Study Guide

The Odyssey Pride

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Book 3

(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:) ‘[…] 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:) ‘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:) '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:) '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, 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:) ‘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, 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, 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] 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:) '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:) '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.

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