The Odyssey, Homer’s epic play, showcases the idea of Theology, which is the study of the nature of God and religious belief. This can immediately be identified as Homer starts off Book 1 with Zeus’ argument in 1.32-43, which pertains to the relationships between mortals and immortals, “Ah how shameless—the way these mortals blame the gods. From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes, but they themselves, with their own reckless ways, compound their pains beyond their proper share…” For the sake of discordance with Zeus’ argument, it is much more evident that the Gods are insensitive towards mortals. What is also evident is the miscommunication between the mortals and immortals in which the mortals understand the gods as opposed to the gods understanding the mortals. The Odyssey focuses on the King of Ithaca, Odysseus’ journey home after the Trojan War, and recounting the adventures that set Odysseus back from returning home. Odysseus is delayed due to Poseidon shipwrecking him and Zeus not taking action to help him immediately. If the Gods better understood their mortal subjects, then there would be less strife amongst the mortals themselves. Moreover, the Gods would not have to wonder why the mortals are always complaining. The Gods themselves have the ultimate power yet only choose to use it in their best interest, which leads Odysseus to the unfortunate and unneeded struggles post-war.
Poseidon, the God of the sea and earthquakes, strongly abhors Odysseus for blinding Polyphemus the Cyclops, the God’s son. In Book 9, Odysseus enters the Cyclops’ cave, which later becomes apparent to the Cyclops that Odysseus and his men are making use of. A sudden dissonance occurs; “Strangers!’ he thundered out, ‘now who are you? … Lurching up, he lunged out with his hands toward my men and … knocked them dead like pups— ….” In his actions, Polyphemus wrongs Odysseus prompting the general to protect his men and himself in order to secure their safety. However, after he is blinded by Odysseus, Polyphemus’ actions actually go overlooked when Poseidon responds to the outcries by his son. Polyphemus asking Poseidon never to allow Odysseus to reach home again foreshadows the obvious one-sided consequence that Odysseus will have to endure. The fact that Poseidon grants Polyphemus’ wish is the reason he is his son, therefore, it is evident that Gods make decisions for their own incentives. Poseidon’s specific incentive harmed Odysseus and his men. It is an insensitive act that continues throughout the poem each time Poseidon becomes aware of Odysseus getting a step closer to being home.
Unlike Poseidon, Zeus favors Odysseus, or so it is intended to look like so. When he is approached by Athena, who asks if he has no care for Odysseus in his lofty heart, he admits that Odysseus “…excels all men in wisdom, excels in offerings too he gives the immortal gods who rule the vaulting skies…” Zeus may only have a connection with Odysseus because he fancies the sacrifices Odysseus brings, which later becomes important when miscommunication is discussed. If Zeus favors Odysseus for the man he is, he will stop his brother Poseidon from his angry wrath against Odysseus, especially when mentioning that “… it’s all gods against one.” However, when Zeus questions Athena, “How could I forget Odysseus?” he does not once mention that he actually likes him and is willing to help him. Athena, in fact, had to bring the problem, Odysseus being away for so long, up for the assembly to even address it.
If we quickly transition to what the sacrifices offer, we can see that the Gods forgive those who sacrifice the correct products to the correct God who is upset. Throughout the Odyssey, mortals offer sacrifices, pray to the gods, and reassure one another that though fate lies in God’s hands, it will all be okay. In book 6, when Nausicaa meets Odysseus, she tells him, “… it’s Olympian Zeus himself who hands our fortunes out, to each of us in turn, to the good and bad, however, Zeus prefers … He gave you pain, it seems. You simply have to bear it.” The religious belief mortals have in the gods is their way of understanding them.
The reason that Homer decides to start off the Odyssey with Zeus’ argument is to make a starter claim, meaning that it’s thrown in there to see if the reader will side with the mighty God, knowing his worth. What readers are not aware of are all the contradictions the gods will make after that. Zeus speaking of how Odysseus is great, follows the starter claim. However, it is all ironic that he transitions so quickly from complaining about mortals to praising Odysseus. Zeus knows he is wrong, however, the reader does not catch on or notice that throughout the entire epic poem, Odysseus does not blame the gods for his miseries which contradicts Zeus’ argument. Homer throws these subtle contradictions and behavior to actually show that being immortal does not make the gods better. If anything, it makes them worse because the gods don’t understand mortals.
The Greek Gods are anthropomorphic in nature, meaning that they are based on the same humans who praised them. However, in the case of the Odyssey, humans are more practical in their lives and what they expect from their Gods. However, it is not reciprocated since the Gods are self-centered they believe that these gifts are for all that they have done, so the Gods believe themselves entitled to everything the mortals give them. The insensitive gods influence their world in a negative way. Specifically upon their subjects, if Zeus truly cared about Odysseus, he would’ve confronted his brother, especially with the pantheon of gods supporting him. The tragedy of the poem itself is Odysseus’ travels and struggles, which all could have been avoided if the Gods weren’t so human.
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