Beyond Blood: Family is an Evident Theme Throughout the Odyssey by Homer

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Family is a common theme in the epic The Odyssey but what does family really mean, especially in the context of The Odyssey. In the The Odyssey, Homer uses Odysseus’ relationships to illustrate that true family goes beyond blood, and is based around loyalty and the sacrifices that come with it. Familial love is shown throughout The Odyssey, but it is exemplified in Odysseus’ relationships with Penelope and Telemachus. Each of them demonstrate great sacrifices and loyalty towards Odysseus which he repays to them with his own acts of sacrificial loyalty. Odysseus’ relationships show basic family connections and highlight what family is truly built on: selfless devotion.

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We can tell that Penelope and Odysseus are truly family based on the sacrifices they make for one another.

Penelope, who had her whole life ahead of her when she married Odysseus, made several sacrifices for Odysseus and their relationship. When he has to leave for the Trojan War, she just had Telemachus, their first child. Undoubtedly, if Odysseus had not left for the war, the couple would have conceived more children, so right away Penelope sacrifices her opportunity to have more children. Although today this may not seem like the biggest deal, in Greek culture it was very important for a woman to get married and to be a mother to many children.

Penelope gives up this dream for Odysseus, as he is a part of her family and she would not betray him. Her other half remained missing when Odysseus failed to return after the end of the 10 year war and this is where she really makes sacrifices. As more time passes, Penelope faces a tremendous amount of pressure to remarry, as many believe that Odysseus is dead.

Betty Bonham Lies, who studies women in Greek culture, specifically Penelope, writes, “But now her house was in a state of siege; suitors had come from all the islands and the country around to win Penelope’s consent to marry them. She detest’s every one of them, and would have nothing to do with them, but they refused to leave.

She was fighting a war of her own, one that was hard for a woman to win” (Lies).

She sacrifices her pleasure and her home to the suitors as she refuses to get remarried because her heart belongs to Odysseus. Homer describes the suitors as plagues who would “feast themselves sick, swilling our glowing wine as if there’s no tomorrow” (Homer 20). Penelope endured this everyday for years to avoid being married as she remains loyal to Odysseus. She also sacrifices three years of her life weaving, weaving all day long and then spending the nights unraveling what she had weaved that day. She did this out of love for Odysseus, as unravelling the shroud delays its completion which postpones her marriage to a suitor, clearly demonstrating her loyalty.

Many consider that just becoming husband and wife makes two individuals into a family but that is not the case; to truly be a family you have to exemplify loyalty and make sacrifices just as Penelope does for Odysseus.

Furthermore, we can see Homer’s sacrificial portrayal of family by observing the relationship between Telemachus and his father, Odysseus. When Telemachus is introduced at the beginning of the epic, he is passive as he is still very much in a state of boyhood. He takes no actions against the suitors as they destroy his home and chase after his mother. It takes instructions from Athena for Telemachus to take a stand for himself and for his father.

Telemachus had to grow up and John Heath, who studies the growth of Telemachus, states “Telemachus, as we will see, must leave behind his status as ‘child’–that is, one who is not only literally a child but also a young man who has put little thought into his words or actions, and whose speech carries little weight–and who could easily be doomed” (Heath 5). Telemachus was harboring anger and sadness from the absence of his father, which leads him to hold onto his boyhood. However, to be the man he needed to be, he had to let go. It is clear Telemachus makes the choice to leave behind his boyhood when he finally addresses the suitors stating “You should be ashamed yourselves, mortified in the face of neighbors living round about! Fear the gods’ wrath—before they wheel in outrage and make these crimes recoil on your heads” (Homer 20).

This is further illustrated when Telemachus sets sail to go gather information regarding his father from King Nestor, King Menelaus and Helen. Telemachus would not have been able to do this if he had not sacrificially put aside these negative emotions to be strong for his father’s sake, regardless of whether Odysseus was actually still alive. Telemachus knows that he has to take action, so he makes the choice to overcome his childish ways, starting by showing loyalty to his father by investigating whether he is alive or not.

This loyal act by Telemachus allows him to discover that Odysseus is alive, and it leads them to their reunion in Ithaca.

This is when Telemachus and Odysseus scheme a plan to destroy the suitors and avenge all they had done. This plan is a prime example of Telemachus’ loyalty to his father and it is clear he has transformed himself into a man and is willing to sacrifice his life to fight with his father. Although Odysseus is a great war hero, him and Telemachus were significantly outnumbered by the suitors. Despite this fact, Telemachus stands behind his father 100% with their plan and follows through on everything he said that he would.

Telemachus fighting against the suitors alongside his father truly shows how much his sacrifice of his boyhood changed him and how loyal he is to his family.

Telemachus’ growth is also illustrated when he owns up to his mistakes. When he fails to close the chamber door like Odysseus instructed, he addresses his father and responds “‘My fault, father,’ the cool clear prince replied, ‘the blame’s all mine.’” (Homer 444). This once again shows Telemachus’ growth in maturity, as he is willing to own up to his wrong doings and suffer the consequences. Telemachus has gone from barely being able to address the suitors and having no interest in pursuing his father to being a loyal assertive prince. These sacrifices and demonstrations of loyalty show the familial love between Telemachus and Odysseus. We can see that Odysseus also makes numerous sacrifices due to the loyalty to his family, starting with his treacherous journey home. Odysseus faces several hardships on his journey home, including being shipwrecked more than once, having to make impossible decisions for himself and his crew, going to the underworld, fighting monsters, and of course being trapped on Calypso’s island.

Despite all of these challenges he faces, it was clear that his family kept him fighting.

James Ford, who writes for Blooms Literature, states that it is clear “his greatest goal is to be reunited with his wife and and son” (Ford 1). Odysseus demonstrates his love for his family while trapped on Calypso’s island, where he would spend the days crying on a rock, longing for Penelope and Telemachus. Despite him spending his nights with the nymph, it could be assumed that he did this in hopes to appease her so that she would one day let him go. Homer describes him as “an unwilling lover alongside lover all too loving” (Homer 157). This in itself is a sacrifice, since all he wants is to come home to his family.

When he is finally released he has to face a dangerous and exhausting journey home during which it would have been much easier to give up. But Odysseus would keep persevering as he knows that he has to get home to his family.

As physically exhausting as his journey is, it is just as mentally exhausting. Odysseus has spent 10 years fighting in the Trojan War, and now he has to endure and persevere through a series of trials on his way back home. He faces everything from seamonsters to giants, and even loses his beloved crew. The years of fighting, emotional loss, and endless longing for home would have certainly taken a toll on him. It is known that war has serious effects on soldiers who fought like Odysseus, and researchers state “Experiencing such stress, trauma, and uncertainty has the potential to lead to a number of mental health problems, including diagnosable conditions (such as posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD] or depression)” (Tanielian et al. 17). Yet he puts his emotions aside and his past behind him, as he fights his way to get home.

He is not phased by what monsters he has to face or what challenges he needs to overcome, he simply figures out a plan that will enable him to continue his journey until he is finally reunited. When he finally arrives home he has to slaughter the suitors in order to avenge what they did to his home and his family. He does not let any one of them escape his wrath for the way they poorly treated his family. He risks having to deal with the suitors’ families but he does it anyway because of his loyalty to his family.

Family is an evident theme throughout The Odyssey and it is clear that the true meaning of family is not based on blood lineage or superficial titles such as “husband and wife” or “father and son.” Rather, family is based around loyalty and the sacrifices that come with it. The sacrifices Penelope makes for Odysseus while she remains forever loyal, the sacrifices Telemachus makes for his father, and the loyal sacrifices Odysseus makes for them all demonstrate the true meaning of family throughout this epic. 

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Beyond blood: Family is an Evident Theme Throughout The Odyssey by Homer. (2022, Apr 09). Retrieved February 7, 2023 , from
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