Why does Athena favor Odysseus in Book 1 of the Odyssey?

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When Athena appeals to Zeus on behalf of Odysseus, she says:

But my heart breaks for Odysseus, that seasoned veteran cursed by fate so long.

Odysseus has been cursed by being kept a prisoner in Calypso's hands too long, under the spell of her enchantment. Calypso holds him in the...

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When Athena appeals to Zeus on behalf of Odysseus, she says:

But my heart breaks for Odysseus, that seasoned veteran cursed by fate so long.

Odysseus has been cursed by being kept a prisoner in Calypso's hands too long, under the spell of her enchantment. Calypso holds him in the proverbial gilded cage of a soft life, but nevertheless Odysseus wishes, after seven years, to return home to Penelope. Athena feels a great deal of sympathy for his desire to see his wife and homeland. She appreciates Odysseus' humane and domestic side: it is his desire to be with his wife and family that moves Athena most deeply.

Athena persuades Zeus to send Hermes with the command to Calypso that she must give up Odysseus. Athena then stands beside Odysseus all the way, always in his corner (sometimes invisibly literally standing in a corner). It can seem odd to us moderns how intimately and personally a goddess can be involved in the life of a human, but the Odyssey shows the Greek belief that the gods were close to their people.

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There is not a point in Homer's epic The Odyssey in which the mighty Zeus's daughter, Athena, states the reason or reasons for her determined efforts on Odysseus's behalf. Throughout The Odyssey, Athena champions Odysseus's cause--his return home to his wife and son--and thwarts Poseidon's equally determined efforts at sabotaging the mortal hero of the Trojan War's journey home. What can logically be surmised, however, is that Athena greatly loves and respects Odysseus, and ample evidence of this affection is offered at the outset of Book I. Early in The Odyssey, Athena appeals to her father, the most powerful of all the gods, for Zeus's support for Odysseus. Note, in the following passages, Athena's obvious devotion to and love for Odysseus:

". . .my heart breaks for Odysseus, that seasoned veteran cursed by fate so long — far from his loved ones still, he suffers torments off on a wave-washed island rising at the center of the seas. . .

"Olympian Zeus, have you no care for him in your lofty heart? Did he never win your favor with sacrifices burned beside the ships on the broad plain of Troy? Why, Zeus, why so dead set against Odysseus?"

As Zeus responds to his beloved daughter's entreaties on Odysseus's behalf, he rejects any notion of hostility towards the mortal hero of the Trojan War. On the contrary, he professes a certain fondness for Odysseus--a fondness evident in his willingness to allow Athena to battle Poseidon's efforts at denying Odysseus the latter's goal, to return home to Penelope and Telemachus. 

As noted, Athena's interest in Odysseus's welfare is pervasive throughout Homer's story. She respects Odysseus, and gives every indication of loving him. She does not say outright why she wants to help him, but her words are so filled with admiration for Odysseus that one can easily conclude that aids him in his voyage because she loves him.

 
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Athena's favor towards Odysseus is a major theme throughout the Odyssey. In fact, she is his "guardian goddess." As the goddess of battle and wisdom, Athena shows favor towards Odysseus because he exemplifies many of the qualities that are most important to her. Throughout the Odyssey, all of Athena's words and interactions revolve around Odysseus in some way, further illustrating the degree to which she favors him.

One of the primary reasons why Athena favors Odysseus is that she admires his character. Despite being a "mere mortal," Odysseus never gives up in the face of the many challenges presented to him. He is a strong leader and exercises wisdom on many occasions. Odysseus also appreciates Athena's favor and influence, which encourages her to grant him more favors in return. Athena's admiration is evident when she allows Odysseus to fight the suitors rather than intervening directly. This shows she trusts him and has faith in his skill as a warrior.

Another reason why Athena shows favor to Odysseus is his heroism. Despite the fact that he does many un-heroic things throughout the story, he is a strong character with an equally strong will. His reputation precedes him, so the goddess Athena is already well aware of his character by the time the story begins. Although he has the favor of the gods, Odysseus delivers justice with his own power.

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