Role of Gods in the Odyssey
Odysseus is a man. He is not a god, yet he seeks protection and assistance from the gods because he knows that it is crucial to the survival of himself and his men. In my opinion, there is a savior god who is Athena, Telemachus refers to her as a “Mentor” (37) and a tormentor god who is Poseidon, Lord of the Earthquake, “where they found the people of the seashore sacrificing jet-black bulls for the powerful Poseidon”(30). This quote demonstrates the amazing power Poseidon bestows. The power of the gods over Odysseus and the other characters in this ancient novel is very thorough.
Throughout the story, we see of the gods helping and hurting the life of Odysseus. In the beginning of the story… while the Greek soldiers had returned home from Troy, Odysseus is living on the island of Calypso. Although, they are “lovers” he is being held there against his will because of the wrath of Poseidon. Many believe that Odysseus “leads Calypso on”; however, he will not become her husband. Although, Calypso and Odysseus are “lovers” he often longs for his beautiful wife Penelope.
Calypso and Poseidon have kept him away from his family for years; therefore, Odysseus is presumed dead by his wife and the citizens of Ithaca. His absence draws many suitors to his home. These suitors look to win the hand of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife. These events are the overall cause of his son Telemachus’ departure. If not for the actions of Calypso, Odysseus would have returned home without difficulty, no suitors would have come, and Telemachus would have no reason to embark in search of his missing father.
The goddess Athena begs her father Zeus to allow Odysseus to return home. Zeus explains to Athena that Poseidon despises Odysseus because of the role Odysseus played in the plot to exterminate the eye of the Cyclops Polyphemus. The reason Poseidon is so infuriated by this is because Polyphemus is Poseidon’s son. Therefore, Poseidon maintains a hatred of Odysseus and “will not let him end his exile”(200) Homer indicates that although Odysseus encounters a great deal of misfortune in his journey, the major misfortune was the disapproval of Poseidon and Zeus.
The combined interference of Poseidon and Calypso prevented him from continuing his journey home. Reluctantly, after 7 years captive Odysseus receives word that he will be freed. Zeus instructs Hermes to tell Odysseus that in order to reach his home,” he must sail alone, without the company of gods or men”, (155) a message in which Calypso reluctantly agrees. While it is Poseidon’s wrath and Calypso’s love that keeps him on the island, it is also, the works of Zeus and Hermes that allows Odysseus to leave.
In this case, his journey home is just as prevented by gods, as the gods permits it. Throughout the novel, the characters attempt to flatter the gods. The characters understand that their lives depend on the mercy of the gods. In the Odyssey the gods played a vital role to the plot of the story. Throughout Odysseus’s amazing travels, it’s the hope of seeing Penelope and his son Telemachus that often brings him the courage and strength to succeed.
Without the help of Athena, and her wisdom and devotion to Odysseus, his challenges would be far more extreme. Although some gods were against Odysseus, many were in favor of him and his return home. Most of the “battles” he has to fight are the challenges Poseidon throws at him. With water being the only way back to his home this challenge is fare more difficult than the Trojan War itself. Even though Athena plays a key role in Odysseus life, she is unable to protect him from the challenges he faces with Poseidon and Calypso.