Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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What difficulties does Tiresias predict for the journey to come for Odysseus? Why would Odysseus continue, despite the grim prophecies? Based on Tiresias's prediction, which heroic qualities will odysseus need to rely upon as he continues his journy? Explain.

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It is common-place to observe that Odysseus is brave, strong, and loyal, but perhaps the most over-looked qualities--two that save him time and again--are his nimble intelligence and his ability to endure.

Odysseus' intelligence is most-often commented upon in the Iliad.  At several crucial points, Odysseus is called upon to think his way out of trouble, and he is referred to at least twice as the equal of Zeus (Jove) in counsel.  At one low point in Greek morale, for example, after the Greeks been soundly beaten by the Trojans and have been pushed back to their ships, Odysseus convinces the army that they are on the path to victory--even though he doesn't quite believe that himself.  In the Odyssey, Odysseus creates the plan that gets himself and his remaining men out of the Cyclops' hands, and even though he foolishly tells Polyphemus his name--after all, he is a proud warrior--he and his men would have been eaten by Polyphemus had not Odysseus devised their rescue.  In this case, cunning triumphed over strength.

Considering that Odysseus survives a 10-year war with Troy and then endures another 10-year voyage home to Ithaca, his power to endure difficulties imposed by nature, man, and gods is, along with his intelligence, perhaps more important than bravery and a desire for glory.  Endurance is not dramatic, and it is only important over a series of episodes and a length of time, but, from the perspective of survival, endurance is paramount.  One can argue that, without his intelligence and ability to endure, no homecoming, no revenge, no re-uniting with Penelope and Telemachus could have occurred.

While it is true that Odysseus is often admired for more dramatic traits, his mind and spirit allowed him to beat both time, distance, men, and gods on his way back to Ithaca.

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Tiresias's ghost tells Odysseus that he is likely to be shipwrecked and to have a hard time getting home.  Once he gets home, he's going to have to kill all his wife's suitors.  Once he does that, he's still going to have to go on a journey, carrying on oar, until he finds a land where people have never heard of the sea or of ships.

Odysseus continues because he is completely loyal to his wife and his son.  In addition, he wants the glory of having gone to the war and come back.  He wants the glory of having withstood hardships to come home and the glory of having killed all the suitors.  Even though he will need great courage and willpower and even though he will need to be extremely cunning (all of these are heroic traits), he still decides to continue on because of his desire to see his family and to gain glory and honor.

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