The Odyssey by Homer

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In The Odyssey, what is more important to Odysseus, personal glory or family?

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Scott David eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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It's an interesting question, and I think it would be a mistake to view the answer in terms of an either-or choice. Keep in mind, Odysseus's return homeward is a journey that unravels across an extraordinary span of time, and this introduces an element of variability into Odysseus's psychology. He's not possessed of a single state of mind across the entire story, through which we can simplify his motivations and intentions. Things are more complicated than that, and in fact, these two motivations (the desire for glory and the desire to return home) tend to be weighed in conversation with one another. They are both important, and at different points in different circumstances, one can outweigh the other.

I would suggest that, ultimately, all told, his main desire is to return to Ithaca and his family—that's what is ultimately driving him. That being said, what we have to understand is that for Greek heroes, they are largely defined in terms of their achievement, and Odysseus is no different. The desire for personal glory is more than a desire, it's a large part of his psychological makeup. Greek heroes are larger than life, superhuman figures, and Odysseus is very much understood as heroic within that Greek context.

So regardless of his larger goals, when the opportunity for personal glory arises, he aims to seize it. That's part of who he is, even when the action is destructive to his larger purpose. We see this in his encounter with Polyphemus, for example, or also when he...

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