In what ways does Odysseus show the trait of self-discipline during the Odyssey?

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hgarey71 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many ways in which Odysseus shows self-discipline in Homer's epic poem "The Odyssey." One of the ways is when he and his crew sack the city of Ismarus. After they divide the plunder, Odysseus warns the men that they need to leave before the other islanders, known as Cicones, come to avenge the city. This shows self-discipline because he is not only thinking of his desires: he is thinking of everyone's safety, and he is always focused on the ultimate goal of returning home to Ithaca. 

Then I urged them to cut and run, set sail, but would they listen? Not those mutinous fools; there was too much wine to swill, too many sheep to slaughter down along the beach, and shambling longhorn cattle. And all the while the Cicones sought out other Cicones, called for help from their neighbors living inland . . .

When they reach the island of the Lotus-eaters, Odysseus sends a few of his men ahead to find out what kind of men live there. His men partake of the lotus flower and fruit and lose all desire to return home. He has to force them back onto the boat. This is another area in which he shows self-discipline. He was not tempted to eat the lotus fruit himself, though it would certainly have been easier for him to forget all thoughts of home. 

Odysseus seems impervious to pressure and does not give way to his men when they want to steal the cheese and goats from the Cyclops. This requires self-discipline as well as strength of character. 

From the start my comrades pressed me, pleading hard, "Let's make away with the cheeses, then come back--hurry, drive the lambs and kids from the pens to our swift ship, put out to sea at once!" But I would not give way—

Finally, when Odysseus returns home to Ithaca, he exhibits self-discipline by not revealing his identity right away. Another person may have declared his presence immediately and ordered all the suitors gone. Odysseus is disciplined enough to disguise himself as a beggar. He wants to see how his son and his wife behave without the knowledge that he has returned. This is remarkable, really, when readers consider the longing of Odysseus's heart has been to return home despite all the obstacles. 




belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Odysseus is a very complex character, and during his travels and struggles he faces many different obstacles. Any one of the obstacles he overcomes could have stopped him from ever reaching home, but he chooses to ignore both comfort and pain, and be relentless in his goals; his self-discipline is such that he cannot be stopped in his quest.

For example, at the beginning of his tale, Odysseus escapes from both the Lotus-Eaters and the Cyclops, and his ships are blown away from home by a bag of magical wind. After encountering Circe, who turns his men into pigs, Odysseus agrees to remain with her for one year in return for their freedom; he is tempted to remain forever, but continues to set out for home.

Although his men cause their own deaths by hunting the cattle of Helios, Odysseus survives, and it is here that he is captured by the nymph Calypso, who holds him for seven years on her island. Although she loves him and provides him with everything he needs, Odysseus is determined to leave or escape. Instead of retiring to a life of comfort, he appeals to Calypso and to the gods, and is given his freedom. He sums up his general state of mind here, in Book V:

"...I want to get home, and can think of nothing else. If some god wrecks me when I am on the sea, I will bear it and make the best of it. I have had infinite trouble both by land and sea already, so let this go with the rest."

In facing alternatives to his quest -- death, discouragement, pleasure, and the simple acquiescence of just giving up -- Odysseus remains focused on his goals. He refuses to be swayed for long, and although he certainly takes his time, he makes it home to his faithful wife, Penelope.

davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Odysseus finally returns home to Ithaca, he disguises himself as a withered old beggar. He enters his palace and there sees before him the suitors who have been eating him out of house and home for the last twenty years. Odysseus is king of Ithaca, and these sorry individuals have not just personally disrespected him and his wife; they've also disrespected his throne. They must pay for their treachery.

But not yet. First, Odysseus needs to size up the competition before he puts his battle plan into effect. So, he enters the great hall where the suitors are stuffing their faces. The suitors see him as just another beggar and contemptuously give him bits of food like they're feeding some mangy mongrel. They laugh at his ragged appearance and one of them, Antinous, even strikes him. But Odysseus does nothing. He exerts tremendous discipline and self-control in resisting the overwhelming urge to fight back. He knows his time will come.