The Odyssey Meaning and Life Lessons

Do you think that The Odyssey teaches us about the meaning of life, or does it just teach us a story?

The “lessons learned by odysseus in the odyssey” is a story that has been told for many years. It is about the journey of Odysseus, a Greek hero who was able to survive many trials and tribulations. The Odyssey teaches lessons about life, love, and death.

Tony Valdes contributes this guest article as an editor’s note.

Welcome back to our Greek mythology series. We established mythology’s essential aspects in earlier sections by looking at the gods of Olympus, mankind’s creation, mortal heroes, and the ten-year war of the Trojan War. In this last piece, we’ll take everything we’ve learned and provide some practical applications to assist us reach our aim of becoming better men.

The Odyssey by Homer

Odysseus is the ruler of Ithaca and one of the heroes of the Trojan War, as you may remember from the last article. Though Achilles is often credited with being the hero of that legendary fight, you might argue that Odysseus is the true hero of the conflict. He is the mastermind behind the assassination of Paris and the construction of the Trojan Horse, both of which resulted in a Greek triumph.

You may remember that Odysseus never intended to go in the battle and only left his wife Penelope and newborn son Telemachus because he was compelled to do so by an oath. Odysseus is eager to rejoin with his family after the conclusion of the battle, but he has more difficulties going home than any other Greek. It takes him another 10 years, bringing his total time away from his family and kingdom to twenty years. Homer tells the story of Odysseus’ epic effort to return to Ithaca in The Odyssey, which is a type of sequel to The Illiad.

You may have read The Odyssey previously, either in elementary school or as part of a college classics study. If that’s the case, I recommend that you reopen it and analyze Homer’s tale for lessons in manliness. Treat yourself to a copy of The Odyssey if you haven’t already. You may choose a translation that suits your preferences; if you desire the story’s beauty and poetry, I recommend Robert Fagles’ superb translation. If you want a more straightforward, novelized version, it is also available. If you want to see images, Marvel Comics has a hardcover graphic novel.

I’ve spent five years teaching The Odyssey to high school students, so I’m familiar with the challenges you’ll face when (re)reading Homer’s epic. Yes, it is rather lengthy. Yes, each page is jam-packed with information. Yes, it will be more poetic than your local newspaper’s sports section – but how poetic depends on whose translation you choose. The Odyssey, on the other hand, is well worth the effort. The following are a few tips you may use to make your reading more pleasurable and seamless. (Don’t worry, there are a few additional recommendations at the bottom of the page for using your Greek mythology knowledge in practical ways that don’t seem like homework.)      

The Odyssey’s Narrative Structure

Cyclops Jordan's Homer's Odyssey painting.

If you aren’t prepared, the narrative framework that Homer employed to convey his story might be unsettling. By the time Homer wrote his final version, the narrative of Odysseus would have been well-known, so he jumps right in, fully expecting the audience to be acquainted with the hero. He starts by evoking the muse, as he did in The Illiad:

 

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns who was thrown off track time and time again after plundering the sacred heights of Troy. He visited various cities of men and learnt their brains, as well as many wounds he endured while fighting to preserve his life and bring his colleagues home. But, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t rescue them from calamity — the stupid idiots devoured the Sun’s livestock, and the Sungod wiped them from sight the day they returned. Start with the beginning of his narrative, Muse, daughter of Zeus, and sing for our time as well.

Despite the fact that the incident with the Sun Cattle occurs at the conclusion of Odysseus’ sojourn abroad, it is one of the first things Homer tells us about. It’s a plot device known as in medias res, which literally means “in the midst of things.” As a consequence, the bulk of Odysseus’ most renowned exploits are recounted in a four-chapter flashback narrative. We also go back and forth between Odysseus’ adventures abroad and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus back in Ithaca. There are also a few of startling shifts to the gods speaking on Olympus. If you get stuck while reading, SparkNotes offers a fantastic summary of the book that you can see for free on their website.

Hospitality in Greece

The Greeks have a spirit of hospitality that surpasses our own. At the time, there were three fundamental concepts that governed your relationships with houseguests. First and foremost, everybody who came to your door, regardless of who he or she was, had to be welcomed in. A visitor might be wealthy or impoverished, male or female, young or elderly, a familiar or unfamiliar face. Second, the visitor was to be allowed to remain in your house, with you being responsible for providing food and shelter. Last but not least, the host would give the visitor a parting present. This was generally a thoughtful and – by our standards – costly present.

As you can see, a host’s obligations were much more than what our modern society demands. This explains Telemachus’ and Odysseus’ extravagant treatment throughout their different journeys. It also provides insight on a number of Odysseus’ hosts’ “villainous” acts. Understanding the Greek ethos of hospitality also explains why the suitors competing for Penelope’s love in the palace during Odysseus’ extended absence were allowed for so long. The suitors’ action, however, was unacceptable to the Greeks; Homer’s audience would have been appalled at the notion of these arrogant men taking advantage of a loophole in the hospitality system. It was well accepted that you should not take advantage of a host, just as we know not to grab more than one newspaper after inserting our quarters into the slot.

 

Men Like Us: Odysseus and Telemachus

Odysseus Telemachus, Doucet and Homer's odyssey painting.

We study biographies of great persons in order to learn from their accomplishments and weaknesses. The stories of the Greek heroes are no different, despite the fact that they are mostly based on fiction, and none of mythology’s pantheon of great men are nearly as human as Odysseus and Telemachus.

Odysseus has a reputation for being intelligent and cunning. Among those who know him, he is liked and regarded as a friend, spouse, warrior, and king. In his care for his soldiers, he demonstrates a level of selflessness (despite their stubborn, foolish behavior). We can all learn from his persistence, endurance, and bravery, and his preference for utilizing his head over his muscle is wonderful. I don’t intend to suggest that Odysseus was incapable of using physical force — far from it. We witness how fierce a man’s wrath can be while defending his family and home when Odysseus cleanses his house of suitors. Odysseus’ eagle-eyed marksmanship, blood-soaked beard, and rippling muscles (Homer goes out of his way to accentuate Odysseus’ powerful man-thighs, which often sparks remarks among my students) are all featured in this exhilarating, cathartic section of the narrative.

Odysseus has a lot of good qualities, but he also possesses two basic masculine vices: desire and hubris. He’ll travel to any length to go home to his wife and kid, but he’s not against taking a detour to bed a demigoddess or two. In one case, Odysseus is quite content to take a year off from his perilous quest to spend “quality time” with the witch Circe. The story’s double standard is unavoidable: if Penelope made such a mistake, it would be unforgivable, yet Odysseus is free to sow his royal oats anywhere he wants.

Although Odysseus’ passion is somewhat to responsible for the delay, it is ultimately his pride that is to blame. Odysseus successfully fools Polyphemus, the cycloptic bastard son of Poseidon, before ripping out its eye in the epic confrontation. As he floats away, mocking the thing, he calls out his name, letting everyone know who had defeated the strong brute. Poseidon’s unrelenting meddling with the rest of Odysseus’ trip derives from this crescendo of pride at Polyphemus’ disgrace.

Odysseus is prone to causing troubles for himself, but Telemachus is a different story. Telemachus was raised by a lonely mother and only knows about his father via mythology and gossip. As a consequence, he seems to be a man-boy when we first meet him, but he has the blood of a hero coursing through his veins, and he refuses to accept his destiny. Telemachus sets off on his own adventure to discover his father and nurture his masculinity. His is the story of every young guy’s desire to establish a connection with his father and grow up to be a man. Though Odysseus’ narrative is about a guy who returns home, Telemachus’ is about a man who moves on.

 

Penelope: The Woman of Our Dreams

Painting of Penelope and the Suitors in Waterhouse by John William.

Penelope is a model of a perfect lady, similar to the woman portrayed in Proverbs 31. She is both attractive and intelligent, and against all difficulties, she stays devoted to her spouse. Because of Penelope’s circumstances in the novel, it’s easy to overlook this: we meet her at the conclusion of a twenty-year wait, and she’s not sure whether her husband is still alive. Over a hundred attractive young guys are vying for her attention, and she looks to be reaching her limitations at moments. Despite the fact that she seems to be on the verge of giving up (and who can blame her? ), she maintains her confidence in Odysseus’ return. Penelope stands in striking contrast to Clytemnestra, who killed her husband Agamemnon after he returned from Troy in the narrative.

Penelope’s real beauty is revealed in the story’s last act, when she converses with the “beggar” (who is Odysseus in disguise) and unknowingly plays a key part in the suitors’ fate (though her cleverness makes me question whether or not it was truly inadvertent). The Odyssey is mostly an action and adventure novel, but Penelope’s reunion with Odysseus, as well as the symbolism of their large rooted bed, is a love story suited for even the most manly of men.

Using Greek Mythology in New Ways

Black & White drawing of Odysseus fighting with group of men.

One of the finest crossings of mythology and current masculinity that I can envision is reading The Odyssey and observing its characters. After you’ve finished reading it, you’ll start to discover its effect in the most unexpected places. Try listening to Kansas’ “Carry On My Wayward Son,” reading C.P. Cavafy’s poetry “Ithaca,” or seeing the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? – you’ll discover new layers of meaning in each. However, in compared to other mythical tales, there are few references to The Odyssey. Other venues where you may put your expertise to use are listed below.

Museums of Art

If you live near a museum of art, I recommend visiting there to seek for mythological influences. Because of the archetypal nature of mythology’s characters and tales, artists have drawn scenes from it throughout history. You might also keep an eye out for traveling exhibits of real Greek art and pottery. If you ever find yourself in Paris, make a point of visiting The Louvre, which has one of the most impressive collections of art influenced by Greek mythology that I have ever seen (not to mention a wealth of other incredible work worth your time).

Literature

You’d be amazed how frequently your knowledge of Greek mythology can help you interpret literature in new ways. Everything from classics (such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) to modern young adult fiction has allusions (such as the overt example of the Percy Jackson series).

Television and movies

Clash of the Titans, Immortals, and Disney’s Hercules are just a few examples of Hollywood films that seek to replicate (and embellish) Greek mythology. Others, such as James Cameron’s latest picture Prometheus, use greater subtlety. In his short-lived sci-fi television series Firefly, even Joss Whedon (well known for directing The Avengers) included mythological themes.

 

Lastly, I’d want to express my gratitude to all of you who have taken the time to

Greek mythology has left an indelible mark on our culture. I’ve only mentioned a handful, but its echoes may be heard in almost every aspect of our life. Listening for it may improve your life by adding fresh levels of depth to the things you experience. Its heroes may be educational in terms of both their qualities and shortcomings.

If you’re interested in mythology, I’d suggest Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, Thomas Bulfinch’s Mythology, and Robin Waterfield’s The Greek Myths. I suggest Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces to anybody interested in the larger notion of mythology throughout history.

So, by all means, expand your horizons beyond the ones I’ve set for myself here. Take in all you can and get the benefits of your research. You’ll not only get lessons in manliness and a good dose of classical education, but you could also have the chance to share your newfound knowledge of art and literature with your significant other on a unique date night.

The Gods and Goddesses: A Greek Mythology Primer The Heroes of the Mortal World The Trojan War was fought between the Greeks and the Greek The Odyssey and Putting What We’ve Learned into Practice

 

 

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The “what lesson does homer want us to learn about life?” is one of the most famous books in literature. The Odyssey tells a story about Odysseus, who has been on his journey for ten years and finally returns home to Ithaca.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main lesson of The Odyssey?

A: The main lesson of the Odyssey is that, sometimes in life, its hard to find your way and you have to make a lot of sacrifices. Odysseus was not only willing to kill himself when he needed help but also had no problem with leaving behind his wife and son for long periods at a time.

What lessons did The Odyssey teach?

A: The Odyssey is a great story that follows Odysseus, who goes on an adventure to fight against his enemies. It teaches virtues of strength and perseverance in the face of adversity.

How does The Odyssey relate to life today?

A: The Odyssey is a story written in the 5th century BC that tells of Odysseuss long journey home after being trapped on the island of Calypso. It has some themes, such as fate and perseverance, which are ones we see pop up again and again in ancient Greek texts.

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