Concealment And Disguises In Homer's Odyssey

2971 words - 12 pages

Concealment and Disguises in Homer's Odyssey

  Did you know, that although caves, and disguises play a small literal role in The Odyssey, are major symbols, and sometimes even considered archetypes? Sometimes when quickly reading through a book, one does not pick up on the symbolic interpretation of many images created throughout the book. A man named Homer wrote The Odyssey around 800 B.C. The story was a Greek epic poem, illustrating the struggle of Odysseys, the hero, to return home. He had gone to a war in Troy, leaving his family behind. Upon his return, his hubris angered the gods of Olympus, and they delayed his journey home 10 years. Throughout the story Athena, the goddess of wisdom, aids Odysseus. She intercedes for him on his behalf at Olympus, and helps him in his physical toils during his journey. While Odysseus was away, his wife began to be courted by the landholders and nobles of the area. These suitors plundered the house of Odysseus and angered his son, Telemachos, who then left to go looking for news of his father. In the end, Odysseus makes it home to his wife Penelope with the help of Athena, and his son Telemachos. Whenever Athena physically appears on earth to help either Odysseus or Telemachos, she usually appears in disguise as someone else.  Throughout Odysseus' journey he also encounters several caves, which have not only a literal but also a symbolic meaning in each episode. The mysticism of caves, and the repetition of episodes with veils, concealment, or disguises, have a minor literal role in the book, but are of tremendous symbolic importance.


The symbolic value of the cave in Western literature originates in The Odyssey (Seigneuret 223). There are a few symbolic meanings of the caves in The Odyssey. Some caves represent a very specific symbol. However all the caves that are presented in The Odyssey have two universal meanings. The fist universal meaning of a symbolic cave is a polar feeling of either attraction or repulsion toward the earth itself as a universal womb-tomb (Seigneuret 222). Caves are a place of birth to religious figures such as the Buddha, Dionysus, and even Zeus in some stories (David 344). It is important to note that these figures are also nurtured in the symbolic cave. Therefore if the spiritual power of light cannot overcome the cave, it is devoured and destroyed; the womb becomes tomb (Seigneuret 327). A vivid incident of this account in The Odyssey was at Polyphemus' Cave (Homer Book IX Line 287-295). In this episode, Polyphemus eats Odysseus' men.  The interpretation of this is that obviously these men were born in a home, which is a parallel to a birthplace cave (womb), but were killed in a cave because Odysseus' hubris, not his intellect (light) failed, by actually going into the cave. Therefore, Polyphemus killed his men (tomb), providing a representation of the universal meaning of a cave as the womb to tomb.  This is the fist...

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