Give a Close Critical Discussion of This Extract From Book One Homer's the Odyssey Term Paper

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¶ … Innocence of the Gods:

A close critical discussion of Zeus haranguing the powers

Early in book one of Homer's Odyssey, there is a short and yet vital scene which begins with "Recalling Aegisthus, Zeus harangued the immortal powers..." And ends when Athena has finished her speech that finishes "Odysseus longs to die." In this important scene, the stage is set for all the action that follows with Odysseus' bewildering trip home and the struggles of men and deities to survive within the conflicting wills of the gods. This scene not only prepares the reader for the physical action to follow, however, it also prepares them for an argument in this book which is somewhat different from that in the Iliad which chronologically proceeds this tale. In the Iliad, all of the will and actions of the human combatants are dwarfed by the actions of the deities, who are in essence fighting this war by proxy through the mortals. In the Odyssey, Homer here begins to reveal, the listener will see that Gods alone do not shape the fate of men, but that to some significant degree the actions and inactions of mortals (regardless of how affected they may be by deity, nature, and chance) do have some influence on the outcome of their stories, and that many of their troubles are of their own design. At the same time, this claim that the gods are not at fault in the histories of men seems somewhat ironic in the context of a council of the gods which is about to decide the fate of the mortal Odysseus.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Give a Close Critical Discussion of This Extract From Book One Homer's the Odyssey Assignment

The section opens with Zeus the haranguer. Here he addresses a council of Gods, as he often did in the Iliad, when he was ineffectually attempting to restrain the gods from interfering with the decisions of God. Seeing Zeus among the other deities may serve to remind one of the many myths in which he officiates over this council to some disadvantage. Zeus is the all-father in the Greek pantheon, and the patriarchally dominant king in their mythos. Despite this, he is often seen as less than perfectly wise, and often irrational, vicious, and incapable. Trying to make peace between the Gods, like trying to sneak around on his wife, appears to be a position he finds himself in frequently. This weakness which was made so obvious in the Iliad is reflected here as well, for Zeus first opens by loudly proclaiming that the Gods are not at fault for the sorrows of mortals, and then has his position subtly undermined by Athena who brings up Odysseus trapped by the daughter of titan. That he is as weak as he is, and as apt at loosing control of the council of the gods helps to explain why this one-up-manship succeeds in making him change his mind about Odysseus.

Zeus's argument with which he opens this extract is that the mortals ought not blame the gods for their misfortune. As he says, "Ah how shameless - the way these mortals blame the gods. From us alone, they say, come all miseries, yes, but they themselves, with their own reckless ways, compound their pains beyond their proper share" it is somewhat ironic that this assertion of the Gods' innocence is used to foreshadow their constant involvement in the remainder of the story. Of course, compared to the Iliad, the Gods are not particularly active.

The example which Zeus gives as to the control which men have over their own lives is the story of Aegisthus. As he goes on to explain, Aegisthus has taken the wife of one of the Acheans generals at troy, and then murdered him when he came home. This crime will be a central metaphor in the Odyssey for the dangers that may await Odysseus if his wife is not faithful and he is not beware her suitors. Aegisthus has committed this crime despite the fact that Hermes, messenger of the Gods, had warned him against it and told him of the revenge that would fall on his head. (as an aside, Hermes is mentioned here as warning Aegisthus about Orestes' revenge. Hermes, in Greek mythology, was the winged messenger of the gods, who carried messages to many mortals) Obviously, Aegisthus' demise cannot be blamed on the gods!

Athena will soon argue, however, that Odysseus does suffer because of the Gods.

However, a shrewd listener to the remainder of the story may notice that Odysseus too suffers for what he does. For example, the reason he is stuck with Calypso partly because he had been cruel and boastful in blinding Poisedon's son, the cyclops. Throughout the story, his pride continues to get him in trouble, as when his men feast on the cattle of Helios, further delaying them. Were he humble, responsible, generous, and a little less bloodthirsty and greedy, he might have arrived home much more quickly. So certainly there is some evidence of Zeus' claims.

Athena, who speaks in the defense of Odysseus and will proceed to ask for him to be freed from Calypso, is easily the most prominent and active deity in the Odyssey, and also one of the more prominent deific figures both in the Iliad and in Greek mythology in general. Athena is the virgin Goddess of wisdom. She is also associated with womanly crafts such as weaving, and with excellence in battle and the hunt. Athena holds a relatively unique position as a Greek goddess, because of the degree to which she is masculinized. She sprang full-fledged from the forehead of her father Zeus, clad in armor. In the Odyssey, she will frequently appear in the guise of a male, and her wisdom is known to tend towards trickery. Her personality is very relevant to this passage, because it betrays the role she plays in the council of Zeus.

As the voice of wisdom, she provides a certain balance to the perspective of Zeus, and in so doing undermines him subtly while seeming merely to add further perspective to what he says. This undermining quality comes from the sense of competition which exists between Zeus and Athena throughout Homer's story.

Athena's trickster nature and masculinity are relevant to this scene as well, because of the degree to which she manages to plead Odysseus' case her in a situation where it would seem somewhat inappropriate. She argues that she agrees that all who are evil as Aegisthus should "all die so" but manages to transform this easily into "my heart breaks for Odysseus, that seasoned veteran cursed by fate so long."

Her assertiveness -- being the only God easily strong enough to speak of in Zeus' presence regarding the Gods' treatment of mortals -- is tied to her masculinization.

When Athena speaks up to plead the case of Odysseus, she describes his situation as being "far from his loved ones."

Here she is referring to Telemachus and Penelope. For a story that is named after and supposedly dealing primarily with the adventures of Odysseus, this epic will spend a great deal of time focusing on the smaller social issues of Odysseus's family. Athena is constantly called upon to defend the family of Odysseus, both by the warrior himself and by Penelope. She additionally becomes (literally) a sort of Mentor to Telemachus, taking human form to save his life, find him ships, and guide him on his journey. She also physically aids in the fight against the suitors, and in swaying the hearts of the suitors in such a way that they will all stay to be slaughtered. So it is obvious that for all her apparent concern that the Gods are interfering too much in the undertakings of men, her very involvement with Odysseus is such that it proves her point that the Gods… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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