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Nature vs. Culture in Odyssey Essay

The imagery of nature and culture connects every scene from Book 9 to Book 12 in Odyssey. On the land of Cyclopes, Odysseus’s encounter with the one-eyed uncivilized giant unveils Odysseus’s cleverness as a civilized human being; Nevertheless, Odysseus eventually fails to overcome the flaw of human characteristic, as he tells Polyphemus about his real mortal identity when he is sailing away, which ultimately brings Poseidon’s revenge to Achaeans. At one point human civilization teaches Odysseus the skill of using wooden staff and wine to fight with Polyphemus’s strength, but the nature of superpower can easily surpass human beings’ wisdom. When Circe in Book 11 turns Odysseus’s men into pigs, when the blind prophet Tiresias foretells Odysseus’s fate, and when Zeus punishes Odysseus with another storm, Odysseus and his men are powerless but accept their destiny.

The conflict between nature and culture connects humans’ world with gods’ world, thus makes every story interesting to follow as uncivilized creatures possess human characteristics and civilized human beings possess “limited” superpower. For example, in book 10, when Circe turns Odysseus’s men into pig, Odysseus can only overpower Circe by following Hermes’ instruction: “Take this herb, which is one of great virtue, and keep it about you when you go to Circe’s house, it will be a talisman to you against every kind of mischief”(Book X, 54). When Odysseus “rushed at her with sword drawn”, Odysseus is in a position where he is even able to overcome the power of an immortal creature.

Both Polyphemus and Circe represent the power of nature, as their world does not have any law or morality, while odysseus’s journey represents the power of culture, as the man of culture defeats powerful immortal creatures through cleverness and self-restraint.

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