Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

Start Free Trial

In Book 13 of the Odyssey, what does the mist, making Ithaca unrecognizable to Odysseus, symbolize about the island and him?

Quick answer:

The mist in book 13 of the Odyssey that makes the island unrecognizable represents the change that has occurred while Odysseus was gone. When a person leaves home and then has new experiences and gains new perspectives, "home" doesn't always seem quite like the place it did before, when it was all the person knew. In this sense, one can never really go home again.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Athena has "showered mist" over all the island so that she can meet with and disguise Odysseus, as well as acquaint him with "every peril" he will encounter now that he has returned home. This mist both conceals Odysseus from anyone else's prying eyes as well as conceals the landscape of Ithaca so that Odysseus does not recognize it at first.

Literally, I think that it does make sense for Odysseus to jump to conclusions that he is not home; after all, he's been trying to get home for a decade and has been away for a total of two. He's nearly made it once or twice only to have something terrible happen and have his hopes dashed. He's also been betrayed by his own crew, so it seems logical that it would be hard to believe that the Phaeacians, relative strangers, did right by him. (It is weird that they left him there, fast asleep, surrounded by all his treasures on the shore.)

However, figuratively, I think there's another possibility: Odysseus doesn't recognize his home and he isn't recognized at home because he is a changed person. He has been away for a long time and endured lots of hardships. In some sense, once one leaves home, if home is symbolic of innocence and familiarity, one can never really go "home" again, because home will feel different to one who views it with new perspective.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial