Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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How does Odysseus demonstrate honor in Homer's Odyssey?

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Odysseus shows honor numerous times in Homer's Odyssey. He shows it by giving wise counsel when he comes up with the idea of the Trojan Horse. His honor also gets him in trouble when it compels him to tell the Cyclops his real name. Odysseus honors the gods as well and orders his men not to kill Helios' cattle. Honor also compels Odysseus to kill the suitors in Ithaka.

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There are numerous instances in the Odyssey in which Odysseus shows his honor. Keep in mind that Odysseus is a proud man. This pride often gets him into trouble. However, it is also a common source of his honor. To the Greeks of Homer 's time, the honor came from...

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accomplishing great and noteworthy feats. This could be achieved on the battlefield, in counsel, or in being gracious to others.

Odysseus shows his honor in his plan to use a wooden horse to infiltrate Troy. Menelaus tells Telemachus that it was Odysseus who came up with this risky but ultimately successful plan. By devising a way to win the war, Odysseus rises in honor among the Greeks.

Odysseus is a wise and thoughtful man. He is also boastful. After he outsmarts the Cyclops, his honor and pride compel him to reveal his true identity. He wants all to know how he was victorious. Unfortunately, this act condemns his crew to death and Odysseus to a long and turbulent journey home.

Odysseus's honor of the gods is strong. Whenever he encounters one of them, he treats them with respect and reverence. Even though they are on the verge of starvation, Odysseus orders his men not to harm Helios's cattle. He would rather honor the god and go hungry than risk his wrath. Unfortunately, his orders are ignored, and Helios calls on Zeus to punish them.

By his journey's end, Odysseus's notion of honor has been somewhat tempered. While he would have liked to attack the suitors outright to defend the honor of his wife and household, he waits and is humiliated in the meantime. Disguised as an old beggar, he even tells one of the suitors that he regrets his old ways.

I, too, seemed destined to be a man of fortune once
and a wild wicked swath I cut, indulged my lust for violence,
staking all on my father and my brothers.
Look at me now.
And so, I say, let no man be lawless all his life,
just take in peace what gifts the gods will send. (18.158–63)

When he eventually does kill the suitors, it is not an act of heroism meant to satisfy his pride. Rather, it is an act of honor.

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What are some tests of honor shown by Odysseus?

Throughout the epic, Odysseus is repeatedly tested. As a leader, he is responsible for guiding his men, who often do not behave as scrupulously as he might have wished. Not only must he exhibit heroism and valor but also exercise good judgment, especially in tempting situations. Honor and pride often go hand in hand, and the line between them can be blurred.

One test that Odysseus faces is his ability to rescue his men and himself from Polyphemus. Although he successfully tricks the Cyclops by lying and bending the truth, which may not seem honorable: Odysseus first tells the blinded giant that he was defeated by “Nobody.” At the last minute, however, he decides to own his action, and reveals his actual name. In this regard, Odysseus set himself the test of acting with honor rather than hiding behind a half-truth.

Another honor-related test came when his men disregarded his instruction and ate the Sun God’s cattle. Faced with starvation, they thought with their bellies and, although Odysseus had specifically told them not to do it: the cows belonged to Helios, who would severely punish them. Still, they killed and ate the sacred cows. After they left the island, many of the men perished in a storm at sea. Odysseus, however, did not succumb. He adhered to the gods’ injunction so they spared his life.

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What are some tests of honor shown by Odysseus?

Well, this is a rather difficult question because honor for a Homeric Greek and honor for a modern American are two different things.

For a Homeric Greek, honor is acquired by achieving glorious deeds in battle and by speaking wise words in council. Odysseus had acquired plenty of honor in battle as someone who fought and survived the Trojan War. Another way that a Homeric Greek could gain honor was by being given gifts by their hosts. The people of Phaeacia, for example, give Odysseus lots of valuable gifts as a token of remembrance for his visit to their land.

As for tests of honor shown by Odysseus, it's not really clear what is meant by this question. Does Odysseus test other people's honor? That does seem to occur at various points in the epic.

In Odyssey 9, for example, Odysseus tests the Cyclops to see if the creature will behave respectably towards strangers (namely, he and his men).

Likewise, once Odysseus returns to his native land, he tests both the members of his household and the suitors to see if they will behave in an honorable fashion. He tests the swineherd Eumaeus to see if he remains loyal to Odysseus. Eumaeus proves himself as honorable by almost literally giving Odysseus the shirt off his back.

Odysseus also tests the suitors to see if anyone honorable exists among them. Unfortunately for the suitors, none of them were found honorable and so Odysseus ends up killing them all.

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