In a work of fiction, a writer uses different characters to evolve a story and convey his idea through their personality. Without characters and their development, the story cannot progress. Homer has used his skill in presenting memorable characters in The Odyssey. Some of its major characters have been analyzed below. The quotations given in some characters have been borrowed from Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey.
Characters in The Odyssey
Odysseus is the protagonist of Homer’s epic, The Odyssey and possesses exceptional merits of body and mind. After the Trojan war, he is thrown on a long adventure, leaving the faithful wife, Penelope and young son, Telemachus behind. He comes across various gods, goddesses, witches and other monsters during his long and difficult journey. Although he is admired for his physical resilience and strength, he is famous for his wittiness which saves him on many occasions. A favorite of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, Odysseus enjoys fascinating and thrilling life with Calypso on an island, lives with the Phaeacians for sometimes, and also spends his time on the island of Circe, a sorcerer. His act of sacking of the land of the Cicones and his introduction to one-eyed giant, the Cyclops, proves his intelligence. By the end of the epic, he becomes a patient and wise man who can tolerate suitors of his wife. He defeats the suitors using his wisdom. Finally, Athena advises him to “Stop this war, or Zeus will be enraged” to which he gladly accepts.
Penelope is known as Odysseus’ faithful wife. Throughout his absence, she shows extreme patience and rational thinking to keep the suitors busy while she waits for her husband. She stays faithful to Odysseus until he returns. She displays ingeniosity when weaving the shroud by telling the suitors that she will remarry anyone of them when she finishes it. As a mother, she protects her son, Telemachus, when suitors plan to murder him. When Odysseus returns as a beggar, he sees Penelope’s loyalty in her grief, as she states the situation in which she has lived during the past years. Finally, Odysseus reveals his identity and pays tributes to her steadfastness, patience, loyalty, and wisdom.
Telemachus is a teenager at the beginning of the epic story. He matures with time and starts confronting the suitors of his mother after reassurance from Athena. Although he tries to run his father’s estate successfully, he struggles to reach the stature of Odysseus. As a young man, he makes the mistake of leaving the weapons store open and letting the suitors arm themselves. When Odysseus returns, both son and father meet each other and Telemachus is overjoyed. Odysseus prepares him to keep his family honor and tradition intact. “For years we have been known across the world for courage / and manliness,” says Odysseus to which Telemachus reassures, “I will bring no shame.”
In most Greek mythology, like The Odyssey, Gods appear like human beings to help or punish their subjects. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, appears at several places in The Odyssey. She is the daughter of a Greek god, Zeus. Odysseus is her favorite human being whom she helps whenever he is in difficulty. She also helps Telemachus and prepares him to become the prince of Ithaca when suitors are at their doorstep to marry his mother. She also checks if Odysseus has gained required patience when suitors provoke him and only intervenes when it is required. By the end, Athena stops Odysseus from further fights and leaves after making peace between the warring sides.
Another important divine character in The Odyssey is Poseidon. He is a sea-god and is at war with the goddess Athena for helping Odysseus. He is Amphitrite’s husband, the goddess of the sea, as she is responsible for raising waves. Poseidon’s extreme hatred towards Odysseus starts when Odysseus blinds his son, the Cyclops to save themselves and escape the cave. Although he could not kill Odysseus or cause him any other harm, Poseidon often raises storms in the seas to create difficulties for him and delaying his homeward journey. In other words, Poseidon is one of the antagonists in The Odyssey.
Polyphemus, The Cyclops
The Cyclops is a man-eating, a one-eyed giant who appears in The Odyssey. Odysseus and his companions take refuge on the island of the Cyclops (Sicily) and visit his cave. He is sea god, Poseidon’s and Thoosa’s son. He traps Odysseus and his men, mocking hospitality, he puts a huge stone before the entrance of the cave, barring all others from going out. Cyclops acquires a taste of human flesh, and he keeps killing and eating two soldiers at a time. In order to escape, Odysseus makes him drink strong wine. Once he is asleep, Odysseus blinds him and sets himself and men free. When Odysseus reveals himself after escaping, Polyphemus prays to his father Poseidon to take revenge.
The suitors are a group of people who compete for Penelope’s hand in marriage when Odysseus arrival is delayed, and he is presumed dead. They are around a hundred men led by Antinous and Eurymakhos as well as the son of Nisos, Amphinomus. He is sympathetic as compared to others who are hot-headed and aggressive. However, Penelope plays very shrewdly and starts weaving a shroud for the father of Odysseus. She asks them that she will decide when the shroud is completed, but she unravels it at night. She delays them for nearly ten years until Odysseus returns disguised as a beggar and deals with them with Athena’s help.
Circe is a nymph and enchantress, who transforms Odysseus’s men into animals when they visit her grand mansion in the thick forest. Odysseus and his men see various ferocious animals, the victims of her sorcery, though, they are harmless. She offers a great feast to the crew of Odysseus who also become animals after eating the food. However, the loyal Eurylochus warns Odysseus of this sorcerer, who saves himself after Hermes suggests him to use an herb. Astonished by Odysseus’ wits and courage, the sorcerer hosts them for a year and then leaves them after she fails to convince Odysseus to live with her.
Zeus is another important divine character in the epic, The Odyssey. He is the father of all gods and goddesses. He supports Odysseus and consults other goddesses and gods when Odysseus faces any trouble. With his guidance, Athena then supports Odysseus. He also allows Poseidon to punish Odysseus for blinding his son. However, he does not permit him to punish him beyond limits. Zeus also suggests that gods do not always take control of human beings and allows humans to use their free will.
Tiresias is a Theban prophet, who interprets the oracles of Apollo. He appears in many myths. In The Odyssey, he appears in Book 11 and shows Odysseus the way to go to Ithaca and allows him to talk to the souls in Hades. Before Odysseus reaches home, he warns him regarding the suitor’s presence.