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The Odyssey: A Literary Analysis

Updated on January 20, 2014

In The Odyssey, Odysseus’ physical journey home contributes greater meaning to the epic by illustrating man’s perseverance to find home, how adversity can incite character growth, and illustrating the pitfalls of temptation, paralleling Odysseus' physical journey to the journey of life and allowing the reader to connect on a deeper level.

Displaying Odysseus’ strong willed and determined character contributes to the greater meaning of the epic by illustrating the lengths which the human heart will endure in order to find home.Examples of Odysseus’ perseverance can be seen in nearly every event of the epic. No matter what comes his way, Odysseus perseveres with the thought of home in his mind. He travels to Hades, battles a sea monster, defeats a cyclops, outwits the Sirens. Using his strength and intelligence, Odysseus defeats every trial he faces, letting nothing stop him from getting home to his family. To Odysseus, there is nothing more important than his family and his kingdom, Ithaca. His perseverance shows the reader what kind of man he is, but it also illustrates an inherent desire within all of us, the unbreakable thread that connects our hearts to home, no matter how far away in distance or time we are.

Ulysses and the Sirens by Herbert Draper
Ulysses and the Sirens by Herbert Draper

Odysseus grows wiser and more humble throughout his journey. In the beginning, after evading the Cyclops by giving him a fake name, Odysseus can’t help but tell the cyclops his real name, which is where all of his troubles really begin. At the end of the epic, Odysseus shows prudence when he disguises himself as a beggar to spy on the suitors, and despite their teasing and insulting, keeps his identity hidden until the right moment. Odysseus' physical journey progresses due to the choices he makes, like choosing to let his pride win out and telling Polyphemus his real name. In the journey of life, moments of adversity are merely events which we can take either direction. We can choose to make them trials that help us to grow or temptations that cause us to fall away from the path toward our goal. Odysseus' made both decisions, choosing temptation when he stayed with the witch goddess Circe, choosing trial when he denied the Sirens and marriage to Nausicaa. Even when he made mistakes, Odysseus grew by choosing correct them and continue on his path homeward. His growth in character is a growth we all experience after going through trials, illustrating how adversity can breed humility, helping us to grow as individuals.

Odysseus was a clever guy and he used his smarts to outwit his opponents, like the Sirens. What would you have done to escape the dreaded Sirens and get home?

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Throughout the Odyssey, Odysseus is presented with many temptations, which he usually manages to resist. He resisted the song of the Sirens, fled the Lotus Eaters, and refused the hand of Princess Nausicaa in marriage. While all those around him gave in to temptation, Odysseus managed to resist by keeping his goal – getting home – in mind. When Odysseus was unable to resist temptation, like when he was tempted into staying with the witch-goddess Circe, or when he allowed his pride to overtake him when he revealed his identity to Polyphemus, his journey home was delayed. In this way, Odysseus’ physical journey can be compared to the journey of life. Often an individual can find themselves thrown off course because of a mistake or unforeseen circumstance, and must resist the pitfalls of temptation in order find their way back to the right path and reach their ultimate goal. Odysseus both resisting and giving into temptation contributes to the works greater meaning by illustrating the pitfalls of temptation and the importance to resist them to the reader.

With the adversity, temptation, and fearsome foes Odysseus faces, his perseverance and resistance seem like super-human feats that only a Greek epic hero could achieve. In truth, Odysseus' physical journey is very similar to the journey of life all humans face. We may not outwit Sirens, mutilate Cyclops', or evade the God of the Sea in our day to day lives, but adversity is a part of life no human can escape. Additionally, we all have goals that we would like to achieve, like Odysseus’ desire for home, which can be hindered by adversity. Odysseus' perseverance toward home, growth in character, and response to the pitfalls of temptation all strike a chord with those who read his story, by illustrating life as we all know it to be, contributing the greater work of the epic as a whole.

Odysseus on Calypso's island.
Odysseus on Calypso's island. | Source
Homer | Source
The Cyclops throwing rocks at Odysseus and his men.
The Cyclops throwing rocks at Odysseus and his men. | Source


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