Odysseus: A Textbook for Young Greeks – Literature Essay
In Homer’s epic The Odyssey, Odysseus is presented as a “textbook” for young Greeks. He exhibits characteristics which are valued in his culture and displays certain qualities that only a Greek may want to have. Odysseus takes vengeance for family, is witty and clever, and is handsome and athletic. In Greek culture, it is considered proper to take vengeance for friends and family if a person does a wrongdoing against them.
Odysseus takes vengeance for his wife and son against the suitors. The suitors are trying to take Penelopeia, Odysseus’s wife, for their own wife, and they are killing all of Odysseus’s animals for food. The suitors also anger Odysseus because they do not respect Zeus’s rule of hospitality. They are rude to Odysseus, seen as a beggar, when he is trying to beg for food. Antinoös, a suitor, says, “You shadn’t leave this hall with a sound skin after that piece of rudeness! Then picking up the footstool, he threw it, and hit him full on the back under the right shoulder” (200).
This makes Odysseus want to kill the suitors even more because they are rude to guests, even if he is a beggar. Odysseus takes vengeance against them at the end of the book because of all the bad things the suitors have done. Eurycleia, Odysseus’s old nurse, tells Penelopeia that Odysseus has killed them. She says, “The master has come, he’s in the
house, better late then never! and he’s killed the whole lot of come-marry-me-quicks, who have made themselves a nuisance, and eaten thi vittles, and plagued thi boy” (253). This shows that everyone is happy that Odysseus has killed the suitors with his witty plan and proves that the Greeks are very fond of people who take vengeance for their family and friends.
The ancient Greeks favored wit and cleverness in a man. Odysseus displays his cleverness in the plans he creates on his journey home to Ithaca. For example, when Odysseus and his crew are stuck in Polyphemus’ cave, Odysseus uses his intellect to escape from being eaten by Polyphemus. Polyphemus is a Cyclops who is Poseidon’s son, and he is going to eat Odysseus and his crew. First, Odysseus comes up with the plan to burn the Polyphemus’ eye, so that he cannot see. “The men took hold of the stake, and thrust the sharp point into his eye; and I leaned on it from above and turned it round and round” (107). After doing this, Odysseus comes up with the clever plan to hide under the animals and escape right through the door. He says. “I tied them in threes, with a man under the middle one, while the two others protected him on each side” (108). Odysseus shows that he is smart enough to come up with a plan to get out of even the toughest situations. With all of Odysseus’s wit and cleverness, and being athletic, Odysseus becomes the perfect Greek man.
The Greeks also preferred that a man be athletic and handsome. Odysseus exhibits both of these traits. For example, when the suitors are competing to see who can bend the great bow. Not one suitor is strong enough to bend the bow. Odysseus, who is seen as a beggar, is the only one who is strong enough to bend the bow. “Then he took the great bow in his right hand, and twanged the string; at his touch it sang a clear note like a swallow” (242). The men are dumbfounded at this point, and this shows just how athletic Odysseus is. In another part of the book, Odysseus is described as being very handsome. Athena, who favors Odysseus over other Greek men, helps Odysseus to look almost like a god before he meets his son Telemachos. Athena wants Telemachos to think of his father as being a young, handsome man, so she helps Odysseus to look like this. Telemachos says, “Why, a moment ago you were old and dressed in rags; now you are like one of the gods who rule the broad heavens” (185). Telemachos cannot even believe that that this young, good looking man is his father. Odysseus is both athletic and handsome, and this also helps him become the perfect Greek man.
Homer presents Odysseus as a man that every Greek should admire and look up to. He takes vengeance for his family, is witty and clever with his plans, and is athletic and handsome. With all of these qualities, Odysseus could be seen as a “textbook” for young Greeks.