Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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What did Odysseus learn on his adventure in The Odyssey?

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The more we think about Odysseus, the more we will realize how much he has learned throughout his journey to and from Troy to Ithaca. The previous answer offers good insights. Allow me to add another: Odysseus learned the importance of the gods.

When Odysseus was a younger man, he may have been proud of his wiles. He was certainly a cut above other men in terms of his cleverness. On account of this fact, he might have been able to get ahead. After all, he was the one who, according to tradition, thought of the idea of the Trojan Horse. So, we can say that he was a master of artifice. However, he angered the gods (Poseidon in particular), so he paid the price. He learned that his tricks sometimes do not work.

When he was in Ogygia, stranded, he came to realize that only the gods could help. Hermes comes down to deliver a message from Zeus to Calypso: “Let Odysseus go.” On the way home, Odysseus finds the favor of Athena. So, he learns, once again, the importance of the aid of the gods.

Finally, when he arrives and kills the suitors, from one perspective, his trouble has only just begun. The families of the slain suitors are about to counterattack. The situation looks bleak. This is where Athena comes in again and brings peace. If book 24 were made into a play, there would be a veritable deus ex machina. Athena saves the day:

Hold back, men of Ithaca, from the wearisome fighting, so that most soon, and without blood, you can settle everything.

In the end, Odysseus learns that he is clever, but not that clever. He needs the gods; they do not need him.

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I would say that one of most significant things Odysseus learns on his journey home from Troy is who he really is: he rediscovers who Odysseus is and what it means to be Odysseus.

Throughout his adventures, Odysseus constantly encounters questions and challenges about his identity. At times, he is tempted to forget who he is (as in the case of his encounter with the Lotus-Eaters). At times, Odysseus reduces himself to a person without an identiy, as when he tells the Cyclops that his name is Nobody. Sometimes, Odysseus disguises who he is, as when he returns to Ithaca and disguises himself as a beggar. On many occasions, Odysseus tells stories, pretending to be someone else, and tells other people (including his own wife and father) that he has seen Odysseus.

Another thing Odysseus learns is to be cautious about revealing who he is until just the right moment. His revelation of his name to the Cyclops at the wrong time allows the Cyclops to be able to curse Odysseus.

Finally, Odysseus learns the meaning of "home." Throughout the Odyssey, the hero sleeps in many beds. He sleeps with goddesses (Calypso and Circe), he sleeps in caves, he sleeps in leaves after he washes ashore on Phaeacia. He does not truly reach his home, though, until he reveals the secret of the bed he shares with Penelope. Once Odysseus tells Penelope the "true secret of our marriage bed", then he has finally returned to the home in which a true Greek belongs.

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