Study Guide

The Odyssey Suffering

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It's not surprising that the Odyssey is full of suffering: its characters live in a world without antibiotics, painkillers, and iTunes. (They actually have to get in a car and drive to a store to buy the latest One Direction album.) That's just the curse of mortality. And there's only one way to deal with it: endure. But they're not particularly keep-calm-and-carry-on about it—they may put up with the suffering, but they also weep, grieve, and lament. A lot. And one odd thing: you'd think that people who thought so much about daily suffering would come up with a better afterlife for themselves. Instead, our glimpse of the Underworld makes it look like a lot more of the same.


Questions About Suffering

  1. From the gods' perspective, is there any way for mortals to avoid suffering in the Odyssey?
  2. How do men in this epic rid themselves of pain and suffering? What about Odysseus, specifically?
  3. Odysseus' mother Antikleia dies "out of grief" over her son's absence. Does dying of grief make sense in the context of the Odyssey?
  4. Is there a point to all of Odysseus' suffering? Does he return to Ithaka humbler? Wiser?
  5. So, we know that mortals suffer. What about the gods? Is their suffering less? Different?
  6. Would Penelope suffer less if Odysseus really had died in the Trojan War?

Chew on This

In the Odyssey, suffering always comes from bad actions. If you could manage to live without angering the gods, you'd be able to avoid suffering entirely.

In the Odyssey, suffering doesn't serve a purpose: it's a senseless burden that all mortals must bear.

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