Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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What character trait does Odysseus display in "The Land of the Dead" that he does not reveal in his adventure with the cyclops?

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In Hades, Odysseus displays such character traits as a tender love for his mother, an appreciation for being alive, and a degree of resolution about returning home that he had not revealed earlier.

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Odysseus displays a much softer side in the underworld. The interaction between Odysseus and his mother is such a tragic interaction for our hero.

Odysseus says, “Thrice I sprang towards her, and my heart bade me clasp her, and thrice she flitted from my arms like a shadow or a dream, and pain grew ever sharper at my heart.”

The wandering king at this point is reduced to a child whose only wish is to hug his mother. Three times he reaches out, and three times she slips through his arms like a shadow. It is no coincidence that it is after Odysseus is broken down and humble that he starts to see how he can get back home.

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In book 11 of The Odyssey, Odysseus displays humility in the “Land of the Dead” that he does not show in his dealings with the Cyclops. Humility through respecting the rules and rituals of the land, not what he assumes should be his rights. Humility in the land of the dead and hubris in dealing with Polyphemus.

To begin with let’s look at the hubris, or brash and arrogant character that Odysseus demonstrates in book 9. When Odysseus and his men enter the cave of Polyphemus he makes the arrogant assumption the occupant of the cave must follow the rules of hospitality that are the tradition of Greece. It is this belief that ultimately costs some of his men their lives. Once Odysseus realizes that the Cyclops does not follow the rules as Odysseus believes they should be, he becomes enraged and seeks vengeance as well as escape from the cave. Tricking Polyphemus and ultimately blinding the Cyclops in his escape Odysseus should be relieved at his escape yet he taunts the giant. It is the taunting of Polyphemus by Odysseus that leads to Odysseus being cursed by Poseidon. Hubris has led to Odysseus’s inability to get home.

In stark contrast to the arrogant Odysseus of the Cyclops’ island, the humbled Odysseus shows proper respect for the traditions of the land by performing the rites that pay tribute and show honor to the dead.

“I drew my sharp sword from beside my thigh, and dug a pit of a cubit's length this way and that, and around it poured a libation to all the dead, first with milk and honey, thereafter with sweet wine, and in the third place with water, and I sprinkled thereon white barley meal. And I earnestly entreated the powerless heads of the dead, vowing that when I came to Ithaca I would sacrifice in my halls a barren heifer, the best I had, and pile the altar with goodly gifts, and to Teiresias alone would sacrifice separately a ram, wholly black, the goodliest of my flocks.”

It is ritual that shows his humility when dealing with the shades. He does not command the spirits but invites them and makes promises to again honor them when he gets home. In stark contrast to the challenges and threats made to Polyphemus.

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Odysseus, while in the Underworld, is almost a totally different character than the cunning trickster who blinded the son of Poseidon. Unlike the previous lands and adventures, Odysseus is not waylaid, but rather enters deliberately. In contrast to his boasting and bragging about blinding the monster, here we see him grieving. When he spies the soul of the warrior Ajax, he tries to apologize. Ajax refuses to speak, causing Odysseus to plead with the ghost. His grief at his failure to embrace his mother plays out in a similar fashion. Here, surrounded by the dead, we see a man confronting both his failures and the people he failed. He expresses great regret and grief, showing the reader a man that seems to feel sorrow and empathy, but only when it is too late to do anything.

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What character traits does Odysseus display in Hades that he does not reveal earlier in The Odyssey?

In Hades, Odysseus displays for the first time the tender love he feels for his mother, Anticleia. He wants to greet her as soon as he sees her, even though he has to first speak to Tiresias. When he sees her, he remembers that the last time he laid eyes on her, before he left for Troy, she was still alive. Viewing her in Hades, he says:

I wept, and I felt pity in my heart.

Later, although he tries three times, he is unable to hold her in his arms because she has become a shadow. He says:

The pain inside my heart grew even sharper.

Odysseus is also sobered by his encounter with dead. He hears Achilles, who chose an early death with glory rather than a long and quiet life, wish now he were an obscure farmer and still alive. Odysseus watches Sisyphus endlessly struggle to push a rock up a hill. He also learns from Tiresias the prophecy that he will return to Ithaca, but have to battle suitors for his wife.

Back from the underworld Odysseus shows more appreciation for being alive than he had before because he has seen the sadness of the shades. He also shows more resolution than he had before about achieving his goal of returning to his homeland to be reunited with Penelope and his son.

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Which character trait does Odysseus display in the land of the dead that he did not reveal earlier?

In the eleventh book of Homer's Odyssey, the title character travels to the land of the dead to consult with the spirit of the Theban prophet Teiresias. There are a number of things that happen in this book that might be candidates for things the audience has not encountered yet with respect to Odysseus.

For one, when Odysseus conjures up the spirits of the dead, he tells his Phaeacian listeners that "I turned pale with fear" (A.S. Kline translation). I don't recall Odysseus being fearful before this time.

Additionally, Odysseus encounters the spirit of his mother Anticleia. He did not know that she had died. Thus, it is not surprising that when he sees her he reacts as he does: "I wept at the sight of her, and my heart was filled with pity..." Later, after Odysseus does get a chance to talk to his mother, he tries to embrace her, but is unable and this made "the pain [seem] deeper in my heart." Of course, we see Odysseus weeping in Odyssey 5, but not due to grief at the loss of a dead family member.

Near the end of Odyssey 11, we also see Odysseus trying to soothe the spirit of Ajax, who was still angry with Odysseus over their contest over the armor of Achilles. It seems to me that this may be the first time we have seen this side of Odysseus.

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