Parallel Motivations in the Iliad and the Odyssey

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 14 October 2016

Parallel Motivations in the Iliad and the Odyssey

The Iliad and the Odyssey were poems written by Homer about events in Greek mythology. The Iliad detailed the final year of the Trojan war, which pitted the Greeks against the Trojans, and this poetic story described the outcome of the war. Homer’s Odyssey describes the adventures of Odysseus (Ulysses, as he was known in Roman mythology) as he tries to return home, to Ithaca, following the Trojan War. But there is one them that is present in both of these poems, and that is that when everyone is longing for home, disaster and further complications always arise.

In the Iliad, the Greeks are trying to wrap up the war quickly, because many of the men miss their homes, but the bloody battle is claiming lives form both sides, and in the Odyssey, Odysseus only wants to return home, to his wife and son, but he is delayed by a series of events and catastrophes that for some time, only leads him further and further from home. The Iliad details the final year of the Trojan War, which was waged by the Greeks on the Trojans over Helen of Sparta, wife of Menelaus, who was the brother of the Greek commander, Agamemnon.

Paris of Troy was told he could be granted one wish by Aphrodite, the love and beauty goddess, and he decided that he wanted Helen, who he though was the most beautiful woman in the world. The Trojans were able to get Helen, and hold her in Troy, and the Greeks attacked Troy over Helen, according to the myth. But in the final year of the War, it had been drawn out, and many Greek combatants only wanted to return home.

At the beginning of the Iliad, Achilles, a Greek warrior who was extra fearsome (due to his nearly-immortal status- as the only place on his body that could be harmed was the back of his heel), was not participating in the battle, because Agamemnon had agreed to return a war prize of Achilles, who was a young girl, to Sparta, and Achilles was upset. So with Achilles out, Paris of Troy’s older brother Hector, the Trojan Prince, was the greatest warrior in the war, and he did some serious damage to the Greek forces.

Achilles’ friend Patroclus goes into battle, disguised as Achilles, and Hector kills him, thinking he has killed Achilles. Achilles is angered by the slaying of his friend, and kills Hector in combat, and drags his body around the besieged city of Troy for days, but King Priam, the King of Troy, comes out to the Greek camp and negotiates with Achilles for the body, so that he could give his son proper burial. Achilles lets him have the body, and the Iliad ends with Hector’s funeral. The Odyssey is Homer’s work that details the plight of Odysseus as he tries to return home after the Trojan War.

After the Iliad, Achilles was slain by Paris, who was able to strike him in the heel with a single arrow, which killed him, but the Greeks were victorious due to the wisdom and cunning of Odysseus. He came up with the plan for the Trojan horse, which was a war prize that the Greeks built for the Trojans, as they pretended defeat, but when the Trojans brought it into the city, some Greeks jumped out, and opened the gates to their comrades, and the Greeks overwhelmed the Trojans from inside the city’s walls.

After the war, Odysseus and his men set off on their twelve vessels, headed for Ithaca, but disaster did not wait long to strike. The actual poem begins in the middle of the storyline of the Odyssey, which is at the point where Odysseus has been held captive by the nymph Calypso for seven years, and Athena, the goddess of wisdom, is preparing Telemachus, Odysseus’ young son, for a voyage that will act as a search for his father. At the same time, Odysseus’ wife, Penelope is fending off suitors, who wish to marry her, and take over as king of Ithaca, and Odysseus’ replacement, but she is able to delay them.

At that time, Odysseus is very worn out, and wishes to return home to see his wife and son, because he has been away for decades, fighting in the Trojan War, and then encountering disasters, and spending time as Calypso’s unwilling companion on her island. But Zeus sends Hermes, the messenger god to tell Calypso that she must let Odysseus go free to his family, and she gives him food, and he builds a raft to set off. And here is another recurring theme of the story, which is of hope, as throughout the Iliad and Odyssey there are times when everything seems like it is going to be alright, but them further disasters and complications occur.

But Poseidon, father of a Cyclops that he had killed, named Polyphemus, wrecks his raft, and Odysseus swims ashore to another island. Odysseus reveals his story to Demodocus, the ruler of the land where he washed ashore, after the story of the end of the Trojan War was told to him. This is where Odysseus explains what had happened to him from the end of the war until the end of his stay on Calypso’s island. It was an act of betrayal by Odysseus’ crew that most delayed his return to Ithaca following the Trojan War.

He had gone to the island of Aeolus, the master of the winds, who had given him a bag of winds, which he was told to use wisely, to aid in his return home. Odysseus told his crew never to touch the bag, but thinking that it contained gold, they opened it when Odysseus slept, and the winds blew the ships back away from Ithaca as it was coming into sight, to near where their voyage had began. After that, Odysseus and his men encountered malevolent nymphs and cannibals, all of whom further delayed Odysseus as he tried to return home.

He stayed with one nymph, Circe, for a year, where he and his crew feasted and drank, but then they set off again for Ithaca, and Circe helped them get started. There were countless times in the Odyssey when it seemed like everything was going alright, and that the men would be to Ithaca in just a few days if everything went on course, but it never did. Some disaster always arose that made it harder for the men to return home. After leaving Circe, Odysseus had been told that he had to visit a dead poet in the underworld for instructions to get back to Ithaca.

When he went to the underworld for advice, he saw his mother there, and Agamemnon’s spirit, along with those of other Greek companions who had been slain during or after the war. When he left the underworld, Odysseus sailed back to Circe’s island again. Before left again, the Circe warned him about some of the dangers that he would still have to go through on his return, and she instructed him on how to safely survive them and continue to Ithaca.

The first danger that he was to face were the Sirens, which were evil sea nymphs who lured sailors to their deaths with beautiful singing, and made the sailors jump overboard when they heard the voices of the nymphs. Odysseus ordered his men to plug their ears with wax to make it so that they would not hear the Sirens’ singing, which would lead to their deaths. But he wanted to hear their songs himself, so he had his men tie him to the ship’s mast so that he could not be led away, and he cut himself trying to break free of his restraints.

Odysseus and his men then passed through the narrow cavern between Scylla, a monster with many heads, and Charybdis, a dangerous whirlpool, and they landed on the land of Thrinacia. But his men there, ignoring the warnings of Circe, killed some of the sacred cattle that belonged to the god Helios, and after they set off, he caused the ships to run aground, killing everyone but Odysseus, who washed up on Calypso’s island, taking the reader back to the point that the beginning of the story began at. This detailed all of the problems that Odysseus had encountered so far in his quest to return home, after a seemingly never-ending war.

People in the Iliad were of the same mind state, which was that they could never return home, as the war was always full of complications and divine interventions that prolonged the Trojan War, and Odysseus found that his journey back after the war had many of the same characteristics. This is the biggest similarity between the two poems: as people are exhausted, and longing for home, complications always delay there return, and make life for the Greeks (and for Odysseus, in the Odyssey) more miserable.

The Phaeacians, of whom Demodocus, who he was telling his story to, was the king, decided to help Odysseus, and being skilled navigators, they sailed him to a hidden harbor at Ithaca, and Odysseus then stayed at the hut of one of his former slaves, who was a swineherd. There, with the help of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who had always admired and tried to help Odysseus, he planned his entrance into Ithaca, and how he would reveal himself to his wife and son, and how he would defeat the suitors of Penelope.

But as Odysseus is preparing for his fight with the suitors, who would certainly try to kill him, he maintains that he is not himself at all, and with the help of Athena, he disguises himself as an elderly beggar, and tells the herders he is staying with a fictitious tale about he came from Crete. At that time, Athena helps Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, return home from Sparta, where he had gone to ask about his father’s whereabouts, and after returning to Ithaca, he meets Odysseus, who reveals his identity, but maintains his disguise, and tells no one else of his true identity.

This represents another theme that is present in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, which is that patience and wisdom are more valiant than strength and brute force, and when it comes down to it, wisdom usually prevails. As after nearly a decade of fighting, the Trojan War was still going strong, it took an act of guile and wisdom and patience, on the part of Odysseus to secure a Greek victory. And here, as Odysseus decided to maintain his new identity until every threat had been neutralized, he was again exhibiting the same kind of patience and wisdom that he had used to win the Trojan War for the Greeks.

Still disguised as a beggar, Odysseus returns to his old house that he had not seen in over two decades, and sees that it is overrun by rowdy, disrespectful suitors, who aim to marry his wife so that they can take over as King of Ithaca. But Odysseus has other plans, and calculates the strategies that he will use to defeat the suitors as Eumaeus, the swineherd, and former slave of Odysseus escorts him through the house.

He meets his wife Penelope, and is able to maintain his disguise, but a house keeper, who washes the beggar Odysseus’ feet notices a scar that Odysseus had received from a boar hunt many years before he left to fight in the Trojan War, but he convinces the house keeper to remain silent. The next day, Penelope has the suitors come into a room to compete for her in an archery competition that uses the bow of Odysseus. None of the suitors are strong enough to string the bow, so Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, steps forward, and as the suitors are laughing at him, he strings it.

Then he, his son, and some of his former slaves turn on the suitors, and kill them all. After that, some of the supporters of the slain suitors decide that Odysseus has caused the deaths of too many men from Ithaca, blaming him for the deaths of the men he went to war with, and who were shipwrecked do to their own disobedience, in addition to the deaths of the suitors. But Athena convinces everyone to accept Odysseus again as the King of Ithaca, and the Odyssey is finished.

There are many parallel themes that are present in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, but perhaps the most notable theme is the longing for home, which can only be satisfied by wisdom. During the Trojan War, Greek forces find themselves exhausted, and longing for home, but complications are only prolonging the war. Whenever they have a major accomplishment, catastrophe results in the story of the war. After Achilles was able to defeat Hector, Paris defeats Achilles. And in the end, it was the wisdom and patience of Odysseus that one the war for the Greeks.

And in the Odyssey, things go much the same way. As Odysseus and his men are trying to return from Troy, and head back to Ithaca, whenever they have a significant gain, a setback seems to follow. When Odysseus got the back of winds that would allow him to control the winds and safely, and quickly navigate the vessels back to Ithaca, his disobedient men cause a problem, sending the ships back the way that they had come from. But in the end, it was Odysseus alone who returned, as he was able to ignore temptations, and find his way home to Ithaca, and to his family.

And in the very end of Homer’s story, Odysseus used his wisdom to defeat his final enemies, as he was able to maintain his false identity until every threat had been nullified. This is how the Trojan War was won by Odysseus and the Greeks, and how he was able to finally find his way back to his family. Works Cited Homer. The Iliad. trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 1990. Finley, M. I. The World of Odysseus. New York: Signet, 1974. Myrsiades, Kostas, ed. Approaches to Teaching Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. New York: MLA, 1987.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 14 October 2016

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