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The Odyssey | Study Guide


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The Odyssey | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In The Odyssey what is an example of good advice not being taken and suffering resulting from that failure?

One example of good advice that is not followed is Circe's advice to Odysseus on how to navigate past the Sirens and the two monsters, Scylla and Charybdis. In the former case, Odysseus chooses not to reveal to his men all that Circe told him. As a result they do not have a chance to try to talk him out of listening to the Sirens' song, and, when he loses his mind, the whole crew is endangered. Odysseus also does not inform his men of the kinds of monsters they will encounter, and therefore they are taken aback, frightened, and unprepared for the challenge. They might have sailed more easily through the channel if they had been forewarned. A second example is Tiresias's warning that Odysseus should make sure his men do not slaughter the cattle of Helios. After their ship is stranded on the island, Odysseus does not keep a close enough eye on his men, who grow hungry when their food and supplies run short. They may have succumbed more easily to the temptation to kill and eat the cattle because Odysseus failed to act on Tiresias's warning, an omission that contributed to the men's deaths.

How can The Odyssey be interpreted as an allegory for life's journey?

The Odyssey can be interpreted as an allegory for life's journey by observing the ways in which Odysseus grows wiser and more cautious as he learns from his mistakes. In life most people start out feeling invincible and protected—it's not until they encounter obstacles and heartache that they learn about consequences and hard work. Odysseus must repeatedly face down his tragic flaws—arrogance and rashness. It's only when he gains some semblance of control over them that he is able to regain his home. It is important to note how much more cautious he is in Ithaca than he had been with Polyphemus. Odysseus's trials reveal that the journey, no matter how long or difficult, is essential to self-knowledge.

In The Odyssey does strategy or strength serve Odysseus better?

Odysseus seems to rely more on strategy than strength; however, as witnessed in the bow and arrow scene, he is quite strong as well. One of the reasons Athena takes such an interest in helping Odysseus is because she admires his strategy and cunning. These qualities help him escape a number of tight spots where physical strength was of little use (such as escaping Polyphemus's cave) or where having the sense to exercise self-control rather than responding emotionally allowed him to gain an advantage (as when, disguised as a beggar, he agrees to the challenge of wrestling the other beggar). Odysseus's use of strategy seems more important to him in the long run, because he more often uses his wits rather than his physical powers to overcome obstacles.

What is an incident in The Odyssey in which Odysseus's hubris causes him problems?

Odysseus's hubris causes him problems when he taunts and tricks—and then blinds—Polyphemus. Odysseus's real error is when he arrogantly tells Polyphemus his real name after delivering this injury. Although Odysseus and his men are able to escape, they do not realize that Polyphemus is Poseidon's son and that they have incurred the vengeful wrath of a powerful god. As a result of Odysseus's arrogance, the journey home becomes long and difficult. Odysseus also shows hubris in his treatment of his men, expecting blind obedience of them when he often does not confide in them completely or look out for them. He does not tell them of the bag of winds given to him by Aeolus, and as a result they think he is hiding treasure from them. When they open the bag to find out, the winds all escape, and they are blown far from home. He dawdles on Circe's island, enjoying the benefits of being her lover, even though his men chafe to get away from there. He does not tell them of the danger of eating the cattle of Helios while making them promise to leave alone any cattle or sheep they see. Because he does not completely confide in them, they disobey that last promise, which leads to their deaths. Odysseus's hubris costs his men their lives..

What arguments could be used to defend the claim that Penelope is the protagonist of The Odyssey?

Though Penelope does not go on a journey as her husband and son do, and she does not receive as much attention as either Odysseus or Telemachus, she is a mainstay of the book in the way she is anchored by necessity to the family's home. Her character is well developed enough for her to be considered a protagonist, and in some ways she suffers more than her husband and son, as she is doomed to wait patiently for the return of a husband presumed dead.

How does Odysseus change over time in The Odyssey?

Odysseus changes over the course of The Odyssey in significant ways. Some of the flaws that get him into trouble earlier in the narrative are his hubris and his tendency to succumb to temptation. But Odysseus is also smart and clever, and though his pride in those traits derails him at times, by the end of the book, he shows greater wisdom, caution, and restraint. He bides his time while plotting the murder of the suitors, even though he is tempted to reveal himself when taunted by them. His cleverness remains much the same throughout the book, though it is sharpened by the wisdom and patience he acquires. Odysseus's final act—traveling inland to make a sacrifice to Poseidon—demonstrates some humility on his part, which is also a significant change.

In The Odyssey why does Penelope not return to her father's home to have a new husband chosen, as custom requires?

Penelope clearly sees Odysseus as her only equal, as is demonstrated when she decides to hold a contest that she knows only Odysseus can win. They share a similar cunning and shrewdness, and Odysseus is one of the most admired and respected warriors in all the land. Penelope doesn't seem to believe she should have to settle for anything less than Odysseus, and she also seems to intuit that, even though he has been missing for 20 years, he is smart enough to get out of whatever bind has kept him away for so long. She holds out hope because to give in and remarry would be to show disloyalty toward Odysseus.

What elements of Odysseus's character explain his taunting of Polyphemus in The Odyssey?

Odysseus displays a great deal of arrogance and hubris when he taunts Polyphemus. This hubris is his main character flaw, but he is not unique among the heroes of ancient Greece in this respect. In his boasting, in fact, he acts like a typical Greek hero. He is accustomed to winning and feels pride in his ability to win. He doesn't realize that Polyphemus is Poseidon's son, which will have dire consequences for him as he makes his way home. While Odysseus is more intelligent than Polyphemus and can overcome the giant despite the Cyclops's size and strength, Odysseus's actions backfire..

In The Odyssey which aspect of the gods' behavior does Odysseus adopt that slows his return home?

In The Odyssey Odysseus takes some actions that are similar to those of the gods, and these actions delay his return home. His infidelity with both Circe and Calypso is one example. In this he is demonstrating his immense pride, taking what the goddesses offer as his just reward. In addition, he chooses to withhold information from his men that may have helped them—such as Circe's advice about how to get past the Sirens safely. In this behavior he shows a lack of respect for his men that mirrors the gods' treatment of mortals. Finally, Odysseus's hubris in the episode with Polyphemus suggests that he sees himself as immune to punishment.

What female character in The Odyssey does not fulfill the traditional background role of women, and what is the significance of that character's behavior?

Setting aside gods like Athena and Circe, who cannot be viewed in the same way as mortals, women in The Odyssey generally play traditional roles. Arete and Nausicaa recognize the importance of hospitality to strangers; Helen sits with her husband as he presides over the court of Sparta and lets him lead the discussion with Telemachus. The chief exception to the following of these traditional roles is, of course, Penelope, who defies custom by refusing to return to her father's home and accepting a new husband. She remains faithful to Odysseus until he returns. In this fidelity to her husband, she earns modern readers' respect and admiration, but her steadfastness might well have been reassuring to the Greek audience of Homer's time. In a world in which men often voyaged for war or for trade, having a faithful spouse would be a guarantee of a just paternal claim to offspring as well as a promise of happiness on the voyager's return. Penelope also demonstrates nontraditional roles in standing up to the suitors, though she must do so in roundabout ways—through the stratagem of Laertes's shroud or the bow-and-arrow test—rather than directly. Her shrewdness in handling the suitors establishes her as a wife worthy of the cunning and heroic Odysseus and a suitable reward for him on his return.

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