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Iliad Versus Odyssey: Comparative Essay

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The Odyssey- is best understood as a ‘reception’ or ‘reading’ of the Iliad but one that ultimately wants to problematize its source text– that is, Homer (as a shorthand for whoever the author was) wants the Odyssey to address the same major issues as the Iliad but come to a fundamentally different conclusion as to what is important.

A good version of this paper will carefully consider the whole of the Iliad and the Odyssey and will show the ways that Odyssey ‘reads’, interprets, and criticizes the Iliad not just on a narrative level (where Iliadic characters reappear) but also implicitly (themes, trajectories, values) and stylistically (epithets, similes, mirror scenes, etc). A good version of this paper will also make a statement about what the ‘point/moral’ of the Iliad is and how the ‘point/moral’ of the Odyssey differs — and support that with ample citation from the text. Particular attention should be paid to Odyssey books which are ‘about’ the Iliad (2-4, 8, 11, 23-24 as well as, potentially, the Cretan lies from 13-24).

  1. criticizes the Iliad not just on a narrative level (where Iliadic characters reappear)
  2. implicitly (themes, trajectories, values)
  3. stylistically (epithets, similes, mirror scenes, etc).
  4. make a statement about what the ‘point/moral’ of the Iliad is and how the ‘point/moral’ of the Odyssey differs — and support that with ample citation from the text.
  5. Particular attention should be paid to Odyssey books which are ‘about’ the Iliad (2-4, 8, 11, 23-24 as well as, potentially, the Cretan lies from 13-24).

The Odyssey is widely understood to follow on from the Iliad as a ‘reception’ or ‘reading’; it addresses similar themes of fatherhood, nostos, and kleos which are also primary and prevalent issues in the Iliad. However, the overall message Homer presents through these themes are not always in line with the primary text. This paper will consider the whole of the Iliad and the Odyssey and will show the ways that Odyssey ‘reads’, interprets, and criticizes the Iliad not just on a narrative level, where characters appear in both the Iliad and the Odyssey; but also, implicitly through the themes of fatherhood and values of kleos (fame and glory, a Greek hero earns this through accomplishing great deeds ) and nostos (a hero returning home by the sea, thus gaining a high level of heroism); and stylistically through repeated scenes and storytelling. Through this investigation between the similarities and differences of the two Homeric poems, it will be possible to make the statement that although key themes and ideas are carried between the two poems, there is an evident shift in the ‘point/moral’ being made. Therefore, the ‘point/moral’ of the Odyssey differs from the Iliad.

Firstly, when evaluating the Homeric epic poems, there are particular rules which create similarities in the structure of both the Iliad and the Odyssey creating a resemblance between the two. It is important to recognize the key similarities before making an argument for how they differ. In the simplest sense, the Iliad is a tale of the Trojan War; and the Odyssey is of the return of the heroes of that war. This supports the idea that the structural similarities of the Homeric poems are the way both poems are divided in two. For example, the first half of the Odyssey encapsulates the return of Odysseus and the second half the revenge against the suitors. In a similar way, the Iliad is divided first with the anger of Achilles and the second the results of that wrath in battle. Another structural similarity is the fact that in both poems there is a reconciliation moment. In the Odyssey, the meeting of Telemachus and his father; and in the Iliad when Achilles lets go of his wrath and joins the battle. Lastly, the height of both poems reveals many similarities. Before the point of the climax the psychological state of the hero is pictured. In addition, the majority characters and Gods are present. It is very evident in these climactic scenes in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, the scene is full of key figures.

However, with regard to structure, in both of the Homeric epic poems the end scenes are not so similar and therefore suggest they are not a direct ‘reading’ or ‘reception’ of each other. Homer, in a way leaves the audience questioning what comes next, which is at odds with our understanding of Fate and a heroic figure in the Homeric world. We would assume that the fate of the main characters would be fully established by the end. The Iliad does not fulfil this since we do not know if they returned home in the end. It is only later revealed in the Odyssey through the story telling of other characters, thus highlighting where the structural similarities veer off track.

Fate is presented in the same format up until certain points in the book. For example, in book 4, Achilles was guilty of hubris in him refusal of Agamemnon’s offer of reconciliation. In addition to this in book 9, he is also guilty of hubris in the long plea of Phoenix (I 434-605). This mentor of Achilles, who loves him as his own son, begs the hero to yield, not only because of the gifts offered by Agamemnon but also to the prayers of the Achaean leaders (vss. 520-523). when Achilles rejects the offered reconciliation, he is guilty of hubris, which is due to his angry temper and leads to his doom.

In the Odyssey, it is much the same. the crafty Odysseus and the hero’s craft is seen in the climax of the poem, the slaughter of the suitors, just as the wrath of Achilles reveals itself in the taking off of Hector. The best example of the cunning of Odysseus is found in book 9, where the hero commits an act of hubris which the poet connects directly with his ultimate fate. Just before Odysseus reveals himself to the Phaeacians he requests Demodocus to sing of the Wooden Horse: the greatest strategy of the hero at Troy, his most famous trick. The bard’s song, introduces the leading motif, further shown by the words of Odysseus (L I9 f.), Of all the adventures described by Odysseus none so well shows his craft as does the blinding of Cyclops, and it is this adventure, too, which led to all his troubles. Overall, the theme of fate is directly connected with the personality of the heroic character, the cause of the fate is revealed to us in the same place in each poem, and the episode in which it is revealed, because it forms to some extent a link between the two parts of the narrative.

With regard to how characters who appear in both the iliad and the Odyssey show development… there continuation is often demonstrated trough a them. In the case of nester this is seemingl fatherhood. The Nestor of the Odyssey is not dissimilar to the Nestor of the Iliad; he is a hero of an earlier time who gives wisdom to the younger generation. But in the Odyssey Nestor can also be seen to adopt some of Priam’s character traits. When he speaks with Telemachus about the events of Troy, he speaks of the death of his son. Antilochus; although he has many sons remaining to him, he mourns the death of this particular one in a manner reminiscent of Priam’s mourning for Hector, though Priam’s railing against his surviving sons. Nestor is also in the Odyssey in no position to witness things directly; what news he can pass on to Telemachus is what he has been told by others whilst he has been in his palace, just as in the Iliad Priam takes no part in the fighting and must, in book III, have a number of Achaian heroes pointed out to him by Helen. Priam and Nestor are both fathers with a large number of sons and sons-in-law; that they are fathers is central to both their characters. Both men also achieve a bittersweet nostos with comparatively little difficulty, contrary to expectations. Nestor is the only Achaian we meet or hear of who accomplishes his return home without either excessive detour on the way or being murdered upon arrival.

He is not fighting when he is on his journey but is seeking and receiving information about someone who did, namely Odysseus. In Odyssey 1 Athene announces her intention to send Telemachus to Pylos and Sparta asking after his father. She expressly states that he will inquire about his father’s nostos and earn kleos for himself. (different to how kleos is earned in the iliad ) This serves to closely associate the two concepts within the Odyssey, in conjunction with the theme of fatherhood. The two concepts are also closely linked in the Iliad. but in the Iliad they stand in conflict with one another; here the two are in no opposition to one another. It is significant that Telemachus will gain kleos from searching for news about his father within the world of the Odyssey; it is hard to imagine that something that involves no fighting but merely the visiting of two old friend’s of one’s father could earn kleos within the world of the Iliad. The criteria required for earning renown have changed in the post-Iliadic world within which Telemachus is operating from what they were previously.

The medium change between the two poems…. Shows how the themes mention above do not directly mean the same between both poems. All the events of the Odyssey itself are told rather than sung. The different medium of delivery for kleos supports an interpretation that reads a different nature for kleos. The openings of the two poems do not only suggest that the nature of kleos has changed between the Iliad and the Odyssey; they also suggest that the significance of fatherhood has altered in a way not unconnected to the altered nature of kleos. The character who, despite his absence for the majority of the poem, dominates the action of the Iliad is named, complete with a patronymic, in the opening line of the poem. The poem stands as a vehicle for the lasting kleos of Achilles, kleos of the type typical of the Iliadic, pre-Odyssean world. Odysseus, by contrast, is not named until the twenty-first line of the Odyssey, and it is without patronymic. Odysseus’ patronymic is not in fact used until book 9 when he himself is speaking and is giving an account of his wanderings; that it is not used whereas Achilles’ is emphasized at Odyssey 8.75, when Demodokos is said to sing of the quarrel. Odysseus in Odyssey 9 is generating his own kleos and starts doing so with similar language to that used in the poem which recorded Achilles’ deeds for posterity. The concept of kleos cannot be entirely divorced from Odysseus’ story, as by telling his story he almost by definition generates kleos for himself.

In the Iliad, Achilles’ story, it is made clear that Achilles cannot have both kleos and nostos. This is hinted at in book 1 when Thetis makes the suggestion that he will not live to return home. The mutual exclusivity of kleos and nostos for Achilles is spelled out by the hero himself in book 9 when he says that if he remains at Troy. In contrast, By earning his kleos through an account of his nostos, Odysseus departs abruptly from the Iliadic model.

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Both Achilles in the Iliad and Odysseus in the Odyssey find themselves thinking of drawing their swords from beside their thighs, but whereas Achilles must be restrained by Athene, Odysseus sees for himself that killing the Cyclops is not a sensible course of action. it suggests that Odysseus is a different sort of hero from Achilles.

the Odyssey looks back to the Iliad and how it has developed similar ideas in a different direction. The result is a presentation of a post-Iliadic world that is vastly different to that presented in the Iliad, in which a compromise can be found between concepts that were irreconcilable within the Iliad and a division is starting to appear between the Iliadic world and that which followed it, with Odysseus alone successfully bridging that gap; he is able to exist in both the Iliad and the Odyssey as a heroic figure, a feat not truly matched by any other character, but once he is in the Odyssean world the ties of fatherhood link him more closely to the generation that comes after him in the post-Iliadic universe than to the generation which came before him – he is much closer to the Telemachus who in the course of the poem develops into a younger version of himself that the Laertes who lives alone in the mountains, a shadow of what he once was.

Structure

Ring composition present in both odyssey and Illiad – evidence of it being written to a formula and structure. the Odyssey after book 23.296 is a later addition by a less skilled poet than Homer. Other critics,believe that the end of the Odyssey is not Homeric. consider the structure of the poem, while the Odyssey could end with Odysseus’ reunion with Penelope, it does not follow that it should end there. Before Odysseus is even mentioned by name in the Odyssey he is said to be “nostou kexrhmenon h0de gunaikoj”; his homecoming and his wife and mentioned in the same breath, Thus one might reasonably argue that an ending in which Odysseus arrives at the centremost part of his house, his bedchamber, with his wife reflects the opening of the poem and so is structurally apt.

Gods in both Iliad and odyssey.

there is precedent for a Homeric poem to have scenes both at its opening and its closing which consist of conversations between the gods, as this is the case in the Iliad. Iliadic similarities do not end there; Hermes is a feature both of Iliad 24 and of Odyssey 24. Athene does not only figure in these conversations with Zeus but also appears at other key moments within the structure of the Odyssey. One can arguably see a second beginning to the Odyssey at the beginning of book 5, when the main narrative of the poem is transferred from Telemachos to Odysseus, and here too we have a conversation between Athene and Zeus, though this one lacks the repeated line. Thus do both possible openings to the story of Odysseus have the same element to which book 24 can be related through ring-composition. More specifically, and this is also a feature with precedent in the Iliad, Athene appears to mortals in both the opening and closing stages of the Odyssey; Thetis appears to her son Achilles in both the first and last books of the Iliad, Athene appears as Mentes to Telemachos in Odyssey 1 then as Mentor in Odyssey 2, and as Mentor she appears to Odysseus towards the end of book 24. Her disguise as Mentor is introduced with the same words in both book 2 and book 24, again suggesting a deliberate link between the end of the poem and its earlier stages: “Mentori ei0domenh h0men demaj h0de kai au0dhn” Not only does Athene appear in these instances as respectable adult male figures, she also appears to Odysseus in book 13 as a young girl. This appearance of Athene marks the beginning of a sequence of scenes involving disguise and recognition, and it seems appropriate that she is in a different disguise entirely from those she adopts at the beginning and end of the poem when acting after her conversations with Zeus. The result is something of an ABA sequence; without book 24 there would not be such a readily discernable pattern to Athene’s more marked appearances.When Zeus first speaks in the Iliad, a speech which sparks off the conversation between him and Athene which I mentioned above, he speaks of what happened to Agamemnon on his homecoming and the vengeance exacted for this by Orestes, his son.

In Iliad 24, a disguised Hermes conveys Priam safely to the hut of Achilles in a journey highly reminiscent of the journey of a departed soul to the underworld. On his arrival, Priam reminds Achilles of Achilles’ father, Peleus, and in doing so obtains Achilles’ sympathy, Hector’s body and the opportunity to return safely to Troy in defiance of the expectations of those who saw him go. In Odyssey 24 Hermes accompanies actual souls to the actual underworld, where once again Achilles is the focus of attention. There is an implicit contrast here between the circumstances of Iliad 24 and Odyssey 24, and the circumstances of all involved are different. There will be for the suitors no highly unlikely return to their homes and families, and Achilles as a powerless shade is in no position to help them achieve anything; it is Agamemnon who addresses the suitors, when in Priam’s case Achilles prevented the old man’s presence from coming to the attention of the other Achaeans. The contrast between the two end books of the Homeric epics emphasises the differences between the protagonists of the two poems. We are reminded by it that Achilles remembered Peleus in Iliad 24. Achilles never saw his father again, since he chose to have a short but glorious life rather than a long, unremarkable one in which he might have had a nostoj and seen his father again. When Achilles in the Iliad talks of Phthia he tends to mention his father’s palace; the father is very closely associated with homecoming. Odysseus, on the other hand, has not died and at no point chose kleoj over nostoj. It therefore makes sense, if we follow the Iliadic model, that the story of his homecoming culminate in, or at the very least include, a reunion with his father. While it would be farcical to argue that book 24 be included in the Odyssey on the basis that similarities to the Iliad in one part of the book demand that another part of the book be present within the Odyssey, father-son relationships play an important part in the Odyssey prior to book 24, the first four books for example focussing on Telemachos’ attempts to find out more about his father’s fate since the fall of Troy, and given that we know from a number of references within the Odyssey that Laertes is still alive, the poem would seem oddly incomplete without any encounter between the two men.

Storytelling

The majority of Odyssey 9-12 consists of Odysseus relating the story of his wanderings since the fall of Troy to the Phaeacians. This by itself would be enough to suggest that story-telling has a significant role within the Odyssey, but story-telling is made more significant by the frequent references to it and instances of it within Odysseus’ own tale. Story-telling and singing are both closely intertwined with the themes of remembering and forgetting within the Odyssey. the importance of story-telling as a social convention and a means of transmitting information.

Throughout the Odyssey, when the story is being told by Homer Odysseus is in the process of accomplishing things; his homecoming is not all that he might have wished for, but he progresses steadily towards his goal, which he eventually accomplishes. The course of Odysseus’ wanderings, in which he accomplishes little and more than once is forced to visit the same place twice, delaying any geographical progression towards his home. Thus while Homer’s song is one of Odysseus’ accomplishments and the achievement of his nostos, Odysseus’ is one of suffering.

Link to the Iliad and while it is not told through stories there is a similar technique displayed in the battle scene and the switching of sides of who is winning, as a delaying tactic.

In book 11 the importance of tales of what happened at and after Troy – post Iliad- When Odysseus encounters the dead Agamemnon, he asks his leader how he came to be dead, and Agamemnon responds with his own story, which the poem’s audience has already heard through a variety of mouths. Agamemnon then asks for information in return, about the fate of his son, Orestes, which Odysseus is unable to give him. Achilles too wishes to know about events in the world of the living since he himself died, and there Odysseus is able to be of help. The telling of stories serves to connect the dead to the living; it bridges what is under normal circumstances an insurmountable gap. Furthermore, the importance of the fact that it is a living person who is communicating with the dead and from whom they hope to hear stories of their filoi is emphasized if one considers that there are surely others among the dead who would be well-placed to reveal the facts for which Odysseus is asked;

It is those who yet live who connect the dead to the world of the living; there is no place for the dead to tell stories of the living among themselves. Not only does the telling of stories connect the dead to those still living, but it is also able to affect the dead. Achilles, at the beginning of his conversation with Odysseus, is unhappy, stating that he would rather be living as a thrall than a king amongst the dead. This opposes his decision he made in the Iliad It is made very clear by this that being dead is far from a good state in which to be, and one in which one would not expect to experience positive emotions. A new message is given by homer as opposed to the idea that it was glorious to die in battle, which he presented in the Iliad.

However, an important difference between Agamemnon and Achilles. Odysseus is unable to satisfy Agamemnon with any news about his son; though Agamemnon wishes to hear a story, Odysseus knows none to tell him. Achilles, on the other hand, is told the story of his son’s deeds at Troy after his own death, and they are deeds of which no father need be ashamed. And so the man who would rather be a slave than in the position in which he finds himself is nonetheless “ghqosunh” after his encounter with Odysseus because he has been told good things about the family line that continues now that he is dead.

Tiresias’ account of the journey Odysseus will undertake with an oar also allows the Odyssey, an account of Odysseus’ return home, to look forward to what will happen after his homecoming is accomplished, much as in many ways the Iliad looks both back to the beginning of the Trojan War and forward to its end, though neither falls within the timeline of the poem. Before even Tiresias, to whom we expected Odysseus to be the first to speak based on Circe’s words, speaks we hear from one of Odysseus’ own companions, Elpenor, who died on Circe’s island. His story, therefore, defeats our expectations and has the effect of sending Odysseus almost straight back to the island whence he has just come after a year of delay. The story itself delays Tiresias’ words to Odysseus and causes Odysseus another brief delay in that it makes him go back to Circe’s isle to bury him

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