In The Odyssey Homer presents an ideal that is rather counterintuitive to that echoed by his surrounding society. Homer proposed a radical new interpretation of caste systems that suggests that morality lies with those who reside on the bottom of the system. Through the epic, Homer empowers small, negligible characters in the name of assisting Odysseus. In parallel, he strives to dehumanize the suitors, constantly portraying them as filthy, ravaging pigs. We also see a more direct approach deployed by Homer, one that carries personal significance to him.
As a bard himself, Homer always remained at the lower end of the caste system within his own society. This inspired him to take action, using his craft he carefully constructed an epic infused with propaganda. Miniscule interjections, ones that may seem out of place, now appear to carry an ulterior motive, as Homer constantly reiterates the integral role that his class exhibits. One overarching example of his self-empowerment is be seen in the events that succeed the slaughter of the suitors. As Odysseus hunts for all left who plot against his throne, he is met with Phemius, the suitors’ designated bard. In this instance, Homer contorts logic and allows the bard to liberate Telemachus’ mind, and sways him to go against his own father. Following Phemius’ pleas, Telemachus bursts to the bard’s defense, he attests Stop, don’t cut him down! This one’s innocent. (Page 450 or 22.376). In this passage Homer conveys that Phemius, a mere bard can break the rock-hard will of the great Odysseus with a swift motion of words. He uses his convincing words to claim that he has always been loyal to Odysseus.
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Eumaeus, the swineherd, displays sterling dedication to his master Odysseus, both in true and disguised form. As Odysseus continues to adjudicate his loyalty to the throne, Eumaeus attests his allegiance not only to the throne, but also to his fellow classmen. During his probe, Odysseus receives the same respect from Eumaeus that he received from many of the kings he encountered on his exploits before. By enacting so, Homer subtly hints that Eumaeus could rival even a king’s expression of Xenia, that too without all the luxuries of one. Another lower-class figure who carries similarities to royalty is Eurycleia. She is seen as a mother figure to both Odysseus and Telemachus, yet effectively embodies both roles. As Penelope neglects her son in grief, Eurycleia volunteers to bare him as her own, as she did once his father. On page 406 or 19.495-19.496 Odysseus queries Nurse, you want to kill me? You suckled me yourself at your own breast-and now I’m home at last, therefore, implying Eurycleia raised him as her own. Despite his hubris, Homer recognized his audience, and catered to them accurately. Since a significant amount of Homer’s target audience consisted of affluent visionaries, he cleverly contorted the way he pushed his narrative.
Not all lower-class people were portrayed as above the rich, many stuck in their place as uneducated low-lives’. An exemplary embodiment of this is the pugnacious behavior expressed by Irus, the beggar. When he confronts the Odysseus, he enters with an overwhelming amount of pompous. He too is a beggar like Odysseus, yet his nonsensical arrogance prompts him to provoke his fellow classman. After insulting Odysseus, he is met with a backlash, in response he rapidly escalates his tone Well, I’ve got a knock-out blow in store for him. Belt up-so the lords can see us fight it out. (Page 376 or 18.33-18.37).
During the events proceeding the suitors galvanize Irus to fight. Ironically, Odysseus swiftly put the suitors to rest by pummeling Irus. The strategy Homer employs to prevent from demeaning the lower-class is ingenious. Another example of this is Melanthius, the goatherd, who heckles Odysseus shamelessly before his demise. While Odysseus and Eumaeus journey to the palace, they encounter Melanthius. He holds equality to Eumaeus, also an animal herder, in social status, but undoubtedly towers over Odysseus, who takes the form of a beggar. What sets Melanthius apart from Eumaeus is his aggressive attitude towards Odysseus. During the presentation of his jeering plethora of insults, he slowly provokes Odysseus to a breaking point. Soon thereafter, he becomes physical, And just as he passed Odysseus the idiot lurched out with a heel and kicked his hip. (Page 361 or 17.256).
He fails to knock Odysseus, but that was never the purpose of this excerpt. The language Homer uses to describe Melanthius says enough by itself. By calling him an idiot, that too in third person, he interjects his emotion into the story, yet he adds to layers to his claim to avoid backlash. Some people see his declaration as direct, pertaining to Melanthius’ foolishness to try to drop Odysseus. Opposingly, his claim can be seen as a message to lower-class member as a call to unite rather than fight amongst each other. This second interpretation would also explain the inclusion of his harrowing slaughter with the rest of the suitors. Any and all unruly lower-classmen have one accentuated trait in common, they are strongly linked to the suitors, suggesting the suitors drove them to wrongdoing.
The suitors are portrayed as demonic creatures who ravage away at Odysseus’ goods. However; they take on a much more relevant role only after Odysseus arrives. They treat him with abuse and insult constantly, oblivious to the impending doom that they are soon to face. The most assertive of the suitors is by no doubt Antinous, such is stated by his own comrades, And he incited it all-Antinous-look, the man who drove us all to crime! (Page 441 or 22.50-22.51). During an early altercation we see how Homer strives to set Antinous apart from the rest of the suitors. When he throws a stool at Odysseus in rage for his request of food, he is shunned by his own men, Look Antinous that was a crime, to strike a luckless beggar! (Page 370 or 17.432-17.433).
Of those who do sympathize with the royal family, Amphinomus stands out the most. Even Penelope, the woman the suitors plague, was pleased by his presence. He, unlike Eurymachus stood up in a time of tranquility rather than a time of desperation. Unfortunately, news of this well-doing never makes its way to Odysseus, and Amphinomus is killed anyway. What Homer tries to convey here is that loyalty cannot be bought in an instant, it must rather be won over a period. Yet he exclusively lets a loyal suitor die, showing that Odysseus and Homer are diffrent. Using Odysseus allows Homer to contradict himself since he can simply pit one side of the argument onto Odysseus’ beliefs rather than his own. Homer uses Odysseus divisively to create a contrast of opinion as well as an exemplary model of Homer’s beliefs. Homer uses Odysseus in any and every way that is convenient, yet the mastery of his craft is that he is able to do so while maintaining the flow of thought. Through an alternative perspective we see that Odysseus’ mission was never really about him, it was rather about those he brought along. After the Eumaeus and Eurycleia assisted Odysseus in his pursuit of the throne, they were could rise up from the oppression they once faced from the suitors. Homer only used Odysseus as a match to light the flame of liberation for Eumaeus and Eurycleia.
Homer wrote what may seem at a preliminary glance as a simple epic, yet what he hid inside his book did wonders. Just as many of his narrational styles inspired many of the great storytellers of our day, his internal messages also inspired many human rights activists. By uplifting those oppressed in the Odyssey, he gave hope to all those who suffered the demeaning life he had. In The Odyssey Homer argued that the caste system corrupted the minds of those at the top, leaving only the lower-class with any morality.
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