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Will of the Gods
In the poem The Odyssey by Homer, one can conclude that there is a lot to process in just 266 pages. One could also point out that there are a lot of themes that go into the making up of the poem. Several themes are the power of cunning over strength, misery of separation, and maturation as a journey. The one theme that really stood out above the rest was, that in the poem, everything that happens to the characters is the work or will of the gods. It was not necessarily Odysseus’s’ cunning, strength, and determination that got him home safely to his wife and son, even though that did come in handy at certain times. If it was not for the gods, Odysseus would have not returned home alive.
The poem begins with the ten years after the fall of Troy, with Odysseus still not having returned to his home in Ithaca. Many suitors have tried to overthrow Odysseus’s’ son, Telemachus, and court his wife, Penelope. The suitors have no idea that Odysseus is still alive and well and that he is residing on an island imprisoned by Calypso. Over the next course of events, Odysseus receives much needed aid from the gods such as Athena, Zeus, Hermes, and ironically even Poseidon, who is the nemesis of Odysseus. Telemachus also receives aid from the gods as well. In the end, Odysseus finds his way back home and kills all who stand in his way.
One of the largest, noticeable aids that the gods give Odysseus is the help of Athena. Athena greatly favors Odysseus, and thus her gratitude toward him sways some of the other gods to aid Odysseus as well, but that is touched on later.
One reason why it was the will of the gods, or for the moment Athena, that got Odysseus back home safely was when Athena disguised him as a beggar. By doing this, Odysseus was able to obtain shelter in Eumaeus’s hut and be given nourishment. If Athena had not disguised Odysseus, then he possibly would not received shelter and food from Eumaeus, which would have led him to become weak and not fight and win in his planned massacre.
Athena also uses her will to save Odysseus from Poseidon. If she had not done that and spared Odysseus’s life, his son would have been killed, and his wife would have been married to another man. The will of the gods needed Odysseus to stay alive to fulfill what they wanted to happen to man.
Ironically, Poseidon may have helped Odysseus complete the will of the gods without meaning to. By interfering with Odysseus on his voyage back home, it was accidentally Poseidon’s will to keep Odysseus alive. By coming to his rescue, Athena’s own will triumphed and kept Odysseus alive. In his critical essay “ Odysseus, or Mythos and Enlightenment,” T. W. Adorno states:
Poseidon, Odysseus’s elemental enemy, himself thinks
in concepts of equivalence, even as he continues to wreak
hardship: Odysseus obtains at the stations of his
wanderings more in gifts that his portion of the booty at
Troy would have been, had he been able to convey it to
Ithaca without Poseidon’s interference. (Homer, 1993)
But Odysseus is not the only one who received good aid from Athena. Telemachus also felt the will of the gods upon him. By using her will to persuade Telemachus, he called a meeting to reproach the suitors. Another will that Athena uses to aid Telemachus is to prepare him for a journey to Pylos and Sparta, where he learns that his father is indeed, alive. If Athena had not prepared him for a safe and secure trip to Pylos and Sparta, then perhaps Telemachus would have perished in the journey, never learning that his father was alive and well. Athena states her will clearly:
Few are the sons who are equal to their fathers;
Most are worse, but few are better than their fathers.
If you would not be a coward hereafter, and senseless,
If the counsel of Odysseus has not forsaken you wholly.
Your hope in that case is to bring these deeds to pass.
The gods needed Telemachus alive, and they did this by their own will. They needed him to fulfill their own wills.
Zeus also put his will into his own hands. By sending Hermes to convince Calypso to free Odysseus, it was his own will to unleash man from tightly knit grasps. If Zeus had not sent Hermes, then Odysseus would have remained on the island until his death. This would have resulted in the murdering of his son and the loss of his marriage. Ithaca would have also been overthrown by the suitors. It was in Zeus’s will to prevent any of that from happening.
Zeus also warns Odysseus to head what he has to say and stop the fighting of the Ithacans. In her critical essay “The Reunion of Odysseus and Penelope,” Anne Amory states exactly that:
Zeus hurls a thunderbolt to convince Odysseus that he
must not continue the fight with the Ithacans. Zeus is
the special protector of the kings in Homer, and it is
possible to interpret this omen as a symbol which marks
the final supremacy of the true king returned.
But Zeus is not the only one that tells Odysseus to stop, Athena does the exact same thing:
To Zeus who hurls the thunderbolt, to ask for an outcome
Of lusty marriage for the maidens, as he knows all things
well—what is fated and what not fated for mortal men—
In conclusion, it was in fact the will of the gods that kept Odysseus alive to see his family again. Many of the gods had a part in helping as well, whether or not some of them new it or not. In his critical essay “The Man of Many Turns,” Albert Cook states:
These gods are not objective, standing for the unknown-
and-visible, as in the Iliad. They are clear in the Odyssey,
and yet they too carry according to the observer, who is
then himself objectively presented in the foreground of
the poem. (Homer, 1993)
Odysseus’s fate was always the center of the will of the gods.
Homer. The Odyssey. Edited by Albert Cook. New York: Norton & Company, 1993.