The Norton Anthology World Literature
The influence of the gods on the fate of man is a prevalent theme not only in The Odyssey but also in other literary works on the mythology of the Greeks. In The Odyssey, the desires of the gods played an important role in shaping the beliefs and pronouncements of the mortal characters, and thus, their destinies. Odysseus’ triumphs or victories, for instance, were results of Athena’s efforts to save him from the wrath of Poseidon and other misfortunes he encountered throughout his journey. When Odysseus reached Calypso’s island and was deceived by the nymph to stay with her, Athena convinced Zeus to talk Calypso into letting Odysseus go. Through the messenger Hermes, Zeus sent a decree for Calypso to release Odysseus. Calypso obliged, although reluctantly at first, and helped Odysseus build a vessel so he can reach his next destination. Athena’s constant presence throughout Odysseus’ journey also illustrates her desire to see through the mortal man’s life. When Odysseus reached Scheria, Athena visited the Phaeacian princess Nausicaa’s dream and told her to walk down the river the next morning. The next day, Nausicaa found Odysseus by the water, instantly falling in love with him due to Athena’s divine persuasions.
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The story of Odysseus also illustrates the prevalent themes of faith, spirituality, and idolatry. Although Athena helped Odysseus throughout his journey, some instances in his story also showed how other gods plotted against him and hoped for the mortal man’s downfall. In Book IX of The Odyssey, while in the company of the Phaeacians, Odysseus recalled how he and his men were able to defeat Polyphemus the Cyclops. During their journey, Odysseus and his men reached the island of Cyclopes where they found an inhabited cave. Weary and famished from their long journey, they decided to steal food not knowing that Polyphemus dwells in the cave. When the Cyclops found out what they did, Polyphemus devours some of Odysseus’ men. In revenge, Odysseus hatched a plan to trick Polyphemus, leave the Cyclops blind, and escape the island. In Polyphemus’ rage, he called on Poseidon to ask for retribution. As a result, Poseidon summoned the storm to sink Odysseus’ ship, get him off track, and drown him and his men underwater. Furthermore, when Poseidon learned that the people of Scheria welcomed Odysseus, he sought an audience with Zeus with the goal of asking permission to castigate the Phaeacians. When Zeus accommodated his request, Poseidon punished the Phaeacians by setting their ships into stone. This part of Odysseus’ story proves how the gods wish to be respected and esteemed, otherwise, men would suffer the consequences of offending or disrespecting the gods’ wishes.
The conflicting responses and relationships of the gods toward Odysseus prove that the Greek gods had prejudices and they each had their personal reasons or motivations in helping or reproving men like Odysseus. Poseidon’s plots against Odysseus, for instance, show how the sea-god values his children and desires other people to treat them as they would Poseidon. Despite Poseidon’s schemes and the many struggles that Odysseus suffered throughout his journey, however, he finally reached Ithaca in the end through the help of Athena. When Odysseus reached Ithaca, Athena veiled the island with mist to test his wit. Satisfied with Odysseus’ retorts, Athena revealed herself to Odysseus and told him what he must do to pass Penelope’s test, beat her suitors, reunite with his wife once again after many years at sea, and rebuild the kingdom of Ithaca. In general, The Odyssey not only illustrates the prevalent theme of divine intervention but also the close relationship between Athena and Odysseus in the story. Athena has always wanted Odysseus to succeed and when he veered off the right path or was confronted with various difficulties, the goddess was always there to help him and point him in the right direction.
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