What realization does Odysseus come to by the end of Homer's epic The Odyssey?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One realization Odysseus comes to at the end of Homer's epic is to appreciate the limited nature of human beings.

Throughout the epic, it is as if Odysseus has no limits. He uses his guilt, wit, and craftiness to escape situation after situation. If Odysseus is in dire conditions, Athena frequently comes to his aid. Odysseus was able to defeat all the suitors and powerful Olympian deities such as Prometheus. By the poem's end, Odysseus appreciates the limitations of being human. Acceptance of this realization can be seen in how Odysseus returns home to Ithaca. His journey ends where it started. While he battled some of the very best warriors and could have commanded much in way of armies and political power, Odysseus returns home to his wife and son. He could have remained in tempestuous passion with Circe, but finds comfort in Penelope's stable love. Even at the end of the epic, when Odysseus could have pursued the band of Ithacans, he relents. He accepts Athena's warning and backs down.   

Odysseus is content with the realization that he can be happy with where he is in the world. He no longer needs demonstrative displays of his power. In many respects, Odysseus has heard the warnings of his dear friend, Achilles:

I'd rather be a field-hand, bound in service to another man, with no land of my own, and not much to live on, than to lord it over all the insubstantial dead (XI. 489-91).

Odysseus makes peace with the limitations of being human. He recognizes he is a man, not a god. As a human being, he realizes happiness and contentment can be their own rewards.