Term Paper: Odyssey and Ancient Greeks

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ODYSSEY

HOMER'S ODYSSEY and the SPIRIT

OF ANCIENT GREEK SOCIETY

By the later part of the Greek "Dark Age," circa 800 B.C.E., ideas and traditions linked to the social/cultural arena of ancient Greece concerning the organization of their communities and the proper behavior expected from all Greek men and women, i.e., their shared codes of value, represented the basic components of Greece's emerging new political forms and institutions. These shared codes of social and cultural value at the end of the "Dark Age" serve as the foundation for Homer's epic poem the Odyssey which was first written down via the oral tradition around the middle of the 8th century B.C.E. This type of epic poetry so closely associated with Homer grew out of centuries of oral performance by countless Greek poets singing of the deeds, exploits and personal values of heroes like Odysseus, the main protagonist in Homer's book-length poem. Overall, the many and varied behavioral codes portrayed in the Odyssey primarily reflect the values established in Greek society during and after the "Dark Age" and before the rise of political systems (i.e., the polis) based on Greek citizenship.

The major characters in Homer's the Odyssey are truly members of the Greek social elite who were expected to live up to a very demanding code of personal, social and behavioral values. One of these values was excellence which carried with it a powerful demand for obligation and responsibility to one's society and its people. The strongest of these duties was a requirement that friendship between a guest and a host, known as xenia, had to be respected regardless of personal feelings.

A her numerous suitors for her hand in marriage despite not knowing for certain that Odysseus is dead or has been taken captive by his Trojan enemies following the Trojan War, described by Homer in his Iliad. Thus, Penelope's excellence as a high-ranking Greek woman required her to maintain her household and property during her husband's long absence and was obliged to show great stamina in resisting the demands of her many suitors, most of whom were living in the home of Odysseus as very unwanted guests.

Odysseus himself who returns to Ithaca in triumph after twenty years of wandering, is clearly a man with unsurpassed virtues and achievements which shows that the society of Greece after the "Dark Age" expected a great deal from its men and women which entitled them to a certain level of social recognition for their adherence to excellence and virtue or social disgrace for their personal failings. Thus, under the conditions set forth by these codes and values, any other type of life was seen as contemptible if its central goal was not the pursuit of excellence and the social fame that usually accompanies it (Connolly, 256).

The most famous ancient writer and scholar on Greek politics, society and values is the philosopher Aristotle (384 to 322 B.C.E.) who insisted that the emergence of the Greek city-state or polis had been the result of the forces of nature at work. Aristotle firmly believed that all humans are naturally drawn to the polis because of its social and economic forces. Not surprisingly, Greek geography greatly influenced the creation of the city-state. For example, the very mountainous terrain of the Greek mainland forced the ancient Greeks to build their city-states further inland which physically separated each polis from the other and allowed them to develop their own cultural identifies while sharing specific customs and values and even languages.

In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus rules over the island state of Ithaca, located in the Ionian

Sea, and although this state was not a proper polis during the time of Odysseus, it nonetheless symbolized the cultural excellence and traditions of ancient Greece and its daring men and women. Ironically, the island state of Ithaca during the days of Odysseus was very well-known for a type of grape called Robola which was used to make a kind of dry white wine highly sought after by the ancient Greeks.

In the Odyssey, Odysseus utilized his knowledge on making wine to his great advantage after he and his men are captured by the cyclops Polyphemus, made drunk by the wine of Odysseus and his men which allows them to blind Polyphemus and escape with their lives (Connolly, 245). Of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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