It could be said that Athena is Odysseus’ “Guardian goddess”; after all, she is the Greek goddess of not only Battle, but Wisdom. Her wrath is what causes the Acheans’ difficulty in getting home, but she seems to have a special place in her heart for Odysseus. Her primary role in the epic seems to be for Odysseus; even the interactions she has with other characters are for the hero’s benefit.
In Book 5, Athena stills the waters Poseidon threw against Odysseus’ ship in an attempt to destroy it, avenging the Cyclops. Thanks to the goddess Odysseus and his crew are allowed to make it to shore. Later, in Book 22, Athena comes to the hero’s aid more as a “coach” or mentor than a participant. She doesn’t fight the suitors herself but encourages Odysseus. This shows her faith in his strength and skill in battle. Athena seems to admire this “mere mortal” a great deal.
In her dealings with Telemachus, Athena is equally supportive. She encourages him to cause as much trouble as he can with the suitors, assuring him that his father is indeed alive. She sends him to Pylos and Sparta to earn a name for himself, obviously believing he has the potential to equal his father, if not outshine him. More than anything, she encourages the boy not to give up and to use the wisdom and battle skills he is developing for the good of his homeland.
In addition to being the goddess of Wisdom and Battle, Athena is goddess of the “Womanly Arts.” Penelope’s work at the loom reflects the dreams Athena brings her, again encouraging her to believe that Odysseus will return. She is constantly watching over the other main characters in this way, more a gentle presence than a demanding power. In this, she is an uncharacteristic goddess for a Greek epic.
Odysseus is the central figure in the Odyssey (it is, of course, named after him). He is a prime example of a Homeric Hero – he exhibits strength, skill, determination, courage, and moral responsibility in his actions throughout the epic, and he is fairly consistent with these traits. His most valuable skill is his intellect, which gets him out of situations that would confound a strongman like Hercules. Odysseus’s strength lies in his intelligence, which enables him to escape from the Cyclops in Book 9 and fool his wife’s suitors near the end of the epic.
As the story begins, Odysseus is comfortable on the island of Calypso, his every wish catered to as long as he doesn’t leave. For many men, this would have been enough after the hardships of the Trojan War and an attempted trip home. For Odysseus, loyalty and a love of his home and family win out over sheer pleasure. After escaping from Calypso’s island,...
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