What themes from The Odyssey influenced today's society?

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Personally, I would suggest that The Odyssey 's greatest and most powerful influence has been over literature and the arts (an influence which reaches across millennia, stretching from the ancient world into the present day). It represents one of the oldest works of world literature still surviving, and in that...

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Personally, I would suggest that The Odyssey's greatest and most powerful influence has been over literature and the arts (an influence which reaches across millennia, stretching from the ancient world into the present day). It represents one of the oldest works of world literature still surviving, and in that capacity it has had a profound role in shaping and defining many of the storytelling structures and devices that have become commonplace ever since.

First, consider that The Odyssey is probably the ancient world's greatest work of heroic literature (though it is not the earliest, nor is Odysseus by any means its greatest or most accomplished hero). One can easily find parallels between The Odyssey and other heroes of Greek tradition (the story of Jason and the Argonauts, for example, is the most obvious parallel), but The Odyssey remains the most iconic and revered work of its kind (with a direct influence on Virgil's Aeneid). In this, it stands as one of the defining works in all of heroic literature, itself one of humanity's most foundational storytelling genres.

When viewed from the perspective of its characters, there is perhaps most importantly Odysseus himself, who makes frequent use of deception and cunning within the poem (this is perhaps his most defining quality as a hero). In this capacity, he represents one of the great archetypes of the trickster hero which can be found in all of literature.

Taken from the perspective of narrative structure, The Odyssey serves as both a journey homeward (with Odysseus's struggles to return to Ithaca) as well as a revenge story (with Odysseus's killing of the suitors), both of which have become, likewise, quite common literary motifs.

I would say it is by viewing the poem within these longer traditions of storytelling reaching across centuries (continuing from the ancient past into the present day) that one can find the most profound of The Odyssey's influences.

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One theme from the Odyssey that is still relevant today is that of getting caught in a dreamworld. In the Land of Lotus-Eaters, three of Odysseus's men eat the lotus flower, which acts a powerful narcotic. It robs them of memory and ambition and allows them to create their own reality. They want nothing more than to stay in this blissful world. Odysseus must quickly gather everyone up and leave before more of his men eat the lotus. In today's world, many "lotus flower" type addictions surround us, from illegal drugs to video games to prescription painkillers. Staying in the world of reality may be painful but, as the story shows, is necessary to having a real, meaningful life.This theme has influenced literature to the present day: one famous example is Tennyson's poem "The Lotus Eaters." The theme is explored too in an original Star Trek episode called This Side of Paradise.

Overcoming temptation and adversity as part of the road to maturity are also themes of the Odyssey that are still relevant and influential today. Ulysses is tested and gains wisdom because of the length of his journey home and the many obstacles placed in his path. Some are temptations to stay put and stop growing, such as the chance to stay longer with Circe, while some force him to overcome obstacles, such as his encounter with the Cyclops, but all help him to grow. We too mature as we face both temptations and challenges. The fact that we often call life's journey an odyssey attests to the lasting influence of Homer's work.

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One theme of The Odyssey is the importance of loyalty and family. Penelope and Telemachus remain very loyal to Odysseus, their husband and father, respectively, despite the fact that it has been almost twenty years since he left for the Trojan War, and they really don't know for sure if he's dead or alive. His son cannot even remember him! And yet, they continue to hope for his return, and Penelope refuses to marry another (which would, in many ways, have been a much more convenient thing to do).

Likewise, Odysseus, although he doesn't exactly remain sexually faithful to his wife, does remain loyal in the sense that he never stops trying to get home to her and their son. He even relinquishes his chance for immortality with a loving goddess to go home to his family. For Odysseus, as for so many parents, his partner and child are the most important thing to him.

Despite the millennia between Odysseus and the present, the importance of loyalty and family is still paramount in modern society. In this way, his perseverance, despite heavy odds, and unyielding desire to get to them and to do what's best for them is easy to relate to because we experience such hopes as well.

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Homer's Odyssey is an epic poem that still captures the imagination of modern audiences. Themes like the idea of trying to get back home can frequently be found in modern movies and television shows. Movies like Castaway and O Brother, Where Art Thou? both portray a hero struggling to return home. For several years, the television show Lost examined the trials and tribulations faced by a group of people who were seeking to return to civilization.

Another theme from the Odyssey that remains appealing is trying to discover one's identity, trying to discover who we really are. In the Odyssey, the title character goes from being one of the conquerors of Troy, one of the most famous warriors in the world, to being unknown. At one point, Odysseus even makes up a rather ironic name for himself:

“Cyclops, you asked my name, and I will tell it: give me afterwards a guest gift as you promised. My name is Nobody. Nobody, my father, mother, and friends call me.” (A.S. Kline translation)

Although Odysseus is speaking in jest, at this point in his journey he has to resort to concealing his identity. This will not be the last time Odysseus has to hide who he really is. Only after numerous struggles and adventures does Odysseus finally reach home; but, even there, he must deny who he is until he can defeat the suitors.

In many ways, college becomes our own personal odyssey. We meet many different peoples and learn many different things. In the process, we hopefully discover who we really are and what we really want to do with our lives.

 

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