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Samuel Grant-Williams

Classical Mythology
Professor Higgins
Project #1: Homer's Odyssey

Odysseus Son of Laertes: Self Destroyer and Avatar of Hubris.

The word 'Odysseus' means trouble in Greek. This is a fairly fitting name for the protagonist of
Homer's epic poem the Odyssey, as Odysseus more so than many other Greek Heroes has a knack for
getting himself into difficulties. The question though is why? Why does he get into so many negative
predicaments? Many would argue that the reason behind Odysseus's misfortune is that he is simply and
unwittingly the pawn of the gods and has no control over his own fate. After all, even Zeus, who has
sworn an oath that Odysseus would return home safely still does not protect him from the many
hardships inflicted on him from Gods such as Helios, Circe and above all others, Zeus's brother
Poseidon. Even the gods that help Odysseus do so only out of their own intrests. One example is
Athena herself; while on the one hand she is Odysseus most steadfast supporter, on the other she really
only treats him like a pet for her own amusment. Although Odysseus could be seen as the eternal play
thing of the gods, this idea is simply foolish wishful thinking, and in fact the true enemy of Odysseus is
not the gods who curse him or even the Suitors that abuse the Xenia (Hospitality) of his family's
household. No the true enemy of Odysseus, the one who creates the most hardship for our protagonist
is none other than Odysseus himself. It is through his hubris and lack of trust in others (both side
effects of his supposed heroic trait mtis also known as cunning) that he has made his life far more
difficult and it is because of his foolish actions that Gods such as Poseidon are so angry at him.

However, if one is first and foremost going to talk about Odysseus and his troubles one has to

talk about Poseidon and the reason why he decides to make Odysseus life a living hell (although
technically that would be the realm of Hades), Poseidon is so thoroughly incensed at Odysseus because
Odysseus blinded his son, the cyclops Polyphemus. Odysseus and his crewmates, first encounter
Polyphemus on the island of Siclily in a cave filled with provisions. Odysseus and his men are trapped
in the cave by the giant who proceeds to make a meal out of four of his men; not wishing to be eaten by
Polyphemus, they ply Polyphemus with wine in order to get him drunk, and plot their escape. The
cyclopes asks Odysseus for his name, Odysseus tells Polyphemus that his name is which means
nobody saying this: Cyclops, you asked my noble name, and I will tell it; but do you give the
stranger's gift, just as you promised. My name is Nobody. Nobody I am called by mother, father, and by
all my comrades. (Odyssey 9. 366 ). After hearing this Polyphemus states that he will eat '' last.
Soon Polyphemus falls into a deep sleep during which Odysseus blinds him with a wooden stake so as
when he moves the bolder traping Odysseus and his men in the cave he will not see that they are hiding
tied to the underside of his grazing sheep. After Odysseus and his men get to the ship, Odysseus shouts
mockingly, to Polyphemus and reveals his name and boasts about out smarting the giant, saying this:
Cyclops, if any mortal man ever asks you who it was that inflicted upon your eye this shameful
blinding, tell him that you were blinded by Odysseus, sacker of cities. Laertes is his father, and
he makes his home on Ithaka." (Odyssey 9. 502-505 )
This proves to be one of Odysseus biggest mistakes as Polyphemus curses Odysseus and prays to his
Father Poseidon to punish Odysseus. Poseidon does so, and Odysseus journey becomes all the more
difficult. This is proof that Odysseus is his own worst enemy for if he had not mocked Polyphemus or
told him his name then Poseidon most likely would not have punished him the way he did. The
encounter with the Cyclops shows us Odysseus's cunning but it is this cunning that leads to Odysseus
later performing this major act of hubris, that is his mocking of the blinded giant and his added insult
to injury; stating his true name.

Another major cause of Odysseus self inflicted suffering is his inability to trust others. This can
be seen as one of the negative side effects of his cunning and deceitful nature. Although Odysseus lack
of trust in others is not completly unjustifed, the situation in his homeland with the Suitors is a good
example, he takes things too far and then he does not even trust his own men. These are people who
have fought for and put their lives in danger for him and they are battle hardened warriors and sailors
and yet Odysseus feels they can not be trusted to do their jobs. This is no more apparent then when he
and his men have almost reached the land of Ithaka their home, when Odysseus, who has been stearing
the ship for almost 10 days straight (because he does not trust his men to do it), goes to sleep but not
before telling his men not to touch the bag trapping all the world's winds except the gentle western
wind they are using to get home. Of course he did not trust his men enough to let them know what was
in the bag. So while he is sleeping his men open the bag thinking it was filled with treasure, this
unleashes a powerful hurricane which blows the ship back from where it came. This is shown in the
text by this Quote:
Nevertheless we sailed on, night and day, for nine days, and on the tenth at last appeared the
land of our fathers, and we could see people tending fires, we were very close to them. But then
the sweet sleep came upon me, for I was worn out with always handling the sheet myself, and I
could not give it to any other companion, so we could come home quicker to our own country;
but my companions talked with each other and said that I was bringing silver and gold home
with me, given me by great-hearted Aiolos, son of Hippotas; [] and the evil counsel of my
companions prevailed, and they opened the bag and the winds all burst out. Suddenly the storm
caught them away and swept them over the water weeping, away from their own country.
(10.28-36, 46-49)
This again shows us the arrogance of Odysseus and makes one wonder if such things could
have been avoided. It is clear that Odysseus has very little respect for people other than his own family
and himself; further the greed of his own men was only aggravated by Odysseus own lack of respect

for them.

In summation, Odysseus is a deeply flawed individual who only made his life all the more
hellish simply because of his ego. From refusing the help of the sea goddess Ino to killing all the
Suitors and angering the citizens of Ithaca, every obstacle to Odysseus return home was either caused
by or instigated by him; and his foolish arrogance. It is for these reasons that I think Odysseus is the
cause of his own suffering and not a puppet to the whims of the gods. In that sense the Odyssey could
be seen as a cautionary tale about how too much pride in oneself can make things more difficult then
they have to be. After all if Odysseus had been less of an insufferable bastard he would have gotten
home sooner and fewer of his crewmen would have died. So all in all it can be stated that it is best to
not act like Odysseus no matter how clever one is.