Study Guide

The Odyssey Perseverance

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Book 3

(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, 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, 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:) '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?

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