Literature

Literary Summary: Homer’s Odyssey

The Odyssey is the other great epic attributed to the poet Homer. This Homer is not the same as the Homer of the Iliad, but that’s not important for us. Instead, what is the real journey of twists and turns that The Odyssey is about?

The Odyssey begins in Ithaca with the family of Odysseus struggling to maintain their independence from vulture suitors seeking to usurp the kingdom. Penelope remains faithful to Odysseus and blocks the advancement of the suitors and Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, embarks on a search to find his father.

Returning to Odysseus, Odysseus has been shacked up with the sex-addicted nymph Calypso. Calypso wants to keep Odysseus forever and offers him immortality and eternal sexual pleasure: he rejects and escapes. He reaches the island of the Phaeacians and begins to recount his adventure – how he left Troy after its destruction, how the sea-god Poseidon took vengeance on him, how he blinded Polyphemus the cyclops, how he lost his comrades to Circe, how he became a captive to Circe and escaped, and how he longs for home with Penelope and Telemachus. The Phaeacians take pity on Odysseus and help him journey home.

Odysseus returns to Ithaca, reunites with his son, and learns of the plot to steal his kingdom. Together, father and son attack the suitors and slay them. This, however, enrages the subjects of Ithaca who take up arms because of the violence. Athena arrives to restore peace. Odysseus reveals himself to Penelope and in the peace restored by Athena, Odysseus is reunited with his family at last. What is the heroism of The Odyssey? The decision to embrace mortality in love: for that is what Odysseus does. As a mortal man he spurns the immortality and sexual pleasure of the gods for the mortality and filial warmth of Penelope and Telemachus. Home isn’t just Ithaca. Home is where your family is. The greatest odyssey is the twists and turns of the love of the family and the mortality of love that binds humans closer together. We must always remember, Odysseus chose love in mortality rather than pleasure in immortality. The highest heroism is to embrace mortal love.

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Hesiod, Paul Krause in real life, is the editor-in-chief of VoegelinView. He is writer, classicist, and historian. He has written on the arts, culture, classics, literature, philosophy, religion, and history for numerous journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the author of The Odyssey of Love and the Politics of Plato, and a contributor to the College Lecture Today and the forthcoming book Diseases, Disasters, and Political Theory. He holds master’s degrees in philosophy and religious studies (biblical studies & theology) from the University of Buckingham and Yale, and a bachelor’s degree in economics, history, and philosophy from Baldwin Wallace University.

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