Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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Why does Odysseus want to go home in The Odyssey?

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In the Odyssey, Odysseus wants to go home first because he has been away for twenty years and second because he longs to be reunited with his wife, son, and father.

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By the time Homer's Odyssey begins, Odysseus has been away from home for twenty years. The first ten or so of those were taken up by the Trojan War, and he faced many hardships along with his fellow Greeks during that time. But even after the end of the...

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war, Odysseus has a difficult time making it home. He is waylaid by one adventure after another. He is detained in the Land of the Lotus Eaters, captured by the Cyclops, enchanted by Circe, tempted by the Sirens, drawn into the netherworld, and held under Calypso's spell.

Yet all this time, something is still pulling him toward home. Perhaps it is more accurate to say "someone." Twenty years before, Odysseus left his wife, Penelope, in their home in Ithaca when he went off to war. What's more, the couple has a son, Telemachus, who was very young when his father left. Above all, Odysseus wants to go home to see them as well as to reconnect with his father, Laertes.

Of course, when Odysseus gets home, he walks into chaos. His house is filled with suitors who, thinking Odysseus long dead, are intent upon winning Penelope's hand in marriage. They are making a real nuisance of themselves and wasting Odysseus's estate in the process. He enters his home disguised as a beggar, proves his identity by using his own bow to shoot an arrow through twelve axes, and then, with the enthusiastic help of Telemachus, makes short work of those suitors. Indeed, Odysseus has come home at long last.

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What made Odysseus want to return home to his wife after he had been gone for twenty whole years?

Odysseus always planned to return home after the war. He was delayed for so long by misfortunes that befell him because he offended the gods. He dreams of returning to his wife, son, and home. Though he had a pleasurable time with Calypso--for seven years--he still wanted to go back to Ithaca. He loved the wife he left behind and was happy with the life he had there.

Homer writes that Odysseus looks out over the waves mournfully every day. Eventually, Calypso realizes how unhappy he is and is told to set him free. Though they've had a relationship together and been together for years, it's clear that Odysseus won't be happy on her island. He sets out but still has more obstacles to overcome before he can return to Ithaca, slay the suitors, and begin to live the rest of his life with his wife and family.

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What made Odysseus want to return home to his wife after he had been gone for twenty whole years?

There was no one specific event that made Odysseus want to return home to his wife, Penelope, after twenty years.  Honestly he didn't really want to leave in the first place, but he got called away to fight Troy on behalf of Menelaus whose wife, Helen, had been abducted Paris, the prince of Troy.  Odysseus was away from home for the first ten years because that is how long the Trojan War lasted.  Eventually, he conceived of the Trojan Horse idea, and this is what turned the tide of the war; it's how the Achaeans actually got inside the walls of Troy and eventually defeated the Trojans.

Odysseus tried to go right home to Ithaca, but a number of unfortunate events (some his fault, others not) occurred to delay him.  After yet another ten years, Odysseus remains just as committed to reaching home as he ever was.  His tenacity and perseverance, as well as his (relative) loyalty to his wife and religious piety, were seen as much to be admired by the ancient Greeks.

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How does Odysseus longing to return to his wife eventually lead to his homecoming?

Odysseus spent two decades away from his wife, Penelope. The first ten were spent fighting in the Trojan War—against his will, according to legend. The latter ten were spent trying to return home. Seven of those years were spent on the island of Ogygia, trapped by the goddess Calypso. Calypso wanted to marry Odysseus, bear him children, and grant him immortality.

This was a compelling offer! Calypso was far more beautiful than Penelope, whose mortal beauty could never rival that of a goddess. It would have been easy for Odysseus to let his memories of home and desire to return there fade over time, overshadowed by the beautiful goddess in front of him, but Odysseus remained fixated on his goal of returning to Penelope and refused the goddess' advances. As Homer wrote,

[H]is eyes were never dry of tears, and his sweet life was ebbing away, as he longed mournfully for his return, for the nymph was no longer pleasing in his sight. By night indeed he would sleep by her side perforce in the hollow caves, unwilling beside the willing nymph, but by day he would sit on the rocks and the sands, racking his soul with tears and groans and griefs, and he would look over the unresting sea, shedding tears.

Athena was moved by this and took pity on Odysseus. She eventually convinced Zeus to let Odysseus return home.

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Why does Odysseus long to return home and is solely devoted to his wife, despite being tempted even by goddessses?

The Ancient Greeks were not as prudish and puritanical about fidelity as many Americans are today.  Americans all to often romanticize marriage with idealistic notions of fate, destiny, and lifelong commitment; others see it as a moralistic institution because of Judeo-Christian codes of sanctity.

The Greeks were obviously not from either of these ideologies: they were humanists who saw humans as individualistic and rational creatures.  Even their gods suffered from human vices.  Zeus was not monogamous with Hera: he fathered countless other gods, goddesses, and demi-gods.

Thus, is the plight of Odysseus, the epic hero of The Odyssey.  To us, his relations with the goddesses make him look like an adulterer, and his belief that Penelope be faithful looks like a double standard.

Homer must make Odysseus epic: in battle and in the bedroom.  He must have his virtues and his vices, such is the duality of Homer's humanistic portrayal.  Like Zeus' infidelities and Poseidon's wrath, Odysseus too has a weaknesses: vanity and hubris.  Because he is the champion of Troy, heads above his mortal colleagues, Odysseus feels deserving of the good things in life: wine, women, and song (much like Tiger Woods, who admitted to such over the weekend in his public statement).

Odysseus cannot resist a goddess.  Going to be with Calypso and Circe gives him immortality, and it shows his greatnesses.  He is desired by the gods.  Even Athena wants this of Odysseus: she condones it.

After a while, Odysseus grows bored of the goddesses, such is his desire to rejoin the human world.  This is the basis of Greek humanism: human qualities are more important than supernatural ones.  So, Odysseus' longing for Penelope, who is older and less attractive than the sea nymphs, is the strongest form of love, according to the Greeks.  Odysseus rejects immortality in favor of home and wife.

In this way, Homer makes his hero immortal.  In the end, Odysseus is human, like us, great in his sins and suffering.

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