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The Importance Of Identity In Homer's Odyssey

1435 words - 6 pages

The Importance of Identity in Homer's Odyssey

Within the epic poem "The Odyssey", Homer presents the story of Odysseus's quest to find his home and his identity. According to Homer's account, with its origin in oral tradition, the two quests are interchangeable, as a mortal defines himself with his home, his geographic origin, his ancestors, his offspring, etc. But in addition to this Homer illustrates the other aspect of human identity, shaped by the individual and his actions so that he may be recognized in the outside world. Through this Homer presents Odysseus in two ways: the first his internally given identity as ruler and native of Ithaca, son of Laertes, father of Telemachos; the second the definition of the external world which sees the "god-like" mortal famous for his clever actions and the god's almost unanimous favor.

For this second identification Odysseus has undergone a long journey, measured not only by time and distance but also as a series of alienations in foreign lands, illustrating to Odysseus what exactly his identity does not consist in, namely the immortal, the underworld, or other nationalities. Through these alienations Homer establishes the hostile world in which Odysseus must struggle to exist and in which sometimes the Gods themselves become hostile, causing mortals to suffer. In order to survive this, Odysseus also explores what it is to present oneself as without a past, home, fixed identity, or as he names himself to the Cyclops - a "Noman". That is to say that in certain instances Homer presents Odysseus as performing the opposite action of most mortals(i.e. attempting to make a name for themselves) by disguising or even eradicating his name, thus establishing an externally identifiable identity as being vital but also dangerous. Through this Homer's portrayal admits the role of self-negation in Odysseus's struggle as it enables him to survive the hostilities of both fellow mortals and the Gods and in the end to make a name for himself. Homer presents this clearly in the following instances: Helen's description of Odysseus disguising himself to enter into the city of Troy and in doing so gaining information that would allow him to destroy his mortal enemies, a trademark ploy that he also uses when returning to his homeland of Ithaca to infiltrate the rank of suitors; additionally in the sequence with the Cyclops in which Odysseus eludes danger by taking on the guise of "Noman" or one without a "name".

For Odysseus, the ability to disguise his identity presents an opportunity through which he can conquer his enemies at Troy and thereby establish great fame and external identity through public recognition. Through the voice of Helen, Homer demonstrates how Odysseus became so unrecognizable that he was able to enter into Troy, defying both his mortal enemies and the immortal Poseidon who built Troy's walls to be impenetrable:

But what a deed this one mighty man did and dared...

When he had...

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