It could be said that Athena is Odysseus’ “Guardian goddess”; after all, she is the Greek goddess of not only Battle, but Wisdom. Her wrath is what causes the Acheans’ difficulty in getting home, but she seems to have a special place in her heart for Odysseus. Her primary role in the epic seems to be for Odysseus; even the interactions she has with other characters are for the hero’s benefit.
In Book 5, Athena stills the waters Poseidon threw against Odysseus’ ship in an attempt to destroy it, avenging the Cyclops. Thanks to the goddess Odysseus and his crew are allowed to make it to shore. Later, in Book 22, Athena comes to the hero’s aid more as a “coach” or mentor than a participant. She doesn’t fight the suitors herself but encourages Odysseus. This shows her faith in his strength and skill in battle. Athena seems to admire this “mere mortal” a great deal.
In her dealings with Telemachus, Athena is equally supportive. She encourages him to cause as much trouble as he can with the suitors, assuring him that his father is indeed alive. She sends him to Pylos and Sparta to earn a name for himself, obviously believing he has the potential to equal his father, if not outshine him. More than anything, she encourages the boy not to give up and to use the wisdom and battle skills he is developing for the good of his homeland.
In addition to being the goddess of Wisdom and Battle, Athena is goddess of the “Womanly Arts.” Penelope’s work at the loom reflects the dreams Athena brings her, again encouraging her to believe that Odysseus will return. She is constantly watching over the other main characters in this way, more a gentle presence than a demanding power. In this, she is an uncharacteristic goddess for a Greek epic.
Odysseus is the central figure in the Odyssey (it is, of course, named after him). He is a prime example of a Homeric Hero – he exhibits strength, skill, determination, courage, and moral responsibility in his actions throughout the epic, and he is fairly consistent with these traits. His most valuable skill is his intellect, which gets him out of situations that would confound a strongman like Hercules. Odysseus’s strength lies in his intelligence, which enables him to escape from the Cyclops in Book 9 and fool his wife’s suitors...
(The entire section is 1154 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Odysseus (oh-DIH-see-uhs), a far-roving veteran of the Trojan War who, having incurred the anger of Poseidon by blinding the sea god’s son Polyphemus, a gigantic Cyclops, is fated to roam for ten years before he can return to his homeland of Ithaca. Leaving Troy, he and his followers sail first to Ismarus. In the sack of the Ciconian city, Odysseus spares the life of Maro, a priest of Apollo, who in turn gives the conqueror some jars of potent wine. Gales then drive the Greeks to the country of the Lotus-eaters, from which they sail to the land of the fierce Cyclopes. There Ulysses and twelve of his band are captured by Polyphemus. After Odysseus frees himself and his companions by a clever ruse, leaving the Cyclops maimed and blinded, the band journeys to the Isle of Aeolus. In the land of the Laestrygones, man-eating giants destroy all but one of his ships and devour their crews. At Aeaea, Odysseus outwits the enchantress Circe and frees his men after she has turned them into swine. In the dark region of the Cimmerians, he consults the shade of Tiresias, the Theban prophet, to learn what awaits him in Ithaca. Following the advice of Circe, Odysseus escapes the spell of the Sirens, passes safely between Scylla and Charybdis, and arrives at Thrinacia. There, his remaining comrades are drowned for their impiety in eating cattle sacred to Hyperion. Cast adrift, Odysseus floats to the island of Ogygia, where...
(The entire section is 2354 words.)
Son of the mortal man Peleus and the sea goddess Thetis, Achilles is the best warrior at the siege of Troy. Odysseus encounters his shade (spirit) in the underworld in Book 11 while waiting for the seer Tiresias to tell him how he is to return home after being delayed for ten years.
The son of Hippotas Homer describes him as "beloved of the immortal gods" (X.2) and relates that Zeus put him in charge of the winds, letting him "hold them still or start them up at his pleasure" (X.22). He and his family (six sons married to six daughters) live on Aeolia, a floating island. After listening to Odysseus's tales of Troy, he agrees to help and makes Odysseus a present of a bag containing all the adverse winds that could blow him off his proper course home. Unfortunately, Odysseus's men untie the knot, thinking they will find gold in the bag; the winds blow them back to Aeolia. Aeolus casts them out, saying he has no desire to help anyone who is so obviously cursed by the gods.
Son of Atreus, brother of Menelaus, and King of Mycenae, Agamemnon commands the Achaean forces at Troy. Odysseus encounters his shade in the underworld. Agamemnon tells...
(The entire section is 5217 words.)