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The Odyssey

by Homer
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When Odysseus first returns to Ithaca in book 13 of the Odyssey, he assumes he is in another far-off unknown island with unknown inhabitants. Athena has cast a mist over the island to make it unrecognizable to him. If we treat this situation figuratively or symbolically, what does this mist which makes the island unrecognizable mean or represent? If it is not to be understood supernaturally, what can't Odysseus recognize about the island, and what might it say about him?

The mist in book 13 of the Odyssey that makes the island unrecognizable represents the change that has occurred while Odysseus was gone. When a person leaves home and then has new experiences and gains new perspectives, "home" doesn't always seem quite like the place it did before, when it was all the person knew. In this sense, one can never really go home again.

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Athena has "showered mist" over all the island so that she can meet with and disguise Odysseus, as well as acquaint him with "every peril" he will encounter now that he has returned home. This mist both conceals Odysseus from anyone else's prying eyes as well as conceals the landscape...

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Athena has "showered mist" over all the island so that she can meet with and disguise Odysseus, as well as acquaint him with "every peril" he will encounter now that he has returned home. This mist both conceals Odysseus from anyone else's prying eyes as well as conceals the landscape of Ithaca so that Odysseus does not recognize it at first.

Literally, I think that it does make sense for Odysseus to jump to conclusions that he is not home; after all, he's been trying to get home for a decade and has been away for a total of two. He's nearly made it once or twice only to have something terrible happen and have his hopes dashed. He's also been betrayed by his own crew, so it seems logical that it would be hard to believe that the Phaeacians, relative strangers, did right by him. (It is weird that they left him there, fast asleep, surrounded by all his treasures on the shore.)

However, figuratively, I think there's another possibility: Odysseus doesn't recognize his home and he isn't recognized at home because he is a changed person. He has been away for a long time and endured lots of hardships. In some sense, once one leaves home, if home is symbolic of innocence and familiarity, one can never really go "home" again, because home will feel different to one who views it with new perspective.

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