Feed on
Posts
Comments

Athena and Odysseus

Throughout The Odyssey Athena has been helping Odysseus and his son Telemachus, yet we are led to believe that she might actually be angry with Odysseus in some way. If this were true, then why would Athena go through so much trouble to disguise Odysseus and help him plan the deaths of the suitors? She plots with Odysseus to kill the suitors and helps him remain hidden while at the palace, yet she goads the suitors into doing things that anger Odysseus, which causes him to do reckless things. Athena is not the only one to use manipulation, Odysseus in a way manipulates Telemachus to do what he wants, Telemachus is only too happy to help once he knows it is Odysseus because he hates the suitors and would like nothing more than to be rid of them. Ultimately the plan Athena and Odysseus come up with is not the one carried out, Odysseus lets his rage get the better of him.

When Odysseus returns to Ithaca in Book 13 Athena comes to him and says that she is there to “weave a scheme” with him (13.345). They then proceed to plot the death of the suitors; she ensures he is biased against them before he has even arrived at the palace. She then disguises Odysseus to make him appear as a beggar with “the wrinkled hide of an old man” (13.495). She does this so that he will be undetected until the right moment. Why would Odysseus agree to this? The most obvious answer is that if he returned alone to Ithaca with all of the suitors waiting in his true likeness he would not be able to escape the unending questions about what happened to all of his men and why he was absent for so long. It is almost as if his time with the swineherd is a form of penance he must perform before he can return to the palace.

Once Odysseus and Telemachus are reunited and have returned to the palace Athena continues to ensure that Odysseus will carry out the plan to get rid of the suitors. She starts to rebuild Telemachus’ reputation with the suitors and glamour’s him to make him appear more marvelous than he is (17.67). This is to lend him with credibility because he will later become a key part of Odysseus’ plans. It is as if he could not truly start acting like a man until he had met his father. We will see Telemachus continue this progression of becoming a stronger man until he kills Amphimedon during the fight with the suitors (22.298-300).  It seems that the change in Telemachus adds to the drive Odysseus feels to rid his house of these suitors and reunite with Penelope.

Athena uses her powers to manipulate the suitors into goading Odysseus while he is still in the guise of the beggar; some of them yell insults at him to get him to beat up Irus, the other beggar (18.110). The suitors continue their insult, inspired by Athena, she “had no mind to le the brazen suitors hold back now from their heart-rending insults” (18. 391-394). This seems a bit too cruel for someone who is supposed to be helping him get rid of the suitors. It is possible that she knows he is not mentally capable of killing the suitors unless he is in a fit of rage, so she continues to let the suitors harass him.  He is goaded once again when Ctesippus throws an ox foot at Odysseus who only narrowly avoids it (20.334-338). This is Athena pushing him into a fit of rage again; she wants to “make the anguish cut still deeper” (20.328). This harassment continues right up until Odysseus and Telemachus have killed all of the suitors. Athena even comes to them in the guise of Mentor during the fighting to encourage them; she says, “Where’s it gone, Odysseus-your power, your fighting heart?” (22.236). This sends Odysseus into a new fit of rage and he continues to fight with Mentor and Telemachus.  These fits of rage are interesting because you would think Odysseus would just be happy to be home, and when he first returned to Ithaca he was, it was not until Athena appeared to him did he seem to resign himself to what he must do.

After all the suitors have been killed Odysseus makes the maids clean the entire hall. What is surprising is that it is Telemachus who carries out the slaughter that follows. He tells the men that the maids do not deserve clean deaths and that they are just sluts, the suitor’s whores (22.490). Could this be coming from the many years the suitors were in the palace doing whatever they wanted and the maids spending time with the suitors or could it be his rage at watching his father being abused for so long by the suitors and everyone else when he was disguised as a beggar.  Wherever it comes from he shows no remorse or hesitation when stringing them up until they are all dead. He then turns on Melanthius and cuts off “his nose and ears with a ruthless knife, tore his genitals out…and in manic fury hacked off his hands and feet” (22.500-504). Only after this is done does he return to Odysseus who is in the main hall.

By manipulating Odysseus is Athena indirectly manipulating Telemachus? At first it seems this way but when Eupithes leads men to get revenge for the slaughter of his son Athena appeals to Zeus for help. Zeus asks her why she is so upset and asks her “wasn’t the plan your own? You conceived it yourself: Odysseus should return and pay the traitors back” (24.529-530). He mentions Odysseus but nothing of Telemachus, so it seems likely that Telemachus being so ruthless was an unplanned occurrence.  This statement tells us that all of the insults Athena made the suitors direct towards Odysseus were planned while Telemachus’ rage was not.

While Athena started out by trying to control Odysseus when he returned to Ithaca and it seems as if she for the most part succeeded in this plan, Odysseus did not go about it in the way she wanted him to. Telemachus suddenly starting to act like a grown man comes as a surprise and his eagerness to hang the maids and mutilate Melanthius harkens back to the bloodiness from the Trojan War. It is ultimately unclear just how much of Athena’s supposed plan that Zeus mentions is carried out, what we do know is that at some point Odysseus must leave Ithaca even though he has just returned and we assume that Telemachus will be the new ruler of Ithaca in his fathers absence.

20 Responses to “Athena and Odysseus”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Lizzie,

    I think you are right that Odysseus must be worked up into a rage somehow. I haven’t checked the Greek to see whether “menis” is used for Odysseus’ rage in the Odyssey (I doubt it) as it is for that of Achilles in the Iliad. But certainly some time of anger must be stirred up. There are several places, as you note, in which Homer tells us that Athena is manipulating the situation so that the conduct of the suitors is sufficiently outrageous. It is almost as if no one would find the result just in any way otherwise (and the families of the suitors, not to mention the 600 men who left, still rise up, as we see at the end). This is strange when you think of how the suitors are called “traitors” by Zeus and of how they act seemingly without Athena’s prodding. Unless it has all been either Zeus or Athena’s prodding all along…

    The point about penance is an interesting one, although maybe his time with Eumaeus is also to gather allies and to avoid premature confrontations about the missing 600 men (not to mention the ships, loot, etc.).

    I agree that Odysseus in a sense just wants to get home, but we should not forget that he has known of the suitors, if only in a prophetic form, since Book 11, i.e., seven years ago or so. So I think he has been worried for quite some time about their conduct, especially toward his household, though he has to see it for himself to really believe it, maybe.

    I really like the point about Zeus failing to mention in Book 24 (and elsewhere) that Telemachus is part of the plan. Maybe that is a side project for Athena, maybe it is one that goes awry (Telemachus does not cover himself in glory with the maids, e.g.). It does not speak well of the future of Telemachus’ kingship while Odysseus is away fulfilling his final task. One sees intimations of a tyrant, although perhaps he is simply a ruler in the mold of Agamemnon–which is to say someone who is capable of making brutal decisions when necessity appears to call for them (Iliad Books 1, 6, and 11 spring to mind).

    KH

  2. Websites we think you should visit

    […]although websites we backlink to below are considerably not related to ours, we feel they are actually worth a go through, so have a look[…]…

  3. Check this out

    […] that is the end of this article. Here you’ll find some sites that we think you’ll appreciate, just click the links over[…]…

  4. You should check this out

    […] Wonderful story, reckoned we could combine a few unrelated data, nevertheless really worth taking a look, whoa did one learn about Mid East has got more problerms as well […]…

  5. Websites worth visiting

    […]here are some links to sites that we link to because we think they are worth visiting[…]…

  6. Gems form the internet

    […]very few websites that happen to be detailed below, from our point of view are undoubtedly well worth checking out[…]…

  7. Wady Wzroku says:

    Awesome website

    […]the time to read or visit the content or sites we have linked to below the[…]…

  8. Online Article…

    […]The information mentioned in the article are some of the best available […]…

  9. Blogs ou should be reading

    […]Here is a Great Blog You Might Find Interesting that we Encourage You[…]…

  10. You should check this out

    […] Wonderful story, reckoned we could combine a few unrelated data, nevertheless really worth taking a look, whoa did one learn about Mid East has got more problerms as well […]…

  11. cheat4game says:

    Blogs ou should be reading

    […]Here is a Great Blog You Might Find Interesting that we Encourage You[…]…

  12. Read was interesting, stay in touch…

    […]please visit the sites we follow, including this one, as it represents our picks from the web[…]…

  13. Websites we think you should visit

    […]although websites we backlink to below are considerably not related to ours, we feel they are actually worth a go through, so have a look[…]…

  14. Related…

    […]just beneath, are numerous totally not related sites to ours, however, they are surely worth going over[…]…

  15. Recent Blogroll Additions…

    […]usually posts some very interesting stuff like this. If you’re new to this site[…]…

  16. WWW.SOLIX.NO says:

    Online Article…

    […]The information mentioned in the article are some of the best available […]…

  17. Recommeneded websites

    […]Here are some of the sites we recommend for our visitors[…]…

  18. purisolatie says:

    Related…

    […]just beneath, are numerous totally not related sites to ours, however, they are surely worth going over[…]…

  19. Blogs ou should be reading

    […]Here is a Great Blog You Might Find Interesting that we Encourage You[…]…

  20. find more says:

    Recommeneded websites

    […]Here are some of the sites we recommend for our visitors[…]…