Monday, May 16, 2011

What Has Odysseus Learned?

In Book 18, Odysseus, still disguised as a beggar, “[a]nd the one who knew the world” (144), comments to one of the kinder suitors:

So I will tell you something. Listen. Listen closely.
Of all that breathes and crawls across the earth,
our mother earth breeds nothing feebler than a man.
So long as the gods grant him power, spring in his knees,
he thinks he will never suffer affliction down the years.
But then, when the happy gods bring on the long hard times,
bear them he must, against his will, and steel his heart.
Our lives, our mood and mind as we pass across the earth
turn as the days turn . .
as the father or men and gods makes each day dawn.
I, too, seemed destined to be a man of fortune once
and a wild wicked swath I cut, indulged my lust for violence,
staking all on my father and my brothers.
Look at me now.
And so, I say, let no man be lawless all his life,
just take in peace what gifts the gods will send (18.149-63)

What do the lines above reveal about the impact of Odysseus own journey on him? What has he learned? What insights has he gained? What values does he advocate? What other episodes in the poem up to this point contribute to the viewpoint expressed by Odysseus in these lines? Is Odysseus' journey similar or different to Telemachus' journey to manhood? Has Odysseus changed (has he renounced any of his former values or beliefs)?


  1. Odysseus is saying in this passage that he has learned a lot. He is once a man of fortune. Odysseus has a family and a country to rule that he left twenty years ago. He goes out for war and is a reckless soldier. This ends up with him landing on a deserted island of a nymph. He is saying that his recklessness tore him a part from his family. He wasn’t content with what he had.

    I feel Odysseus has grown as a person during his journey home, but not in the same way as Telemachus. “ …you’ll sense the courage inside me, that I know- I’m hardly a flighty, weak willed boy these days.”(16.343-344) This shows that Telemachus recognizes that he has grown from childhood to a strong willed man. Odysseus, on the other hand, is already a man. He is married with already an heir to the throne. He is ruler of Ithaca. A man is considered one he has a massive amount of strength and bravery. Odysseus has these traits as a man. He is brave to fight off monsters, being from Poseidon’s son, Polyphemus, to a vagabond named Arnaeus. His strength proves that he is man in these terms.

    But what he really learned was how to grow as a person of piety. Before and during his journey from Troy and back home to Ithaca, Odysseus is a reckless leader. Before thinking of the safety of his crew and himself, he thinks of a brilliant idea and attacks Polyphemus, the Cyclops. Being the sons of Odysseus hater, Poseidon, Polyphemus can have Odysseus be destroyed. Odysseus does not think of it. He immediately executes his plan. Later when he tells his story to the Phaecians, he admits to his mistakes. When he speaks to Amphinomus, one of the suitors, in this passage above, he is explaining that one must be content with what the gods provide them. Being reckless and hoping “he will never suffer affliction” will only amount to his consequence. Piety towards the gods, especially towards the one who is out to kill him, is important. He cannot be irresponsible and ruthless in his thoughts that will end up flaring up Poseidon’s temper. He must be content with what he gains from the gods.

  2. I believe that Odysseus learned that the value of life is very important, which Odysseus did not have knowledge of when he was on his journey home because he was a reckless warrior that was only after the welfare of himself and what he wanted and not taking into consideration the lives of his men. Examples would be when Odysseus kept going to fight beast and would constantly lose men. Time after time Odysseus would lose men on his way home in battles against men, but he kept on trying to prove himself by fighting other creatures. To show that Odysseus has learned the value of life is because in the quote above, Odysseus basically says that each man was created equally. Also Odysseus believes that the gods give each man something special and that even though his men may not be on the level of a king such as Odysseus is, they were still just like him in a sense. I also agree with Claire that Odysseus wasn't content with what he had, but I also believes that goes for his wealth, power, and riches too. In the quote above Odysseus mention when he had a lot of fortune which shows that Odysseus is now reminiscent over he past wealth. Odysseus at the end of the quote agrees that his violent acts have caused him to lose a lot of what he is now reminiscent over.

  3. I agree with Clare. I think this shows what Odysseus has learned from all his travels and suffering. He went out thinking of glory and fame, and losing men to monsters and longing to be home with his family made him realize how important life really is and how insignificant each person actually is. No matter what heroics they did in their life, whether they were a great warrior or just a beggar, they will all die.

    Telemachus is growing up in a different way. “…you’ll sense the courage inside me, that I know- I’m hardly a flighty, weak willed boy these days.”(16.343-344) This shows that Telemachus thinks he is becoming a man, meaning he is gaining courage and knows how to fight, etc. But he is not changing in the same way Odysseus changed. Telemachus is going into the phase of life Odysseus just left, believing you can do anything and trying to achieve fame and greatness through recklessness. It is part of learning about life.

    All of Odysseus’s experiences as a soldier are to treasure the peaceful and happy moments in life because they will not last forever and life will eventually start to go downhill. He also learned that violence is a waste of time and that he could have spent his life in a better way. He found, through all the fighting he was in, that it is not worth it. One might get fame or wealth out of it, but it is better to spend your time in peace, to enjoy youth while it lasts.

  4. I agree with Daniel and feel that Odysseus is stating how much he learned from his journey in the above quotation. When Odysseus says, “So long as the gods grand him power, spring in his knees, he thinks he will never suffer affliction down the years,” in the above quotation, Odysseus is speaking about himself before he left for Troy. Odysseus is speaking of a man who believes that the first time the gods help him, that man believes he is the most powerful of all and cannot be stopped. Next when Odysseus says, “But then, when the happy gods bring on the long hard times, bear them he must, against his will, and steel his heart,” in the above quotation, he is speaking of what happened to him on his journey and what he learned.

    The gods beat down on Odysseus throughout his journey, and from that he learned that whatever is given to you, given by gods or mortals, and whether that thing is good or bad, one must take it and deal with it not matter what the consequences, and one must also try not to rejoice for the good too much, because the bad is going to come.

    His entire journey is an example of this. Odysseus won the battle of try, but then bad karma struck him, and he lost his way home. First he was blown off course by Poseidon, then later Zeus sent down a lightning bolt and killed his crew, and after that Calypso held him captive, keeping him from home. All of these things happened simply by chance, and none of it was directly Odysseus’s fault. From this he learned anything can happen, and one must be able to accept those things, whether good or bad.