Use of Epithets In Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey
Throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer’s use of the epithet in describing Odysseus becomes essential as a means of characterizing the hero. Homer uses several epithets, or nicknames, along with the name “Odysseus” as the story unfolds in both tales. Three of these include the descriptive epithet “wily Odysseus,” the laudative epithet “Odysseus, the great tactician,” and the patronymic epithet “Odysseus Laertiades.” Besides their obvious descriptive qualities, each of these epithets function to amplify, enhance, or characterize the hero.
Although the epithet “wily Odysseus” serves a descriptive purpose, it also serves other purposes as well. Actually, this epithet also amplifies an important characteristic of this hero in each epic. Odysseus was known throughout the ancient world for his cunning, and this comes into play quite often in both The Iliad and The Odyssey, as he demonstrated in devising the scheme of the Trojan Horse. Just as the Greeks’ cause seemed utterly hopeless, it was Odysseus whose wits were able to save them with his masterful plan. Indeed, Menelaus, for example, when recounting the story to Telemachus, stated plainly: “I have met…foresight and wit in many first rate men, but never have I seen one like Odysseus” (Odyssey 61). This is only one of several examples of Odysseus’ wit and wisdom, and by the use of the epithet “wily Odysseus,” Homer emphasizes this character trait time after time, thus pressing it home to his listeners.
However, the laudative epithet “Odysseus, the great tactician,” besides serving to describe, also emphasizes Odysseus’ mastery of negotiation. This character trait is essential to the plot in both epics. One such instance occurred as Odysseus was about to avenge the suitors in The Odyssey, when Telemachus was taking the hall’s weapons into storage. After Penelope is sent away by Telemachus, Athena suddenly appears amidst a bright light before him and Odysseus. The young, brash Telemachus nearly cried out, giving her presence away to others in the house of Odysseus, but Odysseus stopped him, saying, “Be still: keep still about it: just remember it. The gods who rule Olympus make this light” (Odyssey 354). Here, Odysseus’ quick, yet tactful reply to Telemachus perhaps saved the day, and Telemachus, because he didn’t feel ashamed at his father’s response to his foolishness,...