Little Heroism in Homer's Odyssey
"Could I forget that kingly man, Odysseus? There is no mortal half so wise; no mortal gave so much to the lords of the open sky." proclaims Zeus, the king of all gods in Homer's The Odyssey. He, among countless others, harbors high regards for Odysseus, the mastermind of the Trojan War turned lost sailor. However, the epic poem is sprinkled with the actions of gods and goddesses pushing Odysseus towards his path home to Ithaka, giving the mortal war hero little exposure to the limelight. So when does all the high and mighty talk of Odysseus' power prove true? Only in the absence of godly intervention can the title character live up to his name. In Homer's The Odyssey, excessive reliance on the gods' assistance weakens the overall effect of Odysseus as the hero; while, as a break from the norm, Odysseus' single-handed defeat of the Kyklops Polyphêmos adds true suspense to the story as well as merit to Odysseus' character.
The gods interfere with Odysseus on his quest in one of two ways, for the better or for the worse. Zeus, Athena, Hermês, Persephone, and the Nereid Ino all help Odysseus return home. On the other hand, Poseidon and Hêlios, the embodiment of the sun, hinder his journey home. While the nymph Kalypso and the witch Kirkê balance between helping and hindering. Athena, the goddess of wisdom and daughter of Zeus, plays the most crucial role in the story. Odysseus' patron goddess practically weaves the outcomes with her own fingers. At the very beginning, Athena pleads for Zeus to offer help to Odysseus, who is trapped on Kalypso's island. "O Father of us all, if it now please the blissful gods that wise Odysseus reach his home again, let the Wayfinder, Hermês, cross the sea to the island of Ogýgia; let him tell our fixed intent to the nymph with pretty braids [Kalypso], and let the steadfast man [Odysseus] depart for home. For my part, I shall visit Ithaka to put more courage in the son, and rouse him."
Furthermore, Athena helps in the quest in various forms and figures, literally. She disguises herself as Mentês to inspire Telémakhos to search for news of his father Odysseus, as Mentor to accompany the boy on his journey to Pylos, and as Telémakhos himself to gather a crew for the quest. During Poseidon's storm, when Odysseus must swim to the Phaiákians' island of Skhería, Athena brings him to safety when he is alongside death. "He had been flayed there, and his bones broken, had not grey-eyed Athena instructed him: he gripped a rock-ledge with both hands in passing and held on, groaning, as the surge went by, to keep clear of its breaking." Athena is also credited for taking the form of a little girl and leading Odysseus to the palace of the Phaiákians to meet King Alkínoös and Queen Arêtê, while protecting Odysseus in a shroud of mist. Athena's involvement in the story relays a sense of disappointment, both in...