Odysseus’ Search for Purpose in The Odyssey
As a wayfarer in life, The Odyssey focuses on life’s greater purpose through the fulfillment of destiny, perseverance, and loyalty. These three themes recur continuously throughout Odysseus’ journey, molding life’s greater vision. Odysseus comes to understand his purpose in life by remaining true to these major themes as he faces and conquers each obstacle in his journey.
The overarching theme of The Odyssey is the belief that man cannot escape the destiny which has been preordained for him by the gods. Destiny plays a vital role in the survival of Odysseus throughout his adventures. As Odysseus languishes on the island of Calypso, Hermes commands her to free Odysseus in order for the will of Zeus to be carried out, "This is the man whom Zeus now bids you send away, and quickly too, for it is not ordained that he shall perish far from friends; it is his lot to see his friends once more and reach his high roofed house and native land" (47). It is evident that Zeus does not want his predetermined plans for Odysseus to be altered by any being, mortal or god, and will not allow anything to stand in the way of the destiny he has set out for Odysseus.
Although no mortal can escape his destiny, it is the more heroic mortals that attract the attention for (better or worse) of the gods. Odysseus’ bravery in battle fascinated the gods, causing them to take a special interest in him. During Odysseus’ trip to the underworld, he meets with Hercules who relates to the special notice that the gods have taken in Odysseus, " high-born son of Laertes, ready Odysseus, so you, poor man, work out a cruel task such as I once endured when in the sunlight, I was the son of Kronian Zeus, yet I had pains unnumbered" (113). Hercules expresses his sympathy to Odysseus, for he understands what it is like to be a pawn in the god’s game of destiny. Odysseus’ freedom to make his own decisions is altered my what the gods have preordained for him.
Not only do the gods have control over the day-to-day destiny of mankind, but they also decide the circumstances of each mortal’s life. No matter how a mortal struggles, he will die under the conditions that the gods have set out for him. Eurymachus explains to Penelope, "Death from the gods can no man shun"(161). Eurymachus seeks to comfort Penelope by pointing out that worrying about the fate of her loved ones is useless, since their fate will be decided by the gods and once it has, there is no escaping it.
Throughout Odysseus’ journey he is able to persevere against the overwhelming odds he is faced with. The driving force behind Odysseus’ perseverance is his hunger to get home; his crew however does not share this passion and therefore lacks the strength of character to fight on. Odysseus looks back on his life or death struggle as his ship is lost in Poseidon’s storm, " out of the ship my comrades fell and then like sea-fowl were borne by the side of the black...