Athena and Posidon in the Odyssey | Teen Ink

Athena and Posidon in the Odyssey

May 13, 2015
By Sar_liz GOLD, Warren, Michigan
Sar_liz GOLD, Warren, Michigan
18 articles 3 photos 2 comments

As Odysseus makes the long journey back to Ithaca  he is both supported and antagonized.  He is given divine support by Athena, but is opposed by Poseidon.  The two Olympians were involed in a contest for protector of Athens, which Athena won.  This did not sit well with Athena's uncle Poseidon, and it isn't surprising that the god and goddess went against each other in Homer's Odyssey.


The main reason for Poseidon's anger towards Odysseus comes from Odysseus' blinding of the cyclops Polyphemus.  It is in Chapter 9 that we find out how about this event.  During Odysseus' journey he makes a wrong turn and ends up in the land of the Cyclopes.  It is here that he meets Polyphemus and becomes trapped in his cave.  Polyphemus is not god-fearing and grabs Odysseus' men whenever he feels like it and eats them.  Odysseus must come up with a plan to escape being eaten.  His plan involves an olive pole, which he and his men cut and sharpen.  Then Odysseus gets Polyphemus drunk off the wine he has brought him as an offering and lights the end of the olive pole with fire.  He and his men point the pole in Polyphemus' eye and twist it, blinding him.  The fact that Athena is attributed to the olive tree is very important in this instance since it is the olive pole and Odysseus' craftiness that help him escape Polyphemus' cave.  The olive is especially important to Athena also because it is the gift she gave to the mortals in the contest against Poseidon, thus being rewarded with a city named after her, the city she named Athens.


As Odysseus and his crew are espcaping, Polyphemus prays to Poseidon: “Hear me, Poseidon, Sustainer of the Earth, god of the sable locks.  If I am yours indeed and you claim as your son, grant that Odysseus, sacker of cities and son of Laertes, may never reach his home in Ithaca.  But if he is destined to see his friend again, to come once more to his own house and reach his native land, let him come late, in wretched plight, having lost all his comrades, in a foreign ship, and let him find trouble in his home.”(Pages 123-124, Lines 526-534).  Poseidon is outraged at Odysseus' behavior while at Polyphemus' cave.  He not only seeks revenge after his son is blinded, but also because of the taunting Polyphemus endured from Odysseus  There is no doubt that Odysseus feels this anger later on as Poseidon stirs up the sea to give him trouble.


It is Athena in the beginning of the Odyssey who tells her father Zeus to free Odysseus from Calypso's control.  While Poseidon is off accepting a sacrifice, the rest of the Olympians are gathered on Mount Olympus.  Upon hearing Athena's plead Zeus replies:“How could I ever forget the admirable Odysseus?  He is not only the wisest man alive but has been the most generous in his offerings to the immortals who live in the wide heaven.  It is Poseidon, Sustainer of the Earth, who is so implaceable towards him on account of the Cyclops, godlike Polyphemus, the most powerful of the Cyclopes, whom Odysseus blinded.  His mother was the Nymph Thoosa, daughter of Phorcys, Lord of the Salt Sea Waves; and it was Poseidon who gave her this child when he slept with him in her cavern hollowed by the sea  That is why, ever since Polyphemus was blinded, Poseidon the Earth-shaker has kept Odysseus in exile, though he stops short of killing him.  But come now, let all of us here together contrive a plan to bring him home.  Poseidon will relent.  For he will not be able to struggle on alone against the united will of the immortal gods.'” (Pages 4-5 lines 65-79).  The meeting concludes with
Athena remarking that Hermes should travel to Ogygia to tell Calypso to set Odysseus free.


Athena also helps Odysseus' wife Penelope and son Telemachus.  To Penelope she gives gifts of fine handicraft and quick-wit, which allows her to trick the suitors for some time when she tells them she is weaving a shroud for Laertes.  When it comes to Telemachus she often disguises herself as Mentor, an old friend of Odysseus, to speak to him.  In one instance she says: “'You, meanwhile, will soon be starting this journey you have set your heart on.  For am I not your father's friend, and ready to find you a fast ship and sail with you myself?  Go home now and show yourself to the Suitors.  Then get provisions ready and stow them all in containers, the wine in jars, and the barley-meal, that gives men strength, in strong skins.  Meanwhile, I will soon collect a crew of volunteers in the town.  And there are plenty of ships, old and new, in sea-girt Ithaca.  I myself will pick out the best for you, and we'll have her rigged in no time and launch her on the open sea.'” (Page 22, lines 285-294)  With the help of Athena, Telemachus went off to Pylos and Lacedaemon to seek news of his father, to try to find out if there was any hope in a return of Odysseus.


Back in Ogygia, the messenger god Hermes had finally arrived.  Athena had gotten her way with Zeus, and Odysseus was finally going to be on the way to Ithaca once again.  However, not long after taking off on his raft, Odysseus feels the wrath of Poseidon.  In Chapter 5 Poseidon exclaims: “'Damnation!  I had only to go to Ethiopia for the gods to change their minds about Odysseus!  And there he is, close to the Phaeacians' land, where he is destined to bring his long ordeal to an end.  Nevertheless I mean to let him have a bellyful of trouble yet.'” (Page 70, lines 287-291).  After that Poseidon took in his hands his trident and stirred up the sea, darkened the sky, and gave Odysseus a storm he would never forget.  All hope seemed to be lost for Odysseus as he cried out: “'Poor wretch that I am, what will become of me after all?” (Page 70, line 299).  After this a wave crashes upon him and he is thrown off his raft.  Poseidon sends him another earthshaking wave and takes off to Aegae.  Athena then steps in and calms down the waves, giving Odysseus a chance yet.


Days pass and Odysseus is still thrashed about by the sea.  One wave in particular brings him almost to his death as he is pushed toward shore and into rocks.  Without Athena's help in giving him the idea to grab ahold of a rock, Odysseus' life would have come to an end.  After more struggle Odysseus makes it to the surface and comes to a river's mouth.  He prays to the god of the stream and is given a favorable current.  He reaches land and finds shelter under olive bushes and his eyes are filled with sleep by Athena.  This is yet another instance where Athena's gift to the mortals, the olive tree comes into play.  The olive tree was chosen as the winner of the contest because of what it offers: food, oil, and wood.  In this case it provides Odysseus with much needed shelter after his long sea ordeal.


There are many other instances when the olive proves useful in the Odyssey.  The blinding of Polyphemus with an olive pole is pretty obvious, but there are other incidents when the olive is used in  less obvious manner, like for instance the role it provides in giving Odysseus a place to sleep.  It is also used in Eumaeus' hut when Odysseus' food is mixed up in an olive-wood bowl.  Olive oil is also rubbed onto Odysseus after he is bathed.  Both food serving and bathing seem to be part of the hospitality of most people Odysseus and Telemachus incounter.  It seems as though all strangers seemed to receive this hospitality when welcomed by people.  Showing hospitality seems to have been expected, especially if you wanted Zeus and the other gods on your side.


Athena then goes to the country of the Phaeacians where Odysseus has washed up on shore.  She makes her way to Alcinous' palace, her focus set on getting Odysseus his return to Ithaca.  She speaks to Alcinous' daughter Nausicaa in her sleep, who thinks all that she hears is a dream.  She immediately tells her Father about it the next morning.  Athena had told her she was lazy and needed to go wash her clothes first thing in the morning, so that is what Nausicaa set out the do.  Athena cleverly arranges this so that Nausicaa will run into Odysseus by the river and she does, but with a little more intervention by Athena, as she makes sure Odysseus wakes up before the princess leaves to go back to the palace and gives  Nausicaa the courage to speak to him.  She also makes sure that Nausicaa is pleased with Odysseus and even makes him more pleasing to the eye, when we read that she makes him taller and sturdier.  Nausicaa gives him food and directions on how to receive help from her father.  As you can see Athena has ingeniously given Odysseus an in with the Phaeacians as Poseidon is patron of the sea-faring Phaeacians.  Athena is very wise to do this in order to get Odysseus home, but she doesn't stop there.  She also comes to meet Odysseus herself disguised as a young girl.  Odysseus asks her for directions and she replies: “'cetrainly, I'll show you the house you want, since it lies close to my good father's place.  But you must follow my lead without a wod, look at nobody and ask no questions.  For the people here have little affection for strangers and do not welcome visitors with open arms.  They put their trust in fast ships that carry them across the far-flung seas, for that is a privilege granted by Poseidon and these ships are as swift as a bird or as thought itself.'” (Page 85, lines 27-34).  In this way Athena prevents any harm coming to Odysseus from the Phaeacians as he makes his way to the palace.  We also read that she puts a magic mist around him to protect him.  Athena goes above and beyond in order to get Odysseus safely to the palace and once there also gives him advice on who to please.   Once in the palace Odysseus is received well and given a ship and crew to go to Ithaca with.  It it thanks to Athena that he is given such hospitality and finally gets to his land, for this is his final voyage, the voyage in which he reaches Ithaca.


As Odysseus is sleeping the Phaecian ship lands in Ithaca.  They lift him out of the ship and into the sand and place his treasures near an olive tree.  It is Athena who had prompted these treasures to be given to Odysseus and it is her that seems to be guarding them with the olive tree she is attributed to.  Odysseus' safe arrival with the Phaecians enrages Poseidon, who goes to speak his mind to his brother Zeus.  He says to him: “Father Zeus, the mortal gods will lose respect for me, now that these mortals fail to respect me, these Phaeacians, I mean, who after all are my descendants.  I said that Odysseus would suffer much before he reached his home, though I never put a final ban on his return, once you had promised it and nodded your assent.  But now these people have brought him over the sea in their good ship and landed him asleep in Ithaca, after showering gifts upon him, countless gifts of bronze, gold and woven stuffs; far more than he could ever have won for himself from Troy even if he had come back unhurt with his fair share of the spoils.” (Page 172, Lines 127-138).  Poseidon's anger with the Phaeacians for allowing Odysseus a safe and easy ride home end in him turning their ship into stone right as they are approaching their own land.  This shows just how angry Poseidon is in having his own people help Odysseus, the person whom he has been anatagonizing throughout his whole journey.


After Odysseus wakes up he doesn't realize what land he is in.  This is because Athena has placed a mist on it to look unrecognizable to him.  She appears to Odysseus once again disguised, this time as a young shepherd, and tells him that he is in Ithaca.  Odysseus, feeling like a fool tries to make up a story of how he got there.  Athena at once realizes his lies and tells him who she is.  He quickly says: “it is hard for a man to recognize you at sight, however expert he may be, for you are always changing your disguise.  But this I know well, that you were gracious to me in the old days so long as we Achaeans were campaigning at Troy.  Yet when we had sacked Priam's lofty citadel and gone on board our ships, and a god had scattered the Archaean fllet, I did not notice you then, Daughter of Zeus, nor see you set foot on my ship to save me from any of my ordeals.  No; I was left to wander through the world with a stricken heart, till the gods put an end to my sufferings and the day came, in the rich land of the Phaeacians, when you comforted me with your talk and yourself guided me to their city.  But now I beseech you in your Father's name since I cannot believe that I have come to my bright Ithaca but feel that I must be wandering in some foreign country and that you spoke as you did in a spirit of provocation to lead me astray – tell me, am I really back in my own beloved land?” (Page 177, lines 311-329)  With that Athena tells him his mind is always working and that his quick-witted and persuasive nature are what has made her want to help him.  She also says “As for your home-coming,  I myself was never in any doubt: I knew in my heart that you would get back, though with the loss of all your men.  But you must understand that I was not prepared to oppose my uncle Poseidon, who was incensed when you blinded his own son, and has nursed his grudge against you.” (page 177 lines 340-344).  Athena then removes the mist she had created over Ithaca and Odysseus recognizes the land at once.  She then helps Odysseus hide his gifts and sits down with him under an olive tree to figure out a plan of attack on how to deal with the problems in Ithaca.  Athena says: “Odysseus, favourite of Zeus, son of Laertes, master of ingenuity, consider now how you will come to grips with these shameless Suitors who for three whole years have been lording it in your palace, paying court to your imcomparable wife and offering her marriage-gifts.  All this time she has pined for your homecoming, and though she has given them all some grounds for hope and made promises in private messages to each, her real wishes are very different.” (Page 178, lines 373-382).  After saying this Athena devises a plan to disguise Odysseus as a beggar and gives him instructions to go to Eumaeus' hut.  She then takes off to help Telemachus get back home.


Athena tells Telemachus to hurry home and to be careful of the suitors who are after him.  She also tells him to go to Eumaeus' hut first thing when he returns.  Odysseus is still at the hut when Telemachus arrives, but doesn't tell him that he is his father.  After Telemachus sends Eumaeus to tell his mother he is home, Athena arrives, disguised a tall and beautiful woman.  She stands outside the window and gestures for Odysseus to come outside.  She then tells him to let Telemachus know who he is so that they may plot an end for the suitors.  After saying this she gives him fresh clothes and gives him a godly appearance.  Odysseus then convinces his son of who he is and they start planning for their attack.  But before Eumaeus the swinherd returns Athena is quick to transform Odysseus back into an old beggar, for fear that he may recognize Odysseus otherwise.


Odysseus later goes to his palace, still in his old beggar disguise as to not have the suitors think that he is back in Ithaca.  On the day in which the suitors plan a festival, Athena calls for a test of skill.     The prize awarded being Penelope's hand in marriage.  The winner is to be whoever strings the bow, which Athena has promped Penelope to get out, and shoots an arrow through twelve axes.  The winner of the contest is Odysseus, who still looks like a beggar to the suitors.  Odysseus kills Antinous with an arrow and then tells the suitors who he is.  Odysseus shoots the suitors until his arrows run out.  Athena appears, as Mentor to encourage him to keep fighting.  She then turns into a swallow and the battle continues.  Each time the suitors attempt to throw spears at Odysseus, Athena makes sure they miss.  Athena not only prompts the contest to occur, but also makes sure that once the battle begins, Odysseus comes out on top.


After the battle Odysseus is reunited with his wife.  He is bathed and Athena makes him appear as an everlasting god.  Odysseus' wife Penelope tells Odysseus that their bed has been moved, their bed built around an olive tree.  She says this because at first she does not believe it is him, but once he tells her what the bed looks like and is made of she knows it is him.  Not only does Odysseus sleep in shelters of olive trees, but his own bed with Penelope is from the tree as well.


  Odysseus is home again and his home is free of the suitors.  He sets out to meet with his father and tell him that he has arrived home and that the suitors are gone.  Because Odysseus has killed men from many cities, people start to get angry with him as they hear of his killing.  As a battle starts to unfold Athena works to restore peace between both sides. 


Athena works hard throughout the Odyssey to help Odysseus in any way that she can.  Poseidon  on the other hand works hard to oppose him.  Athena must go against her Uncle in order to get Odysseus safely home, and once there make sure that restores the peace in his home.  Athena's gifts of spinning, weaving, wisdom, and defensive war all come in to play in the story of Odysseus.  The olive tree is an essential indicator that she is supporting Odysseus and we see this symbol of support  many times in the story.  Poseidon, who is god the sea and attributed to the trident uses this to his advantage to make the seas very rough for Odysseus.  The earthshaker does not succeed however in defeating Odysseus and after 20 long years he is back with his people in Ithaca.



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