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Classic Literature Review: Themes In The Odyssey

Updated on January 9, 2020
Anne Carr profile image

Anne is a writer and teacher with a passion for self-expression and publishing.

Odysseus and his crew face many obstacles and challenges in the story.
Odysseus and his crew face many obstacles and challenges in the story.

The Classic Hero

The Odyssey by Homer is the classic tale of the epic hero. Odysseus struggles to find his way home to Ithaca while being put through the ultimate tests by the Gods. There are so many valuable lessons to be learned from this story, and many themes that correlate with the idea of an odyssey or journey. Here are a few of the different themes in the story The Odyssey.

1. Homecoming

Homecoming is an important theme in the story The Odyssey. Odysseus’ ultimate goal throughout the entire epic is to return home, but this concept is much more than that. The idea of homecoming also represents the comfort and connection that one has with their family and friends. Odysseus’ bonds with Ithaca and his family are so strong, in fact, that he is able to successfully make it through all of the obstacles to come home. The idea of “homecoming” has been adopted in many modern texts and ideas. The saying “There’s no place like home,” from the Wizard of Oz is pretty much paying homage to Odysseus’ journey. He knows what is truly valuable, and he will do whatever it takes to get back to the ones he loves.

2. Respect

Respect is another important theme in this story. In Ancient Greek culture, they believe that the 12 Olympian Gods and Goddesses were the ones that they would defer to for all of their advice, guidance, and help. The Greeks had a massive amount of respect for the Gods, and Odysseus makes this clear to him several times throughout the story. In Book 9, he tells the Cyclops that he should have respect for the gods, to which Polyphemus (The Cyclops), scoffs at him. Odysseus also has a lot of respect for his crew. Despite losing many of them to the obstacles he faces, it is clear that he respects them and that they have a lot of respect for Odysseus himself. His achievements alone give him the respect he deserves from others as a skilled and clever man.

3. Hospitality

There are many cultures and customs that are specific to Ancient Greek culture. This explains why in the Odyssey, there are so many references to the idea of hospitality. When the suitors enter Penelope’s home, she is obligated to treat them as guests, letting them live in her palace, eat her food, and drink her wine while she makes the ultimate decision. When Odysseus and his crew land on Circe’s island, she is very hospitable and welcoming to the men, up until she turns them into pigs. The idea of sharing in hospitality is part of what Greek culture is all about. Whenever another person had a celebration of some sort, it was expected for them to take in guests and take care of them, that is just how things were. The Odyssey does a great job of representing this cultural expectation in the book.

Guided By The Gods

Odysseus and his crew must follow the guidance of the gods in order to get home.
Odysseus and his crew must follow the guidance of the gods in order to get home.

4. Justice

Justice; the idea of setting things right. There are so many instances in this epic where justice is crucial and important to the storyline. For instance, Polyphemus orders justice against Odysseus and his men after they stab him in the eye. Odysseus gets justice on the suitors when he returns home and kills all of them. The Gods seek justice on Odysseus and punish him when he has made a mistake or does not pass one of his many tests. Justice is clearly an important theme in The Odyssey, as there is always something that needs to be resolved or set right in the story.

5. Loyalty

Arguably one of the most crucial themes in The Odyssey is loyalty. Odysseus’ ultimate goal throughout the entire epic is to make it home to his wife and son. Despite the many bumps along the road in his travels, he never loses sight of what’s really important to him. He knows he might have to risk it all; his men, his pride, or his worth. He is willing to make sacrifices in order to get home and be with his loved ones. Odysseus also tries to stay loyal to his crew members. Even though he risks some of them against the many obstacles they face, he always tries his best to get them out of the situations that they find themselves in.

A Classic Odyssey

Themes in this epic can be seen over and over again in other texts and movies nowadays. Many modern authors and directors rely upon the themes and ideas from classic literature such as The Odyssey to form engaging stories that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The Odyssey is the original adventure story, and quite an amazing journey it is! In the face of all of his obstacles, Odysseus faces everything head on with persistence and strength.


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    • Anne Carr profile imageAUTHOR

      Anne Marie Carr 

      15 months ago from Richmond, VA

      Agreed. I think this was my favorite story to read when I was in school. I just loved the adventurous aspect of the story.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      15 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Anne, thank you for reviewing the themes in the Odyssey. I lobed this book when I read it many years ago, and also the movie with Kirk Douglas. It is a timeless story and has been sed many times in other works since..fighting all obstacles o return home. Good job.


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