Odyssey Themes in Book 14 of Homer Thesis

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Themes in Book 14 of Homer's "The Odyssey"

Kindness to strangers, pigs, and lies -- these are common images and themes that run throughout Homer's "Odyssey" and reoccur in Book 14. First and foremost, Book 14 reinforces the central plot concern of "The Odyssey," the problems of hospitality and the need to treat strange guests with kindness. The conflict between guests and hosts, of course, is the reason for the entire story coming into being. Odysseus was forced to wander the world after sacking Troy because of what happened after his encounter with his 'host' the Cyclops. When the Cyclops tried to kill Odysseus and his crew, Odysseus blinded the monster to escape. The Cyclops begged his father Poseidon to avenge this wrong, and the sea god diverted Odysseus' ship into many adventures, away from his home in Ithaca, forcing Odysseus to become dependant upon strangers.

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In Book 14, Odysseus is home, but he has been gone so long from his kingdom, no one believes that it is possible that he can return. His faithful swineherd will not even accept the idea that Odysseus is still alive, even though he will swear allegiance to no one else, and hopes that Odysseus' wife Penelope will not marry another man. Even after Odysseus has entered his own kingdom, he is afraid to reveal his identity for fear of being killed by the men vying for his wife's hand, so is still wandering, wandering through his kingdom disguised as a beggar, still dependant upon others. He is dependant upon other people's sense of hospitality, while his wife's suitors are ravaging his house, and taking advantage of his wife Penelope's hospitality in the absence of a strong, male figure to lead the kingdom of Ithaca.

The fact that Odysseus has been so alienated from his own home is illustrated when he visits his swineherd Eumaeus, and the guard dogs do not welcome their master's master, but attack him. Eumaeus acts gruff towards the apparently poor and miserable stranger, but his actions are filled with kindness. Homer tells the reader that Odysseys would have been "severely mauled in his own farmyard" but the swineherd to stop the dogs.

Thesis on Odyssey Themes in Book 14 of Homer's Assignment

Thus, Book 14 shows the obsession that occurs over and over again, in the thematic lines of the "The Odyssey" about the question of how to treat strangers and the responsibility of hosts and guests and how this affects Odysseus' relationship to his home. To reinforce this theme, after all, the epic poem of Odysseus begins 'in media res,' or in the middle of the story of the king of Ithaca, when Odysseus is the captive of the beautiful sea-nymph Calypso, an excellent example of how not to treat a strange castaway. Although she loves him, Odysseus is miserable as a stranger in a strange land, with a strange woman. He wants to go home, even though his quest is constantly thwarted.

After the story of Calypso, the reader learns that Odysseus was treated poorly by another compelling female figure before ending upon on Calypso's island, when his men were turned into swine by the sorceress Circe. Only in Book 14 is there an example of truly good hospitality. The swineherd Eumaeus, although he is poor, honors the disguised beggar Odysseus as if the beggar is an honored guest. Unlike Odysseus' other servants, Eumaeus treats this beggar kindly. And unlike Odysseus' other servants, Eumaeus has not forgotten his master. Although his dogs may snarl and bark, Eumaeus just like Odysseus' dog Argos shows loyalty to his master in his words that reveals his character. This loyalty also extends into the simple, human kindness he shows to an apparently strange beggar. Odysseus acknowledges this when he says:

Eumaeus, may father Zeus treat you as well

440] as you are treating me with this boar's chine, the very finest cut of meat, even though

I'm just a beggar."

Although Eumaeus has no reason to impress a common beggar, the swineherd does not think the lower status of the beggar means he cannot or should not extend hospitality and good will to a man in need. While the divine but evil Circe turned humans into swine, Eumaeus kills two of his best animals for a feast. Odysseus learns that Eumaeus is still loyal to him, not out of fear, but because of genuine feeling for all human beings and the obligation of respect and mutual affection he feels for Ithaca's true king. Eumaeus is kind to anyone, regardless of their social status, unlike the Cyclops who treats humans with contempt, and Circe who regards men as beasts.

The parallel of the sacrificial pigs Eumaeus can hardly afford to give parallels the earlier incident with Circe. Eumaeus makes a sacrifice of animals he can hardly afford to give up but Circe turned Odysseus' men into pigs to show her superior power, for no reason other than cruelty. It would be easy for Eumaeus to think that as a man with food and his own plot of land he is superior to a beggar. He does not know that the beggar is his master. But he still treats the beggar the same as any other guest. This makes Eumaeus nobler than Circe, regardless of her beauty and witchcraft. Eumaeus could have let his dogs attack the beggar and no one would have been the wiser, just like some servants show loyalty to the suitors, not to the absent king, because it is easier and more convenient to do so.

Eumaeus tells the beggar how he has been ostracized because he hoped Odysseus would return, although he does not believe the beggar when he is assured that Odysseus is safe and will return. He says he will not accept this information, and gives his hospitality out of humanity, not in exchange for information, even good information. He does not trust the beggar's words, but he does care for the beggar's needs as a stranger. And in a sense, he is right not to trust the beggar's because Odysseus does lie to him over the course of Book 14 -- just not about the aspects of his origins that Eumaeus believes are lies! He tells Eumaeus he is a Cretan, formerly of a wealthy family.

Eumaeus' willingness to trust the beggar, and open his home to him also contrasts with the attitude of the suitors, who abuse the trust of the household of the king. His loyalty to Odysseus runs deep and is profound, and he spontaneously refers to Odysseus almost immediately upon seeing him, after Odysseus has been attacked by his guard-dogs:

For as I stay here, raising fat pigs for other men to eat,

I'm full of sorrow for my noble master, 40] who's probably going hungry somewhere, as he wanders through the lands and cities where men speak a foreign tongue, if, in fact, he's still alive and looking at the sunlight.

The difficulty of being a stranger, dependant upon guests is found even in the language of the swineherd at home. The worst thing Eumaeus thinks that can occur about being abroad is going hungry, wandering amongst foreigners. Even if his master is still alive, wandering amongst strangers is considered to be a horrible and risky thing, hence the need to show kindness to others. Ironically, Eumaeus feeds the 'beggar' Odysseus perhaps partially because of the unconscious compassion he feels when he thinks about his master, alone and wandering abroad. He even sleeps outside in the rain with his herd, and gives Odysseus a bed by the fire.

The fact that a book about wandering should value hospitality should come as little surprise. Even if this were not a value honored in general by classical Greek culture, the plot of the poem requires Odysseus to time and time again… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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