‘Theme’ is a central idea present in a literary piece. It serves as an essential ingredient that makes a story appealing and persuasive. The Odyssey, the phenomenal epic of Greek era, has various themes presented by the blind bard, Homer. Some of the major themes have been discussed below. The quotes used in the themes are taken from the translation of the epic by Emily Wilson.
Themes in The Odyssey
Hubris is one of the major themes of the epic, The Odyssey and is a Greek term for excessive pride. According to many myths, Gods are known to punish the person with extreme pride or overconfidence to restrain them and teach them the quality of patience. Odysseus takes pride in his Trojan adventure for which gods punish him which keeps away from his home and put him through trials during his journeys. It takes him a decade to reach home after living away from his faithful wife, Penelope and his son, Telemachus. He faces magic of Circe, Calypso, and wrath of the Cyclops along with numerous adventures but ultimately prevails against the arrogant suitors and wins victory. This means that his hubris was forgiven through his long-suffering.
Homecoming or homeward journey is another major theme of The Odyssey. Odysseus has strong to reach home and meets his wife, Penelope and his son, Telemachus and end his journeys. While Odysseus is away from his home, his love for his family and home motivates him to seek ways to reach home. Although Odysseus is involved in satisfying sensual desires with Calypso and Circe, the longing to go home remains as a strong desire. He even tells it to the Cyclops that the sea is their “planned route back home.”
Hospitality was at the top of the Greek ethical code and of the major themes of The Odyssey. The Cyclops Polyphemus, who keeps Odysseus and his comrades his captives, kills and eats his guests and Circe show the bad side of hospitality by transforming people into animals when they visit her grand palace. On the other hand, the Phaeacians, Calypso, Aeolus, Alcinous, and Penelope show good hospitality, without it Odysseus wouldn’t have reached home. Hence, Odysseus praises the Phaeacians saying “They always help their guests travel onward.”
The temptation was and still is considered a sin, or an evil act and a negative trait. On various occasions, through Odysseus’s character, Homer has shown that temptations, sometimes, are powerful. These temptations range from sensual pleasures to the satisfaction of hunger or pride. When Odysseus’s soldiers see the Lotus-eaters, they immediately fall to that temptation. Odysseus is also tempted by Circe’s beauty and saves himself in the nick of time. This is to show how different he is from his crew members. Also, when he has to restrain himself in the end when he reaches home, he does not fall to the temptation to fight against the suitors on his turf. He resists and waits for the right time. This difference of falling to temptation and restraining oneself sets him apart.
Heroism means to overcome internal and external enemies. Odysseus, the protagonist of the epic, faces many enemies, temptations and challenges during his long homeward journey. Not only does he overcome those external enemies, but also overcomes his internal conflicts despite some distractions. For example, he defeats Cyclopes through his wit and Scylla and Charybdis through his courage. During the fight against Circe, he shows courage and patience.
Trickery and Deception
Trickery and deception are used in the world as a necessity for survival. Athena offers help in disguises. Odysseus, too, keeps his identity a secret to avoid detection and likely reprisals from his enemies. Odysseus also deceives Cyclops by giving him a false name, Noman. This play of trickery and identity continues even when Odysseus reaches home. He pretends to be a beggar and discloses his identity to his son, Telemachus and a soldier to resolve the chaos created by the suitors of his wife.
Fate and Free Will
The eternal questions of fate and free will are minor themes of The Odyssey. Is fate free from divine intervention; is it superior to gods and goddesses, or is fate some higher power – these are a few questions concerning Odysseus and other characters. Although Zeus is the father of all gods and goddesses, he may not have power over fate. Odysseus uses his free will to act in a way he wants. Later, he faces the consequences after blinding Cyclops and is punished by Poseidon. At some points, Athena helps him to overcome certain challenges. Despite this, it is not clear what fate is, though, it is clear that Zeus has fated Odysseus to journey for a decade to teach him a lesson for his extreme arrogance and pride.
Justice and Punishment
Justice and punishment are two crucial social norms among others which are supposedly supported by Gods like Zeus and others. No matter how great a hero may become, he must be righteous and have integrity; if he fails he must face the consequences. In other words, if gods punish a hero to dispense justice. As an example, Poseidon continues to punish Odysseus, delaying his journey. Athena also continues to support Odysseus to keep balance as he faces his transgressions.
Although minor, revenge is another theme of The Odyssey. When Odysseus blinds the Cyclops, Poseidon exacts revenge by raising storms in the sea and causing a delay in Odysseys homeward journey. Odysseus also seeks vengeance from his wife’s suitors at the end after he reaches home, for they have caused sufferings to his wife, Penelope and his son, Telemachus.
Divine intervention in human affairs is another minor theme of the epic. Although this theme is intertwined with assistance and punishments, Odysseus faces wrath and consequences of his actions. While Athena intervenes to help him by facilitating homeward journey, Poseidon thwarts her efforts and raises obstacles for Odysseus by raising storms in the sea.