ENG/HUM 2433: World Literature
Reading Response Journal
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As 21st century humans, what can we learn from the literature we are reading? Why does it still hold value?
Odysseus’ journey is clearly symbolic of journeys humans take in life. Our personal failings, such as pride or ego, can get us lost. Until we are able to see our failing and correct it, we will continue down the wrong path. Once we understand, though, we can find our way “home.” Odysseus’ failure is that he is too clever for his own good. That makes him curious and arrogant to the detriment of those around him, and ultimately himself. It is his arrogance that causes Poseidon to turn against him and delay his return to Ithaca. When Odysseus blinds Polyphemus, Poseidon’s son, he had the chance to escape without letting Polyphemus know who hurt him. Instead, Odysseus shouts out his name, wanting people to know that he, a mere mortal, defeated the son of a god. Polyphemus cries out to his father for vengeance, and Poseidon obliges. The result is that Odysseus wanders for 10 years, leaving his wife and son vulnerable at home, and his entire crew is killed in subsequent adventures as they are trying to make their way back home. It isn’t until Odysseus learns his lesson that he makes it back to Ithaca. We see, then, that in life we must have respect for the gods, or god, and not place too much importance on our own abilities. Ultimately, we are very small in the grand scheme.
How does the author or his culture define the heroic? Give examples from the text to support your definition.
In this epic, we see the Ancient Greek value placed on honor and glory in battle. Odysseus’ flashbacks to the end of the Trojan War show us the importance of virility and almost savage delight in the enemy’s defeat. In a world that still lives according to the code of blood vengeance, heroes had to be ruthless when dealing with the enemy and his family, especially sons who might grow up to avenge their father’s death. Odysseus tells Achilles in the Underworld how Neoptolomus, Achilles’ son, came to Troy and wreaked havoc on the Trojans in revenge for Achilles’ death. Odysseus’ own son, Telemachus, also feels a burden to avenge his father. These are all heroic attributes. Odysseus, though, also shows the heroic virtue of shrewdness. He does not charge into battle without thinking it through first. That is why he is the greatest of all humans according to Athena and others. It is his mind that sets him apart. So in this epic, we see a balance of brains and brawn.
What conflicts get in the hero's way as he/she tries to fulfill his/her destiny or get what he/she wants? Conflicts can occur between the hero and: other person(s); society; nature; god(s); or self. There can be multiple conflicts.
Odysseus’ destiny is to live out his life in Ithaca. But he must learn to control his ego before he can return. He also must battle others when he returns. The suitors for Penelope are a great impediment to Odysseus retaking his rightful place as king of Ithaca. They outnumber him, so he must use his cunning to defeat them.
How does this particular work reflect the traditions of its genre? (e.g. what makes it an epic, a tragedy, a romance, etc.)
This is an epic. It is a reflection of the Ancient Greek values of honor, excellence, and reverence for the gods. It shows the importance placed on bonds of friendship and oaths of loyalty. The opening uses the invocation to the muse, it states the theme of the epic (Odysseus’ journey home), and we see epithets (“Athena, grey-eyed goddess”), patronymics (“Eurymachus, son of Polybus”), and the use of extraordinary heroes (Odysseus is unlike any other human because of his cleverness).