Memory And Fortune In The Odyssey

856 words - 4 pages

When scholars analyze themes of meaning in the Homeric epic The Odyssey, a common area of focus is the significance of memory and forgetting to the story. One interpretation of the text poses that characters being able to remember Odysseus brings about fortunate consequences for the protagonist, while forgetting about him or his deeds leads to negative ones. However, the forgetting of Odysseus’s transgressions by the suitor’s fathers at the end of the epic contradicts this as Odysseus is spared through it. It is through the juxtaposition of Athena’s requests for memory and forgetting, respectively, at the beginning and conclusion of the epic that show the retention of the memory of Odysseus by others is not inherently beneficial nor detrimental to him. Rather, memory is a tool: a double-edged sword that can either improve or worsen his condition based on circumstance. What is inherent, however, is the tendency of events to progress, albeit slowly and circuitously, towards the inevitable homecoming of Odysseus, his retaking of the seat of power, and the return to normalcy on Icatha. Memory and forgetting merely serve as a means to achieve that fated end, rather than being objects of meaning themselves.
That the remembrance of Odysseus by other characters helps him out later on in the epic is certainly supported by events that transpire in the first half of the story. The action begins with Athena pleading with her father Zeus to release Odysseus from his two-decade imprisonment on Calypso’s island, crying out, “Have you no care for him?”
Zeus responds by defending himself: “How on earth could I forget Odysseus?” (Book 1, p.79). This exchange seems to imply that remembering someone equates to being concerned for their well-being; however other cases of characters remembering Odysseus resulting in his life being threatened (the suitors, for example). The proposal and refutation of fallacious conjectures such as these show that the analysis of memory should be done from the perspective of memory being a tool rather than having its own symbolism.
With the presupposition that memory advances themes rather than represents them, the pertinence of memory to the story becomes clear. What‘s important is whether the tool of remembrance or forgetfulness is being wielded, and whether the target or targets are supportive or opposing Odysseus’s desires. If the tool of remembrance is being used and the target is supportive, Odysseus advances; if opposed, he is set back. If forgetfulness is employed and the target is supportive, Odysseus is set back; if opposed, he...

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