Classical cultures educated morally through stories, offering examples to emulate and to
The Odyssey is
intended to tell us something about what a just society is. As we examine the role that
each character plays in their culture, we learn something about what Greek culture expects
|2. Each person has a role in
society, an understanding of what is due to others, the ability to do it, and is subject
to judgment concerning it.
polis: "a moral
community with a particular goal, the life of virtue." This particular
definition was advanced by Aristotle, but it is not necessarily anachronistic to apply it
to early heroic culture as well. Consider how the customs and regulations
surrounding warfare, hospitality, and heroism in general work together to achieve a
certain kind of society.
"Excellence." Specifically, the excellence needed to sustain a society. People
must obtain excellence so their culture will continue to exist. Arete is thus the
qualities that enable one to carry out ones role.
Odysseus and Penelope have guile (dolos),
Nestor wisdom, Meneleus leadership. Each of these has a particular arete that
makes his particular kind of success possible. What particular excellence would you
assign to the bard Demodokos or the Phaiakian ruler Alkinoos?
Two other important terms: aristeia:
the exploits thru which a warrior merits respect from comrades. kleos:
the glory gained by action. How does Odysseus achieve aristeia and
kleos among the Phaiakians?
|4. Courage means being
reliable to one's friends and their households. One can be counted on to perform her or
his role in the face of danger, death, and fate.
Note how Odysseus in describing his journey stresses his own courage,
cunning, and strength.
|5. Fate is
irreversible. Death is awaited by all.
What are some examples of Fate in The Odyssey?
|6. Therefore, ones
identity, ones story, is bound up with the narrative of ones life from birth
to death. Death is the final defeat for the Homeric hero.
No character in Homer's works expects to live forever. The underworld is a
kind of living death. What does Achilles obseve about death to Odysseus? How would
you characterize Odysseus' journey to the underworld?
|7. The only
thing than death worse is slavery, because to be a slave is to be outside the community.
Not all servants, however, fall into this class of
individuals. Notice how Odysseus treats Eumaios the swineherd, as well as Philoitios
|8. The poet has a unique
perspective. The poet knows that sometimes winning is defeat and that death is heroic
This point may not comfortably
apply to The Odyssey?