Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 777
Odysseus (oh-DIH-see-uhs), a Greek mythological hero who fought for ten years in the Trojan War and then spent ten more years returning home to Ithaca. In The Odyssey, written by Homer in about 800 b.c.e. , Odysseus is first and foremost a family man; in this...
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Odysseus (oh-DIH-see-uhs), a Greek mythological hero who fought for ten years in the Trojan War and then spent ten more years returning home to Ithaca. In The Odyssey, written by Homer in about 800 b.c.e., Odysseus is first and foremost a family man; in this modern version, which begins after Odysseus’ murder of the suitors in book 22 of Homer’s version, Odysseus resembles more the Ulysses of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno (The Divine Comedy, c. 1320) and of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses” (1842): a bold sailor with a wanderlust and an unquenchable desire for knowledge. Sickened by the ignorance of his people and feeling no bond to his aged wife, Penelope, and his too-prudent son, Telemachus (tuh-LEH-muh-kuhs), Odysseus leaves Ithaca with a crew of five and sails to Sparta. In Sparta, he visits his old friend and war companion, Menelaus (meh-nuh-LAY-uhs), whom he helps quell a rebellion. He is, however, so repelled by Menelaus’ decision to forsake his old life of adventure for a peaceful, hedonistic old age that he quickly leaves Sparta, taking with him Menelaus’ wife, Helen, who is still as passionate and lustful as when she ran off with Paris twenty years earlier. Odysseus’ next port of call is Knossos, Crete, the kingdom of the old and impotent King Idomeneus (i-DOM-ee-news). As Odysseus arrives, Idomeneus has just undergone a mysterious bull ritual that has both revived his youth and virility and increased his tyrannical nature. Idomeneus arrests Odysseus and takes Helen as his new bride. Odysseus escapes and assists in a revolution that combines the numbers of the oppressed proletarian classes and the strength of the barbaric, iron-wielding Dorian race that is invading Greece from the north. Odysseus then sails to Egypt, leaving behind Helen, who chooses to marry one of the Dorians and beget a new race of Greeks. Odysseus soon learns that Egypt, too, is seething with revolt as a result of a famine and the weak rule of the poet-loving pharaoh. Eventually, Odysseus escapes from Egypt, taking with him a large army of societal outcasts. Throughout his journeys, Odysseus seeks true freedom and purification by releasing himself from all traditional ties and propelling himself forward through the evolutionary stages of humanity. He promises his army that he will lead them to the source of the Nile, where they will build an ideal city in the image of a new god of vengeance that Odysseus has created himself to take the place of the old Olympian gods. The city is built but then destroyed by an earthquake. In response, Odysseus rejects all gods as creations of humans, strips himself of all illusions (including heaven, virtue, and hope), and embraces only death as his companion. Now alone, Odysseus becomes a famous ascetic and, as he travels southward toward the tip of Africa, he encounters and debates with a series of allegorical figures: an enlightenment-seeking Buddha figure (Prince Motherth); a blind hermit; an idealistic Don Quixote figure (Captain Sole); a hedonistic lord; and a pacifistic Christ-figure. Odysseus’ journey ends in the frozen wastes of Antarctica. In the moment of his death, he is visited in memory by all the characters he has encountered during his journeys.
Kentaur, a fat, splayfooted glutton who joins Odysseus’ crew. Though generally controlled by his sexual and physical appetites, Kentaur is a tenderhearted man, fiercely loyal to Odysseus and his quest for freedom and growth. Kentaur dies saving a group of children from the earthquake that destroys the ideal city.
Rocky, the only member of Odysseus’ crew not from Ithaca. He is a shepherd of Sparta who catches Odysseus’ eye by his brave looting of an eagle’s nest. Though he hates the sea, Rocky joins the crew and is soon seduced by Odysseus’ lust for freedom. While in Africa, he becomes the chief of a tribe and vows he will civilize them. Like Kentaur, he dies in the earthquake.
Hardihood, a bronze smith who joins Odysseus in hopes of learning from the Dorians the secrets of iron. After the revolution on Crete, he stays behind to become the new ruler.
Granite, a tough and proud aristocrat who joins Odysseus’ crew after abandoning his own homeland, where he killed his brother in a duel over a woman. After the earthquake, Granite leaves Odysseus to found his own ideal city.
Orpheus (OHR-fee-uhs), a piper who abandons the crew while on a special mission in Africa. Odysseus had sent Orpheus to appease a hostile tribe with a new god that he and Orpheus had created together. Unfortunately, unlike the god-battling Odysseus, Orpheus comes to believe in the human-made god and becomes a witch doctor.