What is the role of gods in Homer's Odyssey?

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It's important to note when speaking about The Odyssey that divine forces do take on the role of characters within the narrative. Among the Olympians, Athena serves as Odysseus's champion and defender while Poseidon is his antagonist, using his divine might for the purposes of exacting retribution. However, there are a number of lesser divinities as well, the most notable of which would be Calypso and Circe, who are both described at different points in the narrative as nymphs or goddesses, though they cannot quite represent the full might of divine power in the way that Athena or Poseidon do.

As far as the Olympians go, this dual-sided nature becomes particularly strong because as Thanatassa has already said, the Olympians do have very human personalities, but they are also forces of nature. Poseidon is the god of the sea, and unlike the cyclops or the sirens or even Circe, Odysseus is never in a position to resist him. In a way, you could say Poseidon is the sea, fickle and dangerous as it would have been to the pre-classical Greeks, and the same kind of reading can apply to the gods collectively. Odysseus is at their mercy. He's trapped by Calypso on her island, and this does not change until the Olympians themselves wish it to be changed. Similarly, it was with Hermes' intervention that Odysseus is able to overcome Circe, and with Athena's assistance that he is able to orchestrate his return to Ithaca (not to mention other interventions, such as Athena's guidance of Telemachus). In a way, the gods are characters within the story, but they also seem to be its architects, as supernatural forces that wield profound power over the course of human events.

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The gods in Homer's Odyssey are anthropomorphic, meaning that they not only take the form of humans but also act very much like more powerful versions of humans, almost like human rulers who just happen to be immortal and have supernatural powers. Many of the divine beings encountered by Odysseus are, in fact, products of sexual relationships between gods and mortals. Odysseus himself has divine ancestry, as do many of the other heroes of the Trojan Wars. This suggests that one important role of the gods is to mate with humans in order to produce a class of heroes.

Next, the gods intervene to help or hinder mortals who have pleased or offended them. Poseidon tries to hinder Odysseus in part in revenge for Odysseus's having blinded Polyphemus. Hermes provides Odysseus with the herb "moly" so that Circe cannot turn him into a pig. Athena, disguised as Mentor, aids Telemachus.

A slightly different role of the gods, and one that at times seems almost incompatible with their anthropomorphic antics, is as the guardians of justice. Zeus is represented as the god of hospitality, helping punish those who abuse it and rewarding those who offer hospitality to strangers.

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This is a good question. The gods do not act in any one particular way in Homer's Odyssey. A few examples should make this clear.

First, when Telemachus is about to visit Nestor at Pylos in book two, Athena appears to him as disguised as Mentor. She encourages him to go and gives him the help that he needs. Telemachus actually needs this, because he is young and insecure.

Second, in book nine, Odysseus recounts to the Phaeacians that while he was at sea, Zeus sent a storm and buffeted his men for nine days and sent them to the island of the Lotus-eaters. Odysseus escapes only to find his way to the island of the Cyclopes, where he blinds Polyphemus to gain the ire of Poseidon, who is the father of Polyphemus.

Finally, Odysseus is able to make it home to Ithaca, because of the constant help of Athena. And when Odysseus kills all the suitors, Athena makes the fathers of the suitors and those who want revenge to forget about their loss.

In light of these example, we can say that the gods intervene in the lives of men in many different ways.

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