The Role of Athena
In recent decades the role of women in society has seen tremendous improvement. Male dominance dates back thousands of years, and has been that way until recently. Women have always been given inferior roles at home, at work, and in the community, but when Homer wrote “The Odyssey” over 3,000 years ago the role of women played a significant role in Odysseus’s journey back to Ithaca. In particular, the role of Athena is arguably the most important role to Odysseus.
Without the help Odysseus receives from Athena, he wouldn’t be the most well known epic hero of all time. Athena is important to Odysseus due to her role as the goddess of war and battle, and as a Greek war hero, Odysseus receives much favor from Athena. She frequently disguises herself in order to help Odysseus. She appears as a little girl, a Sheppard, and even a friend of Odysseus in order to look after and guide Odysseus back to his kingdom. Athena helps him “During this meditation, a heavy surge was taking him, in fact, straight on the rocks.
He had been flayed there, and his bones broken, had not Athena instructed him: he gripped a rock-ledge with both hands in passing and held on, groaning, as the surge went by, to keep clear of its breaking” (Homer 105). Despite the help Athena gives Odysseus, she still allows him to be the hero by not interfering too much. Athena allows him to fight his own battles against his many enemies on his journey, but she is always there to look after him. As the goddess of war Athena understands and cares about the troubles Odysseus encounters on his journey.
Athena continues to help Odysseus but she only has limited power over the mortals. She needs help from Zeus in order to save Odysseus. She goes to Zeus and speaks on Odysseus’s behalf, persuading Zeus to allow him to escape Calypso’s Island by saying, O father Zeus and gods bliss forever, let no man holding scepter as a king think to be mild, or kind, or virtuous; let him be cruel, and practice evil ways, for those Odysseus ruled cannot remember the fatherhood and mercy of his reign. Meanwhile he lives and grieves upon that island in thralldom to the nymph; he cannot sir, cannot fare homeward (Homer 93).
The courage shown by Athena to go before Zeus and argue on Odysseus’s behalf displays the passion Athena has for Odysseus, and without the help of Athena Odysseus may have never made it off Calypso’s Island. Odysseus has many reasons to lose sleep on his constant fight to return home to Ithaca, but Athena is always there to give him peace and rest. Athena gives him rest while “A man in a distant field, no hearthfires near, will hide a fresh brand in his bed of embers to keep a spark alive for the next day; so in the leaves Odysseus hid himself while over him Athena showered sleep that his distress should end” (Homer 107).
Rest was of course necessary for the mortal Odysseus, and with the help of Athena he was able to rest not only his body but also his mind from the pains of missing home. Athena also helps Odysseus by helping his son Telemakhos. She tells Zeus, “For my part, I shall visit Ithaka to put more courage in the son, and rouse him to call an assembly of the islanders” (Homer 16). Athena is simple reassuring Telemakhos that his father is still alive and tries to give him the confidence he needs to handle the suitors that have pillaged his father’s kingdom.
Telemakhos’s newfound confidence helps him and his father defeat the suitors after Odysseus’s arrival. Athena even played a role in helping Telemakhos recognize his father. After years and years of war and voyage Odysseus had aged and didn’t look like the war hero his mother had told him about, Athena steps in, “Saying no more, she tipped her golden wand upon the man, making his cloak pure white and the knit tunic fresh around him. Lithe and young she made him, ruddy with sun, his jawline clean, the beard no longer grew upon his chin.
And she withdrew when she had done” (Homer 463). The father and son peacefully reunite with the help of Athena. “When [thinking] about Greek Epic heroes, Odysseus will most likely come to mind” (Studyworld) due to his bravery, cleverness, and strength as a warrior. He will always be remembered for his perseverance in his quest to return home, but Odysseus would not have been successful without the goddess Athena. She helps Odysseus by not only providing physical but also emotional support.
She continually saves him from danger and then gives him rest. Athena’s intelligence and courage help Odysseus escape the trials of his journey, and without her wit and passion for him, Odysseus would not be regarded as a hero today. Homer instills qualities of strength and cleverness in Athena at a time in history when women were not thought of as equal to men. Homer uses Athena to help Odysseus along his journey and without the help of Athena no one would regard him as an epic hero.
If Odysseus always had the answers to every question, the quicker sword in every battle, and the wit to look after himself in every situation there would be no need for Athena, but to Odysseus, Athena is what he needed in order to complete his journey back to Ithaca and take back over the kingdom he once called his own.