The Odyssey is an epic poem created by Homer, an ancient Greek author whose work remains a staple in western literature. The poem surrounds the journey of Odysseus as he attempts to return home to Ithaca after being away at the Trojan War for ten years. The central idea present in The Odyssey is how most of the conflicts throughout the story are a result of the absence of Odysseus, who before being away at the Trojan War, was the head of the family in a patriarchal society.
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This is illustrated through Odysseus’ absence resulting in Telemachos’ inner and external conflicts, Penelopia forced to deal with the suitors back at Ithaca and his men committing idiotic acts. An example of how the lack of Odysseus’ presence creates conflict in The Odyssey is Telemachos and how the lack of a father in his life causes for him to lack leadership skills, and confidence. Telemachos expresses his concerns about how his father’s absence has affected him throughout life to Mentor, who is Athena in disguise. “‘…he is gone from sight, gone from hearing, and left anguish and lamentation for me’” (Homer 9).
Due to Odysseus’ absence, all that is left for Telemachos is sadness. Him saying “left anguish and lamentation for me” demonstrates how Odysseus left Telemachos and instead of leaving him with the resources to become the leader he should be, Telemachos instead receives negative emotions from his father which discourage Telemachos further. His lack of confidence is shown most apparent when he expresses his frustrations about the suitors but then admits that he cannot do anything about them. “‘Indeed I would defend myself if I had the strength! What they have done is quite intolerable…’” (Homer 17). Telemachos would have strength if Odysseus had been present in his life to teach him how to become a leader, but because of his absence, such an event would not be able to take place until Odysseus returns. Not only does Odysseus absence cause for the lack of confidence and sadness Telemachos experiences but also contributes to another issue in The Odyssey; the suitors. Odysseus’ absence in the family causes for there to be no king at Ithaca and results in there being a lack of control in Ithaca and especially in Odysseus’ home. As a result of his absence, there are various suitors that have taken over Odysseus’ house that consume the goods and wealth of Odysseus and also try to marry Penelopia as they believe Odysseus will never return. “‘For there is no man at the head, no one like Odysseus, to drive this curse from this house’” (Homer 17).
Odysseus being gone allows for the suitors to do whatever they wish in the house of Odysseus, and because of Telemachos being weak, and Penelope being unable to do anything as she is a woman in a patriarchal society, there is nothing to be done about the suitors unless Odysseus returns. The suitors are described as a “curse”, and this signifies that Odysseus’ presence as the man of the house will be able to restore control. Penelopia’s lack of control as well contributes to the suitors wanting to marry her, as she is seen as someone desirable and cannot do much about the situation. “‘Send your mother out of the house, tell her to marry whichever her father says, whichever she likes herself…’” (Homer 18). Penelopia is under constant pressure to marry in order for her to drive the suitors, and even when she finds solutions to drive the suitors away with her wits, she is found out. An example of this is her saying she will marry when she finishes a warp in her room, but then unravels it and starts again.
However, Penelopia was found out by one of her servants who then betrayed her by telling the suitors her trick. Penelopia is forced to either remarry and no longer stay loyal to Odysseus or deal with the issues of the suitors. Her final option is to wait for the return of Odysseus which she isn’t sure about. Odysseus’ absence not only causes issues for his family but also for himself. On any occasion in which Odysseus is away from his crew by either him sleeping or him going off to pray, they commit idiotic acts that further them from reaching Ithaca. One of the events which best illustrate how non-obedient Odysseus’ crew is to his directions is the situation regarding the bag of winds. Odysseus told his crew to not touch the bag given by Aiolos, but they instead they decided to open the bag to see what riches were inside once Odysseus had left his guard down and rest. “‘When I saw the island, I fell into a deep sleep, for I was tired out…They opened the bag, the winds leaped out…’” (Homer 120).
While being so close to reaching Ithaca at last, Odysseus’ crew still manage to cause the journey back home to be even longer, more dangerous and frustrating. Odysseus serves as a leader, and no matter what he tells his crew if he is not supervising them, they go against what he says and tend to never learn from going against Odysseus. He is constantly sabotaged and due to the constant delay of his return, the issues with Telemachos lacking a father figure and Penelopia having to tolerate the suitors arise as well. Odysseus serves as a father for Telemachos, King to Ithaca, and leader for his crew.
All of these responsibilities come from the society of The Odyssey is a patriarchy, where fathers are the head of the family and are to be leaders and hold the most authority. Odysseus, who had to go on an agonizing and long journey to return home, created the issue of Telemachos lacking leadership skills, his home being controlled by the suitors, and his crew delaying Odysseus’ return home, all because of his absence in all three situations. Odysseus’ role in a patriarchal society in The Odyssey means that most of the conflicts in the story due to his absence, and these conflicts are to be resolved by him returning and/or being present.
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