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Classics 217 Odyssey Paper

Classics 217 Odyssey Paper - Classics 217 The Enchantment...

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Classics 217 The Enchantment of Homer’s Odyssey The Odyssey constantly beguiles with disguises, outlandish tales and shifting identities that blur the lines between truth and fiction for both poet and reader. Regardless of its ambiguous truth-value, however, the Odyssey produces a healthy allure for its audience. The power of Odysseus—and the novel’s—charm lies in its ability to overcome the poisonous allures of death, temptation, and immortality so that Odysseus may succeed in his journey. Even more remarkably, through all “twists and turns,” Odysseus and Odyssey avoid transformation or self-discovery. Instead, they endlessly enchant all the way to the end of the poem, providing an infinite cycle of pleasure for the reader. Outside of the Odyssey , Greek literary tradition typically stipulated that great epic heroes garnered kleos , or honor, and celebration upon their death, as was the case for warriors such as Achilles and Hector who died in battle in the Iliad . In contrast, Odysseus is remarkable in his ability to beguile death itself. Unbelievably, he has myriad life- threatening experiences, yet somehow remains the only man from his fleet left alive. While the goddess Athena often intervenes to provide divine assistance, it is Odysseus’s charm that ultimately “wins over” death while simultaneously leaving the audience in awe. One striking instance occurs during Odysseus’s encounter with the Sirens. The Sirens are death angels. Their images were carved on ancient Greek funeral monuments, pictured as bird-women eager to catch the souls of sailors (Graves 368). While they offer eternal life to Odysseus in Book XII, the piles of their victims’ bones around them indicate otherwise. They promise to impart supreme knowledge through
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their “honey-sweet voice” (XII 187). But this lure is a deception; pure knowledge inevitably entails death, since only the gods can know everything and survive. Odysseus realizes that by surrendering to the Sirens, he can die and attain the glory of the warrior, the hero of the Iliad . Instead, he orders his men to tie him to the mast “in hurtful bonds” so the crew could “turn aside from death and escape destruction” (XII 157-162). He elects to become the hero of the homecoming, who restores honor to his household by defeating the suitors and supporting his son, Telemachos. The choice of survival over
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