Esprit Rock

Homer’s “The Odyssey”

Homer’s “The Odyssey”, is a timeless epic poem written between 900 B.C.E- 700 B.C.E. It tells the story of a great hero, Odysseus, who left to fight the Trojan War for 10 years and didn’t return home until 20 years later due to various trials and tribulations. In the same years before the development of the first complete alphabet, the Greeks practiced oral storytelling in the form of what they call barbs. In Ancient Greece, barbs where singers who would entertain the people through songs. The songs they sung were usually based on an historical event in the country. It is said that Homer himself was indeed a barb. However, overtime as the alphabet was invented various people recorded his songs on paper and created what we now know as The Odyssey. Divided into 24 Books, Homer explores many different themes such as gender roles, hospitality, loyalty and vengeance. The most recurring theme throughout the books are family and loyalty. While Husbands were not always loyal to wives, Fathers and sons were always loyal to each other and this is seen in the relationships between Laertes and Odysseus, Odysseus and Telemachus, and Poseidon and Polyphemus.
Author, Roland Warren once said, “A boy has a hole in his soul in the shape of his father… if his father is unable or unwilling to fill this hole, it can leave a wound that is not easily healed.” In the present day, a typical father and son relationship is in nowhere comparable to that of the Greeks. Laertes, the father of Odysseus was once a king in the city state of Ithaca. That is, until he learned of the disappearance of his loved son, Odysseus. In a conversation between Telemachus and Eumaeus, the loyal shepherd, we learn of the state that Laertes was currently in. As Eumaeus reported to Telemachus he states, “Should I go the same way to Laertes also, and tell him the news…he hasn’t been eating or drinking as before or overseeing the fields. He just sits and groans…” (Homer, Book XVI, 151-153). It is evident that the father and son relationship between Laertes and Odysseus is on solid footing. In another conversation between Telemachus and Athena, she tells him, “You and I have ties of hospitality, just as our fathers did…go ask old Laertes. They say he never comes town anymore, lives out in the country…” Laertes gave up his palace to live in the outskirts of Ithaca because he did not want to be easily reminded of his son. However, moving away was not a healthy way to cope with the pain he endured, as it eventually led to him not eating or drinking to survive. Upon Odysseus return to Ithaca he disguised himself as a beggar only revealing himself to those who remained loyal to him, one being his father. Laertes is the seen crying tears of joys at the sight of his son whom he loved and missed. This clearly shows, that a father’s love for his son is eternal because even after 20 years of not seeing Odysseus, old Laertes still stands with him.
Another exceptional father and son relationship that is represented in Homer’s “The Odyssey”, is Odysseus and Telemachus. As the story begins, Odysseus left not only his wife, Penelope but also his young son, Telemachus to fight in the Trojan War. As the story begun, Athena appeared to Telemachus suggesting to him that he needed his father’s assistance in throwing the suitor’s out. She urged him to, “Sail to Pylos first…Then go over to Sparta” (Homer, Book I, 302-305). Growing up without knowing much about his father, except what he heard, Telemachus had a yearning to know his father for himself. Therefore, it did not take much persuading from Athena for him to sail around the other city states in search of information about the whereabouts of his father, risking his life along the way. Although Telemachus had some doubt in his heart, “My mother says that Odysseus is my father, I don’t know this…” (Homer, Book I, 232-233), he was still loyal to Odysseus when he returned to his palace, revealed his identity to the suitors, and then went on to slaughter them. The poem states, “Amphinomus went for Odysseus next, rushing at him…Telemachus got a jump on him, though, driving a bronze tipped spear into his back” (Homer, Book XXII, 93-97), before he could get to his father. Telemachus is seen as the ultimate son during this time period. Unlike the other young suitors, he wanted to be like his father the great Odysseus, and so he stands by in father in killing all the suitors who were attempting to court his mother, Penelope.
The exchange between the Poseidon and Polyphemus, gives us insight as to a somewhat dysfunctional relationship between a father and a son in ancient Greece. Poseidon, the god of seas and earthquakes is said to be the father of a species known as the cyclops (Polyphemus). Much is not said about Polyphemus in the Odyssey. However, the one time he was encountered by Odysseus, he made a prayer saying, “Hear me, Poseidon, blue-maned Earth- Holder, if you are the father you claim to be. Grant that Odysseus, son of Laertes, may never reach his home on Ithaca” (Homer, Book IX, 527-529). It seems as if Polyphemus does not know his father well and now he is putting him to the test by imploring him to curse Odysseus, that is if he really is his father and if he loves him. Though it was not directly stated, Poseidon must have cared for his son because as Odysseus and his men continued their journey, the curse started unfolding right before their eyes. Thus, demonstrating yet again that fathers and sons are loyal to each other in good times and in the bad.
In conclusion, indeed husbands were not always loyal to wives as seen in the multiple relationships Odysseus had with various women in his 20 years away from Ithaca. Nevertheless, the one thing that remained true is the idea that fathers and sons were always loyal to each other. Throughout the Odyssey, fathers and sons continuously stood up for each other as well as supported each other in almost every decision that was made. Whether they knew each other for a long time, as in the case of Laertes and Odysseus or just met each, as with Odysseus and Telemachus, fathers and sons always felt to need to fight and protect each other at any cost.