Without their cunning and wily ways the characters of the Odyssey wouldn't have gotten very far before disaster would have overtaken them. Subterfuge is, for Odysseus, just as powerful as the sword or bow. In fact, many characters try, to varying degrees of success, to outwit their opponents.
First, let's look at what it means to be "cunning." According to the dictionary, the word essentially means being crafty in the use of resources to get what you want. In this sense, we can look more specifically at how the characters demonstrate this quality.
Let's take a peek, shall we?
- Antinouse arranges an ambush to try to kill Telemechus
- Hephaestus is clever in creating the web used to catch his wife's lover,
- Athena is a self-proclaimed trickster, disguising herself so as to help both Odysseus and Telemechus,
- Circe is able to use guile (and potions) to turn men into pigs,
- Helen imitates the wive's voices of the men hiding inside the Trojan horse to try to lure them out,
- Odysseus has many examples. He and his men cling to the Cyclop's sheep to escape (after tricking the monster into getting drunk on strong wine,) he ties himself to the mast so as not to be drown by the sirens, he appears to the suitor as an old beggar to put them off their guard, etc.
- Penelope tricks the suitors by undoing the threads sewn during the day,
- Telemachus manages to sneak out in search of his father.
These are just some examples. Nearly every character in the book demonstrates some form of treachery to get what they desire.