What are some examples of the theme of community in The Odyssey?

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The Odyssey has numerous examples of community in action. We have the example of Odysseus and his followers, who I would suggest represent a community forged in shared suffering, fighting together in the Trojan War and then in the desperate journey home. It is a fragile community, which breaks down...

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The Odyssey has numerous examples of community in action. We have the example of Odysseus and his followers, who I would suggest represent a community forged in shared suffering, fighting together in the Trojan War and then in the desperate journey home. It is a fragile community, which breaks down entirely at several points in the poem (there are moments in The Odyssey where Odysseus and his followers come into conflict with one another: to give just two examples, the suspicion and betrayal that sets in after the encounter with Aeolus or when, driven by hunger, his followers slaughter the cattle of Hyperion), but it is a kind of community all the same.

In addition, one could point towards Odysseus's own family and the loyalty and fidelity which Telemachus and Penelope consistently display. Furthermore, we have images of civilized society, where community is writ large: for example, Odysseus's encounter with the Phaeacians or Telemachus's own travels, where he encounters Nestor and, later, Menelaus and Helen. In these examples, we see civil community functioning according to the expectations of the bronze age.

That being said, it should be noted that The Odyssey also depicts the breakdown of community or even the absence of it altogether. Odysseus suffers for years in a state of virtual isolation, kept as a captive by the nymph Calypso. We have examples by which the laws of community and hospitality are abused: Penelope's suitors back in Ithaca, for example, or Circe, who bewitches her guests and turns them into animals. Furthermore, there is the example of the Cyclopes, who have collectively spurned civilization altogether and are "each a law to himself, ruling his wives and children, not a care in the world for any neighbor" (Homer, The Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Viking Penguin, 1996. Book 9, p. 215, lines 127-128). If community is a critical theme in The Odyssey, we should not be surprised to find its absence or corruption as well. These examples also constitute a meaningful reflection on the theme.

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