Friday, May 13, 2011

What Did I Do to Deserve This?

In Book 13 Poseidon demonstrates the "down side " of divine disfavor: he destroys the Phaecian ship that returned Odyssey to his home and blockaded their harbor. On the other hand, Athena shows the benefits of divine approval: she alerts Odysseus to the suitors in his palace and helps him plan his revenge (including an impeccable disguise). Do these people deserve their fates? Are the gods acting as defenders of justice and the moral order (much as Rama defends dharma in the Ramayana)? Or are the gods acting purely to satisfy their personal agendas? Do the Phaecians or Odysseus have an choice or control in gaining disapproval or favor from the gods -- or is it completely arbitrary? Why does Athena help Odysseus but turn a blind eye to the troubles that result when Agamemnon returns?


  1. I think both Odysseus and the Phaecians deserve their fates. Odysseus sacrificed many years fighting in Troy, and won the battle for his side, but when he returned home, he was blown off course by Poseidon, his entire crew was killed, but eventually returned home. I feel like this fate was appropriate for his situation. Odysseus fought for his country, so deserved to be home, but since he did not show respect to the god Poseidon, he deserved to be punished, but not killed, for it. Further, the Phaecians deserved to be turned to stone, because they also forgot to perform a sacrifice to the god of the sea. Since they did not do anything to reward themselves, it was an appropriate fate to be killed before returning home.

    I feel like Poseidon wants justice. Poseidon is one of the most important gods, but when traveling on the sea, he should be the god to show one’s respect to. When people start forgetting about him and thinking he is not important, Poseidon gets angry and kills or punishes humans. Poseidon basically wants the respect that he deserves by reminding the people to still sacrifice to him. One can tell this idea works, because after Poseidon kills the Phaecians on the boat, the Phaecians on the land immediately sacrifice 12 bulls to him. Athena also believes in justice. Athena realized that Odysseus deserves to return home to his family after many years, and I believe that once Athena met Telemachus, she believed even more that Telemachus and his father should be reunited once again.

    People can gain favor or disapproval from the gods in one way. Sacrifices. Sacrifices to gods make them respect one, but forgetting a sacrifice could cost someone their lives, like it did to the Phaecians. Lastly, I believe Athena helped Odysseus but not Agamemnon because Athena sees herself in Odysseus. Athena says to Odysseus, “Here among mortal men you’re far the best at tactics, spinning yarns, and I am famous among the gods for wisdom, cunning wiles, too” (13.336-.339). From this quotation, the reader can tell how Athena sees Odysseus’ cunningness as an advantage, as he is just like Athena. Odysseus’ cleverness helps him conceal his identity from people, which Agamemnon could not do. So basically, Athena believed more that Odysseus could succeed than Agamemnon could because of Odysseus’ cleverness, so she helped Odysseus instead.

  2. I partly disagree with Henry. I do not think Poseidon or any of the gods really care about justice, for the most part. They only care about their own personal agenda. Some of the time the gods’ personal agendas over lap with what would be considered justice, but that still probably was not why the god did that action. The gods only care about justice if the ones who were wronged were themselves. An example of this is how Poseidon acted towards Odysseus. Odysseus did not sacrifice enough to Poseidon for helping the Achaeans defeat the Trojans, which angered Poseidon, so he blew Odysseus off course and prolonged his journey home.

    I think the Phaecians and Odysseus have some control over whether the gods favor or disapprove of them. They have control through sacrifices. If one sacrifices enough to a god, that god might favor you. But if one does not sacrifice enough to a god, when the god does help, the god will take revenge one you. One can tell that the people in the Odyssey know this because when Alcinous realizes that Poseidon is going to block his harbor, he orders “…sacrifice twelve bulls to the god at once- the pick of the herds. Perhaps he’ll pity us, pile no looming mountain ride around our port.” (13.206-208)

    But it is also partly luck that a god might like or dislike you, as can be seen with the Phaecians. They could not have known that bringing Odysseus home would incite Poseidon’s wrath. Again it was luck that Athena like Odysseus and not Agamemnon. She only likes Odysseus because she saw some of her own characteristics in him.

  3. The Greek gods are immortal ancients that often demand worship, yet never actually seem to have any obligation to do anything. They are rulers, representing nature, but are just as flawed as any mortal king. If they were meant to safeguard any universal principle then they would more than likely have cooperated with each other. Instead the gods occupy themselves with personal amusement, such as the war at Troy and demanding sacrifice. Poseidon for example, is pleased when bulls are slaughtered in his name and rewards those that worship him. He never rewards anybody for anything else, suggesting that nobody has done well enough to exemplify any form of principle Poseidon is supposed to protect. Anything the gods do to help mortals has either been as a reward or for their own benefit.

    Similarly, Athena herself has given no withstanding reason for helping Odysseus. She has only helped him because she saw herself in him. This excuse is so nonchalant that it is possible that Athena has nothing better to do with her time, further proving the absence of any longstanding motive for continual action with mortals. It also explains why she does not take action when others are threatened, like Agamemnon. These gods are in no way morally superior to any mortal. Many people have found purpose to devote their life to in less than 70 years, yet the gods cannot do so with 700? This shows a certain weakness on the gods’ part, making them in fact inferior to mortals. There is no reason that mortals deserve a fate worse than the immortals considering they have in fact done more to deserve better.

  4. In the Odyssey, Poseidon is motivated by personal reasons and not by ethics. Poseidon demonstrates divine disapproval. There are numerous instances where Poseidon pushes Odysseus off course. One example is after the battle of Troy, when Odysseus is sailing back to Ithaca, but is pushed off course by an irate Poseidon, for what seems to be forever. Poseidon’s attack is fueled by anger; he is infuriated because Odysseus does not make an offering to him before set their sail from Troy. Poseidon is acting out of personal rage rather than moral outrage. He feels disrespected by the king, rather than feeling that it is unethical to not give an offering to the gods upon a journey. In book 13, Odysseus returns to Ithaca by means of a Phaecian ship. As the ship is pulling in to its home harbor, Poseidon in a rage exclaims:
    “I’ll crush that fine Phaeacian cutter out on my misty sea, now on her homeward run from the latest convoy. They will learn at last to cease and desist from escorting every man alive— I’ll pile a huge mountain round about their port!” (13.171-173)
    This exclamation by Poseidon shows his temper as well as his personal rage against Odysseus. The Phaeacian’s are subject to this for merely chartering Odysseus to Ithaca, an unjust penalty. One reason for this rage may come from Odysseus’s attack on Poseidon’s son Polyphemus. In book 9 Odysseus and several of his men are captured by the Cyclops Polyphemus. In order to escape, Odysseus blinds the Cyclops by stabbing the monster with a red-hot wooden stake through the eye. This attack on his son plays a major role in Poseidon’s personal hatred for Odysseus.
    Athena is also motivated by personal reasons rather than moral, although she demonstrates divine approval, unlike Poseidon. She decides to help Odysseus throughout the epic. One example of her approval is in book 13. As Odysseus awakes in Ithaca, she shrouds the landscape in mist to disguise it from Odysseus. She takes this protective measure to keep Odysseus’s emotions from soaring because he was finally at home. After she reveilles Ithaca to Odysseus, she then warns him about Penelope’s multiple suitors.
    “True enough, some young lords (the suitors) in a black cutter lurk in ambush poised to kill the prince before he reaches home, but I have my doubts they will. Sooner the earth will swallow down a few of those young gallants who eat you out of house and home these days!”
    Athena is trying to educate Odysseus about the suitors who plague his palace. She also is trying to spark rage within Odysseus by telling him about the suitor’s plot to kill Telemachus. Athena then takes one last precaution and turns Odysseus into an old man so he will not be recognized until he is able to take revenge on the suitors. Athena does not help Odysseus because she thinks it is moral, rather she helps Odysseus because she likes him. He charmed her and she has decided to make it one of her personal duties to help him. In contrast, for she did not decide to help Agamemnon on his attempt to return home or warn him about his wife and her new found lover, even though Agamemnon was as deserving as Odysseus. This proves that Athena helps Odysseus purely for personal gain not out of ethical standards.

  5. In many situations I do believe that there is no reason behind why the gods do what they do. Most times it just seems like the Gods want to do whatever they like to the silly little humans. When you look at these two situations side by side you find that there might actually be some reasoning behind what the gods do and why they do it. Poseidon attacked the Phoenicians ship because it helped Odysseus. There is a reason behind why he attacks their ship, but is it just? Probably not. I don’t believe Poseidon has a good reason to hate Odysseus this much either. I think Odysseus just chose the wrong day do piss Poseidon off and not offer bulls to him. On the other had I believe after so much hate by Poseidon Odysseus totally deserved Athena’s help in Ithaca. There seems to be a reason behind everything but it may be slightly weighed by the gods own personal feelings and has nothing to do with justice.

    In my mind I feel like there may be some type of point system behind what the gods do. Athena didn’t show up for ten years to help Odysseus but all of a sudden after so many bad things happed she was there. Weird, huh? Also Odysseus had never really had a problem with Poseidon then after bad things had built up Poseidon was ALLLL over him. If you think of all of this as a game with the gods it would make a lot of sense. Think of each bad or good move a human makes toward a god as a point. At five bad points, the gods decide to attack you. Before then the gods have no reason to even interact with you. Once you have those points the gods just don’t let up. The same way would work when the person was good. Five points would win you a helping had by the appropriate god. For example Agamemnon’s points may have just never won him the favor of a good god to watch out for his crazy wife. That’s why he didn’t make it back to his throne alive. Obviously, this is just one way to look at it, but it does seem pretty logical when you look at Odysseus’ life.