Homer's Odyssey As A Moral Epic

2561 words - 10 pages

    A large number of the works of ancient poetry and literature have been said to carry a moral undertone. Homer's 'Odyssey' is no exception. This essay explores the moral positions that the poem seems to adopt. Subsequently, it will show that while the 'Odyssey' is indeed a moral epic, the moral position of the main characters themselves, namely Odysseus and the Gods, can, at times, be questionable.

            Loyalty is one moral value that is evident throughout the poem. No character embodies loyalty more than Penelope who remains loyal and true to Odysseus throughout his absence, refusing to give in to the suitors' proposal of marriage and not engaging in any extramarital affair. She constantly praises Odysseus with glowing words,1 and although it may get quite annoying to the reader, she is constantly weeping for Odysseus. Penelope's loyalty to her husband is contrasted vividly in the poem with the story of Clytemnestra's betrayal of her husband. Agamemnon is perpetually wailing and lamenting about his betrayal and death in the underworld. When the slain suitors tell him how they died, he cries out that Odysseus is fortunate because he had won himself a loyal wife.2 The moral theme of loyalty is also clear when Odysseus punishes Melanthios and the serving maids gruesomely for being disloyal.3 On the other hand, Eumaios and Philoitios are praised and rewarded for remaining loyal to Odysseus. Loyalty will always be rewarded- Odysseus comes back to Penelope and the loyal oxherd and swineherd are rewarded while the disloyal are punished.


            The poem places strong emphasis on intelligence as a virtue. Odysseus is strong, but it is his intelligent mind that gets him through his troubles. This is most evident in the blinding of Polyphemos.4 Odysseus knows that he is no match for the Cyclops in terms of strength, so he uses his intelligence to defeat Polyphemos's stupidity. The 'nobody' trick and the way he and his men escapes the cave guarded by the blind Polyphemos illustrates this perfectly.5 It is also his mind that saves him and his men from death at the hands of Charybdis. Rather than lose the whole crew to Charybdis, Odysseus chooses to face Scylla, although he fails to save the six men the monster devours.6 It is also his intelligence that wins him Athene's favour.7 Intelligence is given more importance than physical attributes like strength and beauty. Penelope's intelligence, proven with the trick of Laertes's death shroud to delay the suitors, is more important than her beauty, for it is that and not her beauty that keeps her from marrying the suitors. Penelope's intelligence is set against Helen's superficiality, all beauty and not much brain. This can be said to be reflected in the gift she awards to Telemachos- a robe that is extremely beautiful, but somehow, rather useless.8


            The 'Odyssey' seems to portray the idea that obstacles and hardship arise out of moral weakness....

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