurylochos, rising up, straightway fastened me with even more lashings and squeezed me together.’ (12.184-196)

    The Sirens represent temptation in its basest form – longing for beauty and lust for women. Temptations like these threaten the loyalty of Odysseus and the other Ithakans.

    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) 'Right in her doorway she [Skylla] ate them up. They were screaming and reaching out their hands to me in this horrid encounter. That was the most pitiful scene that these eyes have looked on in my sufferings as I explored the routes over the water.' (12.256-259)

    Considering that Odysseus has to watch his friends die basically one by one over the course of his voyage home, we're surprised that he holds up so well—particularly since he takes his responsibility to them so seriously.

    Book 14

    Only the swineherd did not please to leave his pigs, and go to bed indoors, but made preparations as he went out; and Odysseus was happy that his livelihood was so well cared for while he was absent. (14.524-527)

    Odysseus is impressed by Eumaios’s devotion to his craft – even though it is something as simple as caring for swine – because it shows a loyalty to the well-being of Odysseus’s household even during his absence.

    Eumaios

    (Eumaios:) ‘[…] but the longing is on me for Odysseus, and he is gone from me; and even when he is not here, my friend, I feel some modesty about naming him, for in his heart he cared for me greatly and loved me. So I call him my master, though he is absent.’ (14.144-147)

    Eumaios is so loyal to Odysseus that, despite the common notion that the man is dead, he still considers him lord and master.

    (Eumaios:) ‘[…] any vagrant who makes his way to the land of Ithaka goes to my mistress and babbles his lies to her, and she then receives him well and entertains him and asks him everything, and as she mourns him the tears run down from her eyes, since this is the right way for a wife when her husband has perished.’ (14.126-130)

    Penelope’s actions are driven by her loyalty for her husband – perhaps this loyalty is the very reason she refuses to accept the common (and, given the length of his absence, quite reasonable) belief that he is dead.

    Book 15
    Eumaios

    (Eumaios:) ‘From the heart she [Penelope] loved me dearly. Now I go lacking all these things, but the blessed immortals prosper all the work that I myself do abiding here, whence I eat and drink and give to people I honor; but there is no sweet occasion now to hear from my mistress in word or fact, since the evil has fallen upon our household […].’ (15.370-375)

    Many of the servants in Odysseus’s house hold a familial loyalty for the royal family.

    Book 16

    He came up to meet his master, and kissed his head, and kissed too his beautiful shining eyes, and both his hands, and the swelling tear fell from him. And as a father, with heart full of love, welcomes his only and grown son, for whose sake he has undergone many hardships when he comes back in the tenth year from a distant country, so now the noble swineherd, clinging fast to godlike Telemachos, kissed him even as if he had escaped dying […].' (16.14-21)

    Let's throw a little old-school analogies at you. Eumaios : servants :: Odysseus : men. He's so loyal to his presumably dead master that he thinks of the boy as his own son.

    Book 17

    There the dog Argos lay in the dung, all covered with dog ticks. Now, as he perceived that Odysseus had come close to him, he wagged his tail, and laid both his ears back; only he now no longer had the strength to move any closer to his master, who, watching him from a distance, without Eumaios noticing, secretly wiped a tear away […]. (17.300-305)

    Odysseus' poor, tick-infested dog recognizes his long-lost master and feebly thumps his tail. Okay, it's not a 15-million-views-and-counting video on YouTube—but it still brings a tear to our eye.

    Book 22
    Phemios

    (Phemios:) ‘I am at your knees, Odysseus. Respect me, have mercy. You will be sorry in time to come if you kill the singer of songs. I sing to the gods and to human people, and I am taught by myself, but the god has inspired in me the song-ways of every kind. I am such a one as can sing before you as to a god. Then do not be furious to behead me. Telemachos, too, your own dear son, would tell you, as I do, that it was against my will, and with no desire on my part, that I served the suitors here in your house and sang at their feasting. They were too many and too strong, and they forced me to do it.’ So he spoke, and the hallowed prince Telemachos heard him. Quickly then he spoke to his father, who stood close by him: ‘Hold fast. Do not strike this man with the bronze. He is innocent. And let us spare Medon our herald, a man who has always taken care of me when I was a child in your palace […].’ (22.344-358)

    Telemachos shows compassion and mercy for the innocent who deserve it. He returns the loyalty of his servants in kind.

    Book 23

    She spoke, and still more roused in him the passion for weeping. He wept as he held his lovely wife, whose thoughts were virtuous. And as when the land appears welcome to men who are swimming, after Poseidon has smashed their strong-built ship on the open water, pounding it with the weight of wind and the heavy seas, and only a few escape the gray water landward by swimming, with a thick scurf of salt coated upon them, and gladly they set foot on the shore, escaping the evil; so welcome was her husband to her as she looked upon him, and she could not let him go from the embrace of her white arms. (23.231-240)

    Call us hopeless romantics, but we love this simile: Odysseus returns to Penelope like a drowning man returns to shore. (It's a lot sweeter if you ignore the fact that he spent seven years hanging out with a goddess.)

  • Justice

    Book 2
    Telemachos

    (Telemachos:) 'Antinoös, I cannot thrust the mother who bore me, who raised me, out of the house against her will. My father, alive or dead, is elsewhere in the world. It will be hard to pay back Ikarios, if willingly I dismiss my mother. I will suffer some evil from her father, and the spirit will give me more yet, for my mother will call down her furies upon me as she goes out of the house, and I shall have the people's resentment.' (2.130-137)

    The Furies are goddesses of vengeance and retribution, which is subtly—but importantly—different from justice. They're particularly invested in crimes against family, so Telemachos would seriously tick them off by kicking his mom out of the house.

    (Telemachos:) '[…] fear also the gods' anger, lest they, astonished by evil actions, turn against you. I supplicate you, by Zeus the Olympian and by Themis who breaks up the assemblies of men and calls them in session: let be, my friends, and leave me alone with my bitter sorrow to waste away; unless my noble father Odysseus at some time in anger did evil to the strong-greaved Achaians, for which angry with me in revenge you do me evil in setting these on me.' (2.66-74)

    Themis is the Greek goddess of something like social order—the way things are done, good conduct, divine law. By invoking Themis, Telemachos is reminding the suitors that what they're doing isn't just super annoying and insulting to him—it's an offense against the gods.

    Book 9
    Polyphemos

    (Polyphemos, in Odysseus' 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)

    Polyphemos wants revenge. But is it justice? Zeus lets it happen—for a while, at least—so we're inclined to think that maybe it is. The question is whether it's Odysseus' punishment for blinding the guy, or for being dumb enough to reveal his name.

    Book 12
    Helios

    (Helios, in Odysseus' tale:) '"Father Zeus, and you other everlasting and blessed gods, punish the companions of Odysseus, son of Laertes; for they outrageously killed my cattle, in whom I always delighted, on my way up into the starry heaven, or when I turned back again from heaven toward earth. Unless these are made to give me just recompense for my cattle, I will go down to Hades' and give my light to dead men."' (12.377-383)

    Okay, notice Helios' words "just recompense." We're used to a system of justice where "recompense" means either a fine or a sometime behind bars. But Helios is working from a more eye-for-an-eye sense of justice: they killed my cattle, and now I want them dead.

    Book 13
    Athene

    (Athene:) 'It is true that the young men with their black ship are lying in wait for him to kill him before he reaches his country; but I think this will not happen, but that sooner the earth will cover some one of those suitors, who now are eating away your substance.' (13.425-428)

    Athene's "I think" is more like, "I'll make sure." She is the goddess of justice, after all. If she says that something is right, it's right.

    (Alkinoös:) ‘[…] let us man by man each one of us give a great tripod and a caldron, and we will make it good to us by a collection among the people. It is hard for a single man to be generous.’ (13.13-15)

    Alkinoös believes that repaying Odysseus for all that he has lost – his men, twenty years of his life – is only justice for the poor man’s suffering.

    Book 21

    [Antinoös] was to be the first to get a taste of the arrow from the hands of blameless Odysseus, to whom he now paid attention as he sat in Odysseus' halls and encouraged all his companions. (21.98-100)

    Check out this "was to be the first." The passive construction here makes it seem like Antinoös' death is due to some sort of divine justice that neither men nor gods can control. But is that really true? Athene's hand is all over this.

    Book 22
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) 'Keep your joy in your heart, old dame; stop, do not raise up the cry. It is not piety to glory so over slain men. These were destroyed by the doom of the gods and their own hard actions […].' (22.411-413)

    You have to draw the line somewhere. It's just to mercilessly slaughter the suitors, but it's not just to gloat about it. The fact that it's just is actually what makes gloating wrong.

    (Odysseus:) 'O son of Polytherses, lover of mockery, never speak loud and all at random in your recklessness. Rather leave all speech to the gods, since they are far stronger than you are. Here is your guest gift, in exchange for that hoof you formerly gave to godlike Odysseus, as he went about through the palace.' (22.287-291)

    As the herdsman Polytherses kills nasty suitor Ktesippos, he makes sure the guy knows exactly why this is happening: it's "in exchange" for the time he threw the hoof at Odysseus. It's another example of cause-and-effect justice.

    (Odysseus:) 'You dogs, you never thought I would any more come back from the land of Troy, and because of that you despoiled my household, and forcibly took my serving women to sleep beside you, and sought to win my wife while I was still alive, fearing neither the immortal gods who hold the wide heaven, nor any resentment sprung from men to be yours in the future. Now upon you all the terms of destruction are fastened.' […] [A]ll that you have now, and what you could add from elsewhere, even so, I would not stay my hands from the slaughter, until I had taken revenge for all the suitors' transgression. Now the choice has been set before you, either to fight me or run, if any of you can escape death and its spirits. But I think not one man will escape from sheer destruction.' (22.35-41, 62-67)

    Here's your classic "if-then" causality: if you despoil a man's house, rape his servants, and come on to his wife, then you will be slaughtered. But is that the way justice works? Should work?

    Book 24
    Athene

    (Athene:) 'Hold back, men of Ithaka, from the wearisome fighting, so that most soon, and without blood, you can settle everything.' (24.531-532)

    Oh, sure. Now that Athene's got what she wants, she's ready to stop fighting. When her precious Odysseus is the one being threatened, she suggests that maybe they should stop taking revenge on each other and start thinking about new ways to find justice.

  • Perseverance

    Book 3
    Telemachos

    (Telemachos:) 'If only the gods would give me such strength as he has to take revenge on the suitors for their overbearing oppression. They force their way upon me and recklessly plot against me. No, the gods have spun out no such strand of prosperity for me and my father. Now we must even have to endure it.' (3.205-209)

    Telemachos may think that he's enduring the suitors, but somehow he doesn't get much credit for it. What's the difference between Telemachos' perseverance and Odysseus'?

    Book 12
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus, in his tale:) '"Dear friends, surely we are not unlearned in evils. This is no greater evil now than it was when the Cyclops had us cooped in his hollow cave by force and violence, but even there, by my courage and counsel and my intelligence, we escaped away. I think that all this will be remembered some day too. Then do as I say, let us all be won over."' (12.208-213)

    Odysseus tries to cheer his men up by reminding them that they've persevered through worse—but, we don't know, that doesn't sound like much of a motivational speech to us: "Oh, come on, being stuck in the cave of a homicidal giant isn't that bad. We've been through worse." Are you inspired?

    (Odysseus:) 'At this time Charybdis sucked down the sea's salt water, but I reached high in the air above me, to where the tall fig tree grew, and caught hold of it and clung like a bat; there was no place where I could firmly brace my feet, or climb up it, for the roots of it were far from me, and the branches hung out far, big and long branches that overshadowered Charybdis. Inexorably I hung on, waiting for her to vomit the keel and mast back up again. I longed for them, and they came late; at the time when a man leaves the law court, for dinner, after judging the many disputes brought him by litigious young men; that was the time it took the timbers to appear from Charybdis.' (12.431-441)

     Ha. Did anyone us laugh at Homer basically comparing Charybdis to lawyers? Apparently jokes about lawyers go way, <em>way</em> back.

    Eurylochos

    (Eurylochos, in Odysseus' tale:) '"You are a hard man, Odysseus. Your force is greater, your limbs never wear out. You must be made all of iron, when you will not let your companions, worn with hard work and wanting sleep, set foot on this land, where if we did, on the seagirt island we could once more make ready a greedy dinner; but you force us to blunder along just as we are through the running night, driven from the island over the misty face of the water."' (12.279-285)

    Eurylochos reminds us that Odysseus is, well, god-like: normal humans can't really endure this much. (Maybe Eurylochos would feel differently if he had Penelope to come home to. Just saying.)

    Book 18
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) 'Of all creatures that breathe and walk on the earth there is nothing more helpless than a man is, of all that the earth fosters; for he thinks that he will never suffer misfortune in future days, while the gods grant him courage, and his knees have spring in them. But when the blessed gods bring sad days upon him, against his will he must suffer it with enduring spirit. For the mind in men upon earth goes according to the fortunes the Father of Gods and Men, day by day, bestows upon them.' (18.130-137)

    Odysseus seems to make himself feel better by thinking that he just has to endure what the gods have designed for him. But seriously? Given what we know about the gods, this doesn't seem like a very comforting thought.

    Book 20

    ‘[…] and out of the palace issued those women who in the past had been going to bed with the suitors, full of cheerful spirits and greeting each other with laughter. But the spirit deep in the heart of Odysseus was stirred by this, and much he pondered in the division of mind and spirit, whether to spring on them and kill each one, or rather to let them lie this one more time with the insolent suitors, for the last and latest time; but the heart was growling within him.’ (20.6-13)

    Odysseus is enraged at the betrayal of trust these harlots commit. It’s bad enough that the suitors traitorously enjoy food at Odysseus’s expense, but these women now pleasure them, turning their backs on Odysseus’s kindness and reputation.

    (Antinoös:) And here is another stratagem of her heart's devising. She set up a great loom in her palace, and set to weaving a web of threads long and fine. Then she said to us: "Young men, my suitors now that the great Odysseus has perished, wait, though you are eager to marry me, until I finish this web, so that my weaving will not be useless and wasted. This is a shroud for the hero Laertes, for when the destructive doom of death which lays men low shall take him, lest any Achaian woman in this neighborhood hold it against me that a man of many conquests lies with no sheet to wind him." So she spoke, and the proud heart in us was persuaded. Thereafter in the daytime she would weave at her great loom, but in the night she would have torches set by, and undo it. So for three years she was secret in her design, convincing the Achaians […]. (2.93-106)

    Okay, it's not as heroic as lashing herself to a mast, but sitting and re-weaving the same few inches of shroud day after day must have taken Penelope a lot of dedication.

    (Odysseus:) '[…] what I want and all my days I pine for is to go back to my house and see my day of homecoming. And if some god batters me far out on the wine-blue water, I will endure it, keeping a stubborn spirit inside me, for already I have suffered much and done much hard work on the waves and in the fighting. So let this adventure follow.' (5.219-224)

    Basically, Odysseus is doubling down: he's already put so much into this voyage home that he's not going to give up now. (Although, if you ask us, he must have been a little tempted by Alkinoös' offer of Nausikaa.)

    (Athene:) '[I will] tell you all the troubles you are destined to suffer in your well-wrought house; but you must, of necessity, endure all, and tell no one out of all the men and the women that you have come back from your wanderings, but you must endure much grief in silence, standing and facing men in their violence.' (13.306-310)

    Great. Odysseus has finally made it back home, but he can't just waltz into his house. First, he has to kill a bunch of people. Awesome!

    (Eumaios:) 'All too much with enduring heart she does wait for him there in your own palace, and always with her the wretched nights and the days also waste her away with weeping.' (16.37-39)

    Penelope gets an A+ in weeping: she cries all day and all night. Well, that's one kind of perseverance. Is it the only kind that women can do?

  • Pride

    Book 3
    Nestor

    (Nestor:) 'If only gray-eyed Athene would deign to love you, as in those days she used so to take care of glorious Odysseus in the Trojan country, where we Achaians suffered miseries; for I never saw the gods showing such open affection as Pallas Athene, the way she stood beside him, openly; if she would deign to love you as she did him, and care for you in her heart, then some of those people might well forget about marrying.' Then the thoughtful Telemachos said to him in answer: 'Old sir, I think that what you have said will not be accomplished. What you mean is too big. It bewilders me. That which I hope for could never happen to me, not even if the gods so willed it.' (3.218-288)

    Telemachos is definitely being humble when he tells Nestor that he's pretty sure the gods aren't ever going to love him the way they loved Odysseus—but is it good that he's being humble? Or should the son of Odysseus take a little more pride in himself?

    Book 4
    Menelaos

    (Menelaos:) ‘[…] and Aias would have escaped his doom, though Athene hated him, had he not gone wildly mad and tossed out a word of defiance; for he said that in despite of the gods he escaped the great gulf of the sea, and Poseidon heard him, loudly vaunting, and at once with his ponderous hands catching up the trident he drove it against the Gyrean rock, and split a piece off it, and part of it stayed where it was, but a splinter crashed in the water, and this was where Aias had been perched when he raved so madly. It carried him down to the depths of the endless and tossing main sea. So Aias died, when he had swallowed down the salt water.’ (4.502-511)

    Aias’s story can be seen as a warning to Odysseus not to let his own pride get out of hand, lest he anger the gods with his hubris.

    Telemachos

    (Telemachos:) ‘The court of Zeus must be like this on the inside, such abundance of everything. Wonder takes me as I look on it.’ Menelaos of the fair hair overheard him speaking, and now he spoke to both of them and addressed them in winged words: ‘Dear children, there is no mortal who could rival Zeus, seeing that his mansions are immortal and his possessions.’ (4.74-79)

    When Telemachos remarks that Menelaos’s court is godly, Menelaos shows his humility by saying that no mortal man can rival the splendor of the gods.

    Now Peisistratos son of Nestor spoke up before him: 'Great Menelaos, son of Atreus, leader of the people, this in in truth the son of that man, just as you are saying; but he is modest, and his spirit would be shocked at the thought of coming here and beginning a show of reckless language in front of you, for we both delight in your voice […].' (4.155-160)

    Here's Telemachos being humble again—so humble that he can't even bring himself to stand up in front of Menelaos and speak for himself. Humility is one thing, but making someone else speak for you? Not too cool, we think.

    Book 8
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) 'I know well how to handle the polished bow, and would be first to strike any man with an arrow aimed at a company of hostile men … But I will say that I stand far out ahead of all others such as are living mortals now and feed on the earth. Only I will not set myself against men of the generations before, not with Herakles nor Eurytos of Oichalia, who set themselves against the immortals with the bow, and therefore great Eurytos died suddenly nor came to an old age in his own mansions, since Apollo in anger against him killed him, because he had challenged Apollo in archery.' (8.215-228)

    It looks like Odysseus has learned his lesson since boasting to the Cyclops—at least, part of his lesson. He's still claiming to be the best archer living, but key word living. He's going to claim that he's the best archer ever or anything. Because that would just be bragging.

    Alkinoös

    (Alkinoös:) 'Now let us go outside and make our endeavor in all contests, so that our stranger can tell his friends, after he reaches his home, by how much we surpass all others in boxing, wrestling, leaping and speed of our feet for running.' (8.100-103)

    Alkinoös is pretty proud of his kingdom, but notice that he's not comparing them to gods, or anything—just other men. Still, this is one of those tricky moments where we're not sure if this is justifiable pride or simply boasting. Given that Homer seems to like the Phaiakians, we're pretty sure that it's justifiable.

    Book 9
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus, in his tale:) ‘Cyclops, in the end it was no weak man’s companions you were to eat by violence and force in your hollow cave, and your evil deeds were to catch up with you, and be too strong for you, hard one, who dared to eat your own guests in your own house, so Zeus and the rest of the gods have punished you.’ (9.475-479)

    Translation: "How do you like me now?"

    (Odysseus:) 'So they spoke, but could not persuade the great heart in me, but once again in the anger of my heart I cried to him: "Cyclops, if any mortal man ever asks you who it was that inflicted upon your eye this shameful blinding, tell him that you were blinded by Odysseus, sacker of cities. Laertes is his father, and he makes his home on Ithaka." (9.500-505)

    Odysseus managed to get (most) of his men off of the Cyclopes' island, but he just can't let a good thing be. He had to go and open his big mouth, practically giving Polyphemos his address and Facebook password. Smooth move, big guy.

    Book 10
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) ‘Nevertheless we sailed on, night and day, for nine days, and on the tenth at last appeared the land of our fathers, and we could see people tending fires, we were very close to them. But then the sweet sleep came upon me, for I was worn out with always handling the sheet myself, and I could not give it to any other companion, so we could come home quicker to our own country; but my companions talked with each other and said that I was bringing silver and gold home with me, given me by great-hearted Aiolos, son of Hippotas; […] and the evil counsel of my companions prevailed, and they opened the bag and the winds all burst out. Suddenly the storm caught them away and swept them over the water weeping, away from their own country.’ (10.28-36, 46-49)

    Could Odysseus’s pride be the culprit here? If he had told his men what was in the bag rather than lording it over them, they never would have opened the sack. On the other hand, his men’s sense of pride is responsible too—because they are too high-and-mighty to just put up with what their captain tells them.

    Book 11
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus, in his tale:) 'Aias, son of stately Telamon, could you then never even in death forget your anger against me, because of that cursed armor? The gods made it to pain the Achaians, so great a bulwark were you, who were lost to them. We Achaians grieved for your death as incessantly as for Achilleus the son of Peleus at his death, and there is no other to blame, but Zeus; he, in his terrible hate for the army of Danaan spearmen, visited this destruction upon you. Come nearer, my lord, so you can hear what I say and listen to my story; suppress your anger and lordly spirit.' (11.553-562)

    Talk about pride: Telamonian Aias was so invested in being #1 that he killed himself when Odysseus won Achilleus' armor. We guess he his #1 in something: being a sore loser.

    Book 12
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus, in his tale:) "Come then, goddess, answer me truthfully this: is there some way for me to escape away from deadly Charybdis, but yet fight the other off, when she attacks my companions?" 'So I spoke, and she, shining among goddesses, answered: "Hardy man, your mind is full forever of fighting and battle work. Will you not give way even to the immortals? She is no mortal thing but a mischief immortal, dangerous, difficult and bloodthirsty, and there is no fighting against her, nor any force of defense. It is best to run away from her." (12.112-120)

    Odysseus isn't one to back down from a challenge, but Circe has news for him: there's no way out of Scylla and Charybdis without losing some men. The fact that Odysseus actually listens to Circe instead of trying to fight anyway shows us that—just maybe—he's starting to tamp down some of the pride that got him into this mess in the first place.

    Book 17
    Melanthios

    [Melanthios] recklessly lashed out with his heel to the hip, but failed to knock him out of the pathway, for Odysseus stood it, unshaken, while he pondered within him whether to go for him with his cudgel, and take the life from him or pick him up like a jug and break his head on the ground. Yet still he stood it, and kept it all inside him. (17.233-238)

    Odysseus controls his raging dignity. He takes offense at being touched so offensively by a lonely goatherd, but reins in his pride long enough to keep his crucial secret.

    Book 18
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) 'Leave blows alone, do not press me too hard, or you may make me angry so that, old as I am, I may give you a bloody chest and mouth. Then I could have peace, and still more of it tomorrow, for I do not think you will make your way back here a second time to the house of Odysseus, son of Laertes.' (18.20-24)

    Even when he's disguised as a beggar, Odysseus can't help showing off his pride in his house and his name. It's a good thing he managed to keep his disguise on—and maybe more evidence that he's changed.

    Penelope

    (Penelope:) 'Eurymachos, all my excellence, my beauty and figure, were ruined by the immortals at that time when the Argives took ship for Ilion, and with them went my husband, Odysseus. If he were to come back to me and take care of my life, then my reputation would be more great and splendid.' (18.251-255)

    Odysseus isn't the only one with pride. Penelope has pride in herself, too—or she has pride in her husband. Her own sense of self seems to be totally bound up in him, which, for an Ancient Greek woman, makes total sense.

    Book 21

    (Antinoös:) 'Ah, wretched stranger, you have no sense, not even a little. Is it not enough that you dine in peace, among us, who are violent men, and are deprived of no fair portion, but listen to our conversation and what we say? But there is no other vagabond and newcomer who is allowed to hear us talk. The honeyed wine has hurt you, as it has distracted others as well, who gulp it down without drinking in season.' (21.288-294)

    Antinoös basically tells the beggar not to get too big for his clout. Hm. Maybe you should take your own advice, dude.

  • Suffering

    Book 4
    Penelope

    (Penelope:) "Hear me, dear friends. The Olympian has given me sorrows beyond all others who were born and brought up together with me for first I lost a husband with the heart of a lion and who among the Danaans surpassed in all virtues, and great, whose fame goes wide through Hellas and midmost Argos; and now again the stormwinds have caught away my beloved son, without trace, from the halls, and I never heard when he left me. Hard-hearted, not one out of all of you then remembered to wake me out of my bed, though your minds knew all clearly, when he went out and away to board the hollow black ship. For if I had heard that he was considering this journey, then he would have had to stay, though hastening to his voyage, or he would have had to leave me dead in the halls." (4.722-735)

    Talk about mom-guilt: Penelope actually says that, if she'd known Telemachos was going to head off on his road trip, she would have literally died. Is this an overreaction? Or is it honestly kind of justified—since without her son, she'd have no male protection?

    Menelaos

    (Menelaos:) "[….] no one of the Achaians labored as much as Odysseus labored and achieved, and for him the end was grief for him, and for me a sorrow that is never forgotten for his sake, how he is gone so long, and we knew nothing of whether he is alive or dead." (4.106-110)

    Well, this is pretty grim: Odysseus suffering and labored harder than anyone else, and he doesn't even get a glorious death—just an embarrassing disappearance. Is it all worth it when he returns at the end?

    Book 5
    Odysseus

    (Odysseus:) ‘Ah me unhappy, what in the long outcome will befall me? I fear the goddess might have spoken the truth in all ways when she said that on the sea and before I came to my country I would go through hardships; now all this is being accomplished, such clouds are these, with which Zeus is cramming the wide sky and has staggered the sea, and stormblasts of winds from every direction are crowding in. My sheer destruction is certain.’ (5.299-305)

    Odysseus despairs at the first storm sent his way by Poseidon after he leaves Kalypso’s island. So much for taking suffering in stride.

    (Odysseus:) ‘What will happen now, and what in the long outcome will befall me? For if I wait out the uncomfortable night by the river, I fear that the female dew and the evil frost together will be too much for my damaged strength, I am so exhausted and in the morning a chilly wind will blow from the river; but if I go up the slope and into the shadowy forest, and lie down to sleep among the dense bushes, even if the chill and weariness let me be, and a sweet sleep comes upon me, I fear I may become spoil and prey to the wild animals.’ (5.465-473)

    Odysseus wavers between his fear of suffering and his determination to endure.

    (Odysseus:) "what I want and all my days I pine for is to go back to my house and see my day of homecoming. And if some god batters me far out on the wine-blue water, I will endure it, keeping a stubborn spirit inside me, for already I have suffered much and done much hard work on the waves and in the fighting. So let this adventure follow." (5.219-224)

    "I will endure it, keeping a stubborn spirit inside me" isn't exactly motivational-poster-worthy, but Odysseus' attitude is still pretty inspiring. He's determined to get home, and he'll endure anything to make it happen. (Lucky for him, Poseidon is definitely willing to make "anything" happen.)

    By nights he would lie beside her, of necessity, in the hollow caerns, against his will, by one who was willing, but all the days he would sit upon the rocks, at the seaside, breaking his heart in tears and lamentation and sorrow as weeping tears he looked out over the barren water. (5.154-158)

    Odysseus has everything he could possibly want with Kalypso: eternal youth, luxury, prosperity, and sex – but still, he yearns for the trials of mortal life.

    Kalypso

    (Kalypso:) ‘[…] but if you only knew in your own heart how many hardships you were fated to undergo before getting back to your country, you would stay here with me and be the lord of this household and be an immortal […].’ (5.206-209)

    Kalypso has a point – Odysseus intentionally chooses suffering. In this, he parallels Achilleus, the hero of The Iliad, who faces a choice between a long life back home and a short, glorious life fighting at Troy—and chooses Option II. And yet, Odysseus’s suffering is for the sake of getting back home—exactly what Achilleus rejects.

    Book 6
    Nausikaa

    (Nausikaa:) ‘[…] it is Zeus himself, the Olympian, who gives people good fortune, to each single man, to the good and the bad, just as he wishes; and since he must have given you yours, you must even endure it.’ (6.188-190)

    Nausikaa shows maturity beyond her age by wisely telling Odysseus he must bear all the suffering sent his way.

    Book 8

    So the famous singer sang his tale, but Odysseus melted, and from under his eyes the tears ran down, drenching his cheeks. As a woman weeps, lying over the body of her dear husband, who fell fighting for her city and people as he tried to beat off the pitiless day from city and children; she sees him dying and gasping for breath, and winding her body about him she cries high and shrill, while the men behind her, hitting her with their spear butts on the back and the shoulders, force her up and lead her away into slavery, to have hard work and sorrow, and her cheeks are wracked with pitiful weeping. Such were the pitiful tears Odysseus shed from under his brows, but they went unnoticed by all the others […]. (8.521-532)

    Call us crazy, but we like this: the Odyssey teaches us that it's okay for dudes to cry when they're under extreme duress. (And Odysseus is under extreme duress for, oh, about the entire epic.) Anyway, it's not like a few tears are going to detract from Odysseus' overwhelming studliness.

    Book 12
    Eurylochos

    Circe is referring here to the monster Skylla, but you can really apply her words to all forms of suffering. Pain, she tells Odysseus, is unavoidable.

    (Eurylochos, in Odysseus’s tale:) ‘“Listen to what I say, my companions, though you are suffering evils. All deaths are detestable for wretched mortals, but hunger is the sorriest way to die and encounter fate. Come then, let us cut out the best of Helios’ cattle, and sacrifice them to the immortals who hold wide heaven, and if we ever come back to Ithaka, land of our fathers, presently we will build a rich temple to the Sun God Helios Hyperion, and store it with dedications, many and good. But if, in anger over his high-horned cattle, he wishes to wreck our ship, and the rest of the gods stand by him, I would far rather gulp the waves and lose my life in them once for all, than be pinched to death on this desolate island.”’ (12.340-351)

    Book 13
    Athene

    Eurylochos considers starvation the worst death of all and prefers to commit a crime against heaven than suffer so.

    (Athene:) ‘[I will] tell you all the troubles you are destined to suffer in your well-wrought house; but you must, of necessity, endure all, and tell no one out of all the men and the women that you have come back from your wanderings, but you must endure much grief in silence, standing and facing men in their violence.’ (13.306-310)

    Book 15
    Odysseus

    Again, the message is to endure suffering as it can not be avoided. Of course, Odysseus will just be biding his time until he can deliver some serious (and seemingly excessive) payback.

    (Odysseus:) ‘There is nothing worse for mortal men than the vagrant life, but still for the sake of the cursed stomach people endure hard sorrows, when roving and pain and grief befall them.’ (15.343-345)

    Book 16
    Eumaios

    Odysseus seems to agree with his men that hunger is the worst kind of suffering.

    (Eumaios:) ‘All too much with enduring heart she does wait for him there in your own palace, and always with her the wretched nights and the days also waste her away with weeping.’ (16.37-39)

    Penelope’s grieving is implicitly compared to that of Odysseus.

    (Eumaios:) ‘Shall I on the same errand go with the news to wretched Laertes, who while he so greatly grieved for Odysseus yet would look after his farm and with the thralls in his household would eat and drink, whenever the spirit was urgent with him; but now, since you went away in the ship to Pylos, they say he has not eaten in this way, nor drunk anything, nor looked to his farm, but always in lamentation and mourning sits grieving, and the flesh on his bones is wasting from him.’ (16.137-145)

    Book 18
    Penelope

    Laertes mental anguish has rendered him immobile and ineffective.

    (Penelope:) ‘How I wish chaste Artemis would give me a death so soft, and now, so I would not go on in my heart grieving all my life, and longing for love of a husband excellent in every virtue, since he stood out among the Achaians.’ (18.202-205)

    Book 20
    Penelope

    This is an uncharacteristic moment of weakness for the usually patient Penelope.

    (Penelope:) ‘So I wish that they who have their homes on Olympos would make me vanish, or sweet-haired Artemis strike me, so that I could meet the Odysseus I long for, even under the hateful earth, and not have to please the mind of an inferior husband. Yet the evil is endurable, when one cries through the days, with heart constantly troubled, yet still is taken by sleep in the nights; for sleep is oblivion of all things, both good and evil, when it has shrouded the eyelids. But now the god has sent the evil dreams thronging upon me. For on this very night there was one who lay by me, like him as he was when he went with the army, so that my own heart was happy. I thought it was no dream, but a waking vision.’ (20.79-90)

    Book 24

    Penelope suffers so painfully for the loss of Odysseus that even her dreams are haunted by his absence.

    He spoke, and the black cloud of sorrow closed on Laertes. In both hands he caught up the grimy dust and poured it over his face and grizzled head, groaning incessantly. The spirit rose up in Odysseus, and now in his nostrils there was a shock of bitter force as he looked on his father. He sprang to him and embraced and kissed and then said to him: ‘Father, I am he, the man you ask about.’ (24.315-321)

    (Eurylochos, in Odysseus' tale:) "Listen to what I say, my companions, though you are suffering evils. All deaths are detestable for wretched mortals, but hunger is the sorriest way to die and encounter fate. Come then, let us cut out the best of Helios' cattle, and sacrifice them to the immortals who hold wide heaven, and if we ever come back to Ithaka, land of our fathers, presently we will build a rich temple to the Sun God Helios Hyperion, and store it with dedications, many and good. But if, in anger over his high-horned cattle, he wishes to wreck our ship, and the rest of the gods stand by him, I would far rather gulp the waves and lose my life in them once for all, than be pinched to death on this desolate island." (12.340-351)

    Eurylochos is actually working with a little logic here: he knows that they're not supposed to eat Helios' cattle, and he knows that he's going to get slammed for it—but if there's a choice between dying of hungry and drowning, he'd rather drown. Not all suffering is created equal.

    (Odysseus:) "There is nothing worse for mortal men than the vagrant life, but still for the sake of the cursed stomach people endure hard sorrows, when roving and pain and grief befall them." (15.343-345)

    Roaming around may cause suffering, but there's a part of Odysseus (the "cursed stomach") that seems to like it—as though he just can't keep himself from heading off looking for new lands and peoples.

    (Eumaios:) "All too much with enduring heart she does wait for him there in your own palace, and always with her the wretched nights and the days also waste her away with weeping." (16.37-39)

    Penelope may be "enduring," but she's not suffering silently. In fact, we're surprised the suitors have hung around so long.

    (Eumaios:) "Shall I on the same errand go with the news to wretched Laertes, who while he so greatly grieved for Odysseus yet would look after his farm and with the thralls in his household would eat and drink, whenever the spirit was urgent with him; but now, since you went away in the ship to Pylos, they say he has not eaten in this way, nor drunk anything, nor looked to his farm, but always in lamentation and mourning sits grieving, and the flesh on his bones is wasting from him." (16.137-145)

    Seriously, is anyone happy in this story? Laertes is so bummed that Odysseus is missing that he can't even get out of bed. (At least Penelope kept it together enough to weave him a shroud.)

    (Penelope:) 'How I wish chaste Artemis would give me a death so soft, and now, so I would not go on in my heart grieving all my life, and longing for love of a husband excellent in every virtue, since he stood out among the Achaians.' (18.202-205)

    You have to admit, it'd be pretty hard to resign yourself to remarrying if your first husband was the godlike Odysseus.

    He spoke, and the black cloud of sorrow closed on Laertes. In both hands he caught up the grimy dust and poured it over his face and grizzled head, groaning incessantly. The spirit rose up in Odysseus, and now in his nostrils there was a shock of bitter force as he looked on his father. He sprang to him and embraced and kissed and then said to him: 'Father, I am he, the man you ask about.' (24.315-321)

    Proper burial was super important to the Ancient Greeks including ritualized hair-tearing and dust-bathing. It may seem over the top to us, but Laertes' grief just helps us see what a good dad he is.

  • Hospitality

    [Telemachos] saw Athene and went straight to the forecourt, the heart within him scandalized that a guest should still be standing at the doors. He stood beside her and took her by the right hand, and relieved her of the bronze spear, and spoke to her and addressed her in winged words: 'Welcome, stranger. You shall be entertained as a guest among us. Afterward, when you have tasted dinner, you shall tell us what your need is.' […] [A]nd he led her and seated her in a chair, with a cloth to sit on, the chair splendid and elaborate. For her feet there was a footstool. For himself, he drew a painted bench next her, apart from the others, the suitors, for fear the guest, made uneasy by the uproar, might lose his appetite there among overbearing people […]. (1.118-124, 130-134)

    Telemachus knows how to treat a guest right: he welcomes her graciously, gives her a chair away from the suitors, and even brings her a stool for her feet. No wonder Athene decides to help him. (We have to say, knowing that your guest might at any point be a god is pretty good motivation to treat people well.)

    (Menelaos:) 'Surely we two have eaten much hospitality from other men before we came back here. May Zeus only make an end of such misery hereafter. Unharness the strangers' horses then, and bring the men here to be feasted.' (4.33-36)

    Menelaos gives us some insight into why the rules of hospitality are in place: he treats his guests well, because hosts once treated him well. Gee, it's nice when things work like they're supposed to.

    (Nausikaa:) 'But now, since it is our land and our city that you have come to, you shall not lack for clothing nor anything else, of those gifts which should befall the unhappy suppliant on his arrival.' (6.191-193)

    The Phaiakians treat Odysseus right, not just because they're generally nice people, but because it makes them look good. If you have enough food and clothing to give away, then you and your people must be doing pretty well for yourselves. See? Everyone wins.

    (Alkinoös:) 'Now, having feasted, go home and take your rest, and tomorrow at dawn we shall call the elders in, in greater numbers, and entertain the guest in our halls, and to the immortals accomplish fine sacrifices, and after that we shall think of conveyance, and how our guest without annoyance or hardship may come again, convoyed by us, to his own country, in happiness and speed, even though it lies very far off […].' (7.188-194)

    We have to assume that the Phaiakians didn't get guests too often, because throwing a feast every time a stranger walked up would get pretty exhausting. (It's probably true that most people didn't travel very much in Ancient Greece.)

    (Odysseus:) 'Let any of the rest, whose heart and spirit are urgent for it, come up and try me, since you have irritated me so, either at boxing or wrestling or in a foot race, I begrudge nothing; any of the Phaiakians, that is, except Laodamas himself, for he is my host; who would fight with his friend? Surely any man can be called insensate and good for nothing who in an alien community offers to challenge his friend and host in the games. He damages what it is.' (8.204-211)

    Guest rule #121: don't beat your host in an arm-wrestling match. It's just not nice.

    (Polyphemos, in Odysseus' tale:) '"Give me still more, freely, and tell me your name straightway now, so I can give you a guest present to make you happy."' (9.355-356)

    We didn't have a good feeling about this cave anyway, but the minute Polyphemos starts talking about hospitality, we know it's not going to end well. Not only is he going to perform the host's duty of feeding his guests, he's actually going to eat them. That's pretty much the exact opposite of gracious.

    (Odysseus:) "So she spoke to them, and the rest gave voice, and called her and at once she opened the shining doors, and came out, and invited them in, and all in their innocence entered; only Eurylochos waited outside, for he suspected treachery. She brought them inside and seated them on chairs and benches, and mixed them a potion, with barley and cheese and pale honey added to Pramneian wine, but put into the mixture malignant drugs, to make them forgetful of their own country. When she had given them this and they had drunk it down, next thing she struck them with her wand and drove them into her pig pens, and they took on the look of pigs, with the heads and voices and bristles of pigs, but the minds within them stayed as they had been before." (10.229-241)

    Circe isn't eating her guests, but she's doing the next worse thing: serving them poisoned food. We're not sure if it's actually in the rule book, but turning your guests into pigs is probably not going to win you the gods' favor. Even if you are a sorceress.

    (Eumaios:) "You too, old man of many sorrows, since the spirit brought you here to me, do not try to please me nor spell me with lying words. It is not for that I will entertain and befriend you, but for fear of Zeus, the god of guests, and for my own pity." (14.386-389)

    Eumaios doesn't want to hear a bunch of sob stories about how Odysseus just needs $20 so he can buy a bus ticket to Memphis. He's going to give him the $20 because it's the right thing to do. (Warning: this is an analogy. Please think carefully before giving $20 to strangers on the street, even if they do need it for a bus ticket to Memphis.)

    (Menelaos:) 'I would disapprove of another hospitable man who was excessive in friendship, as of one excessive in hate. In all things balance is better.' (15.69-71)

    Menelaos says that you have to be moderate even in being hospitable, but we have to wonder: with Alkinoös throwing a feast and Nestor coating a cow's horns in gold before slaughtering it, what exactly counts as "moderate"?

    (Penelope:) 'But come, handmaidens, give him a wash and spread a couch for him here, with bedding and coverlets and with shining blankets, so that he can keep warm as he waits for dawn of the golden throne, and early tomorrow you shall give him a bath, anoint him, so that he can sit in the hall beside Telemachos and expect to dine there; and it will be the worse for any of those men who inflicts heart-wasting annoyance on him; he will accomplish nothing here for all his terrible spite […].' (19.317-325)

    Penelope is a gracious hostess—but we're so sure her maids like having to give baths to all the beggars who show up with stories about Odysseus.