Themes In The Odyssey Essay Questions

Creativity, Imagination, and Deception
You might say that "Creativity" or "Imagination" is Odysseus's stock-in-trade. In fact, he is not mentioned by name for the first 20 lines of the poem: the first word used to describe Odysseus at the end of the very first line of the poem, is polutropon, which literally means "of many twists." We might say "shifty" these days, except that Homer does not appear to mean anything negative by the word, merely descriptive—Odysseus is rather a twisty-turny sort of fellow: he has to be, just in order to survive.

It should be no surprise, then, to discover that Odysseus is beloved of Athena, who is the goddess of creativity and imagination. She and Odysseus have much in common, as she remarks in Book 1 (XIII.296-99), including a joy in "weaving schemes" (XIII.386).

A large part of Odysseus's creative energy is channeled into deceiving the people around him. In fact, Athena gives Odysseus what is either a left-handed compliment or a mild reproach in Book 13 when she says:

Wily-minded wretch, never weary of tricks, you wouldn't even dream, not even in your own native land, of giving up your wily ways, or the telling of the clever tales that are dear to you from the very root of your being (XIII.293-95).

Yet it is important to remember that Odysseus only tells such "clever" (or "thieving" - the Greek word used can have both meanings) tales because he needs to: he waits until he is certain of their motives to tell the Phaeacians his true identity, but he does so when pressed. Only when he must remain anonymous to stay alive or to further some ultimate purpose does he continue a deception beyond the first moment when it could be dropped.

Odysseus is a legitimate hero: his reputation from the Iliad is enough to establish that, quite apart from the close relationship he has with Athena and, to a lesser degree, with Hermes. The gods only help those who are worthy, after all: none of the gods lifts a finger to help the suitors, for example, who get what they deserve (II.281-84, XX.394).

Yet how are we to explain the very un-heroic (if not actually anti-heroic) things Odysseus does in this poem? None of the heroes in the Iliad, for example, would likely have endured the kind of insults and abuses that Odysseus takes from the suitors, or even have considered concealing his identity, even to further a noble goal such as the destruction of those very suitors. Should readers therefore assume that Odysseus is not a hero after all? Or—can Odysseus be seen as an entirely new kind of hero?

The heroes of the Iliad were locked into an almost ritual pattern of behavior that is suited to war and the battlefield. Odysseus has his place in that heroic environment as well, but in the Odyssey, Homer gives us a glimpse of what it means to be a hero off the battlefield as well as on it. Odysseus is facing circumstances that are enormously different from those he had to contend with during the war, and he responds to them in an appropriately heroic fashion. Homer is broadening the definition of what it means to be a hero.

Human Condition
"What does it mean to be human?" This may be the single most important theme in the Odyssey. The poem gives us every kind of example of humanity—good, bad, young, old, individuals and groups, the living and even the dead. Each is an integral part of the story of Odysseus—which is in turn our own story, as we try to discover the answer to that question for ourselves.

There are two incidents in the poem that highlight the importance of this theme for Homer. One is Odysseus's refusal of Calypso's offer to make him immortal (V.215-24). The other is Achilles's reply when Odysseus attempts to console him in the underworld:

"I'd rather be a field-hand, bound in service to another man, with no land of my own, and not much to live on, than to lord it over all the insubstantial dead" (XI.489-91).

To be human, Homer implies, and to be alive, is to matter, to be important. The dead in the underworld, like the gods on Olympus, may have a kind of existence, but it is ultimately one that is empty.

Love and Loyalty
Love and loyalty are two very important parts of the human condition, and also two important themes running through the Odyssey. The loyalty of Eumaeus, Eurycleia, and Philoetius, for example, stands in direct contrast to the behavior of Melantho, Melanthius, and the suitors, for which they are eventually punished. Helen and Menelaus are clearly in love, and there can be little doubt that Odysseus and Penelope feel much the same way, despite Odysseus's philanderings on his way home and Penelope's testing of her husband when he finally reveals his true identity.

Love in the Odyssey is neither a tempestuous passion (as it sometimes seems to be in the Iliad, at least where Helen and Paris are concerned) nor a "deathless romance'' as it would become in the lays of the Middle Ages. Love in the Odyssey is much quieter: but, as the saying goes, "still waters run deep." Odysseus and Penelope may not have a grand passion any longer, but the love they do have is clearly one of the most important things in each of their worlds: it is what pulls Odysseus home (V.215ff., IX.29-34), and what keeps Penelope hoping for his return, and plotting to put off the suitors as long as possible.

Order and Disorder
From the very beginning of the poem, we have indications that...

(The entire section is 2302 words.)

Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for The Odyssey by Homer that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in The Odyssey by Homer and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of The Odyssey in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from The Odyssey by Homer, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Be sure to also check out the Paperstarter entry on The Iliad, also by Homer

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Like Father, Like Son : Father & Son Relationships in “The Odyssey”

The main character of The Odyssey is Odysseus, a man of advancing age who has earned the glory and hero worship of his people in response to his acts of valor in defending Ithaca's honor. Odysseus is the model of ideal manhood, and he is admired far and wide for his intelligence, skill, and demeanor. A character who becomes increasingly important over the course of the tale, however, is Odysseus's son, Telemachus. Like Odysseus, Telemachus is undertaking his own journey in an important sub-plot to Odysseus's return voyage to Ithaca. By examining this sub-plot and the character and trials of Telemachus, the reader is able to predict how Ithaca will go on once Odysseus dies. Telemachus is clearly following in his father's footsteps, and Ithaca will be in good hands. Furthermore, for a long essay on The Odyssey, consider the nature of father and son relationships in The Odyssey by Homer and consider this essay topic in the context of Greek society. For further information on this potential thesis statement for The Odyssey, check out this article.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2 The Role of Women in The Odyssey

Although women occupied an entirely different position in society compared to men, they too held a certain sphere of influence and power; they simply exerted it in ways that were distinct from men's strategies. By examining the character of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, one can see just how women exerted their power and influence in The Odyssey and to what ends. Penelope uses clever cunning and sexual charm to toy with men's emotions and to meet her own needs while she is waiting for her husband to return from battle. The types of strategies and her relative success in using them will be examined in this essay. For help with this essay topic, check out this article on the role of women in the Odyssey.

Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #3: The Importance of Hospitality in “The Odyssey”

One might wonder why it takes Odysseus ten years to return to his homeland after he has achieved victory for Ithaca in the Trojan War. One of the reasons that his return journey is so long is that he is subject to the obligation of accepting the welcoming hospitality of people he meets along his path. Hospitality is an important part of social exchange, honor, and the negotiation of relationships in The Odyssey. This essay will examine several episodes of hospitality to comment upon the varied functions of cordiality in Homer's society. For more information on this topic, check out this article comparing the theme of hospitality in The Odyssey and in the medieval text, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Defining The Odyssey as an Epic

The Odyssey is typically classified as an epic, but the general reader may not identify all of the elements that justify this categorization. The Odyssey is indeed an epic because it meets several criteria of the genre. First, the epic revolves around a heroic journey that is filled with obstacles to overcome. Second, the narrative style is elaborate and characterized by an admiring tone, which underscores the hero's worthiness. Finally, The Odyssey is filled with mentions of supernatural or mysterious forces that influence the outcome of certain challenging episodes. In this essay, each of these three epic characteristics will be examined at greater length, and their significance to the overall framework of the narrative will be discussed.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5: The Functions of Disguise in “The Odyssey”

Throughout The Odyssey the reader notices that different characters adopt disguises to either facilitate or complicate their own or another's passage through the world. In fact, some characters take on multiple disguises over the course of the tale. The goddess Athena, for example, takes on no fewer than three guises. It is not only gods and goddesses who take on disguises, however. Odysseus also negotiates the power of disguise to advance his goals and objectives. By comparing and contrasting the characters' varied use of disguises, the writer will explain how disguise functions not only for pragmatic purposes, but for psychological motives as well.

Here are a few links to some great articles on a few of the thesis statements for “The Odyssey” by Homer that might be of assistance: The Development of the Character Telemakhos in The Odyssey : Father and Son and Family Relationships in The Odyssey by Homer : The Narrow Role of Women The Odyssey by Homer : Hospitality in The Odyssey and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight : Food Imagery and Temptation in The Odyssey

Be sure to also check out the Paperstarter entry on The Iliad, also by Homer


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