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Throughout the Odyssey, Odysseus, learns many lessons. He is shown hardship, and each time as he works through it he learns something different about either himself, one of his men, or members of his family. He also learns what he means to those different people and what he could do to make things better for others. When he visits Hades in Book 11 he sees many different people whom he once knew. Each person tells him the journey that they took to get their and most of their stories had to do with something that Odysseus either did or didn’t do that caused them to come here. They show him their perspective and give him ideas about how to make it home and make good with people who are still alive and either helping him with his journey or waiting for him to return home.

Odysseus learns a lot about the people that he either abandoned, hurt or disappointed throughout his life and journey to Troy. While he is down in Hades he sees more people that he has known and he learns what his actions have done to other people. He sees the people which he made suffer not always on purpose but he is shown first hand what consequences his actions have. “My soul flew down to death. Now, I beg you by those you left behind so far from here” (11.72). This is the first ghost that he meets Elpenor, and he is explaining how he got to Hades and why. He is also telling Odysseus that after he is done in Hades he and his ship will make it back ashore. “Well I know when you leave this lodging of the dead that you and your ship will put ashore again at the island of Aeaea” (11.76). As Odysseus gets ready to move on and keep searching Elpenor tells him how he would like to be remembered and set to rest. “Don’t sail off and desert me, left behind unwept, unburied, don’t, or my curse may draw god’s fury on your head…so even men to come will learn my story” (11.80). Here he is asking Odysseus to not leave him like he did before but grant his final wishes and preserve his memory and do as he wishes. “All this, my unlucky friend,’I reassured him, ‘I will do for you. I won’t forget a thing” (11.88). Here I feel as if Odysseus is gaining a sort of perspective as to how his actions effect other people and even though he might be alright others might not be due to things and decisions he has made. I feel that Homer uses Hades to show him what things could be if he does not watch out for other and take care of what others have done for him.

When Odysseus sees the ghost of his mother this is when he learns of her death. “I broke into tears to see her here, but filled with pity, even throbbing with grief” (11.97). I feel that Homer uses this moment as representation of what Odysseus’s family is feeling at home while they wait for him. They are all suffering while Odysseus is out fighting and when they do not know where he is or if he is alright.  “As for your father, he keeps to his own farm- he never goes to town-…But when summer comes and the bumper crops of harvest, any spot on the rising ground…he makes his bed, heaped high with fallen leaves, and there he lies in anguish…his grief grows as he longs for your return. And I with the same grief, I died and met my fate” (11.215). She is showing him how his actions have effected his family to the point that she could no longer deal with the grief. And shows that his father is clearly suffering as he waits for his son safe return.

The piece of Book 11 which I felt was most valuable to Odysseus is when he is talking to the prophet and he gives him a solution of how to make good with the wrong that she has done. Odysseus asks, “ But tell me one thing more, and tell me clearly. I see the ghost of my long- lost mother here before me. Dead, crouching close…she cannot hear to look me in the eyes- her own son- or speak a word to me. How, lord, can I make her know me for the man I am?” (11.160). And the prophet responds, “One rule there is…and simple for me to say and you to learn. Any one of the ghosts you let approach the blood will speak the truth to you. Anyone you refuse will turn and fade away” (11.165). What you give is what you get back and if you make yourself vulnerable they will respond. You have to give back to them for them to help guide you from what they have learned.

Odysseus trip to Hades I feel is important because he is able to see how his actions effect others that he cared about. And that he was able to learn from past mistakes that he had once made. He also learns how to ask for forgiveness and give back to those that he has hurt.

20 Responses to “Courtney – On Odysseus in Hades”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Courtney,

    I agree with you that three episodes in Hades in particular seem important. I think the encounters with Achilles and Agamemnon, as well as the appearance of Heracles, are also worth discussing (not to mention all those women), but this is a short paper, after all.

    It is strange to me, as I remarked in a comment on another paper, that no one notices that Elpenor is missing. There are presumably only sixty men or so left in Odysseus’ fleet, and they have been there a year. Did they not do a roll call? Did no one miss him? It’s just peculiar, although his death obviously sets up the Tiresias bit about the oar and suggests that there has been a restoration of hope.

    I think it is worth remembering that Odysseus does not learn that his mother is dead until he sees her in Hades. It is one thing to see Elpenor there unexpectedly, but his mother is another story altogether. You are right to suggest that this is a reminder of at least two things: life is moving on in Ithaca; and Odysseus’ actions have consequences.

    Re: Tiresias, one thing that I find odd is that Circe repeats his prophecy almost verbatim when they return to Aeaea. Maybe what she changes / leaves out is important. Or maybe it was important to go to Hades under the pretext of seeing Tiresias, due to other stuff Odysseus would learn there.

    KH

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