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Odysseus' Morality Principles, Its Formation And Changes

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One of the traits of an epic is that a character must have a transformation of nature throughout their journey in the narrative. For the Odyssey, that character would be Odysseus. Through all the encounters with gods, giants, monsters, and humans, each which helps in his development, he is able to grow into a different man as he manages to survive and reach his homeland of Ithaca. Aside from gaining the heroic qualities that Greeks value, his morality also shifted based on the situation he was in. [will change the intro based off feedback]

In the story, Odysseus is portrayed as a good man with all the valued greek morals, doing nothing wrong to deserve suffering. This is first shown when Athena argues with Zeus to release him from Calypso’s island, as she says,”But my heart breaks for Odysseus, that seasoned veteran cursed by fate so long…”(Fagles 1. 57-58) Athena as a goddess stands up for Odysseus, insisting that the misfortunes in his fate were not of his fault, while implying the fact that she couldn’t help much even if she wanted to. Homer also chooses the word “cursed” indicating the torments that are involved were not chosen by Odysseus, but given. Throughout the epic, it is also stressed that he has his path set on returning home to his wife and son, even on Calypso’s island, he thinks,“By nights he would lie beside her, of necessity, in the hollow caverns, against his will... breaking his heart in tears and lamentation and sorrow as weeping tears he looked out over the barren water.” (Wilson 5.152-158) Despite Calypso seducing Odysseus with pleasure and immortality, he still weeps for a longing to return home no matter what. This sense of reunitement demonstrates the value of loyalty, where his heart remains pure to family, and is thus a moral character to Greeks.

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However, on his journey and he slips from that [pure] mindset from time to time, he ends up becoming immoral, where the delay in his homecoming prolongs as well. This ignorance from the morals he once held can be shown in several situations. One of them would be his encounter with the cyclopes, Polyphemus. After being trapped by the monster, Odysseus begins to think of a plan to escape, described as,”I was left there, brooding on how I might make them pay and win glory from Athena.”(Lombardo 9.310-311) As he is forced to become cunning in this situation, it becomes more of a negative connotation. Odysseus used his wit to escape from a difficult situation, but unlike clever, he is deceitful and sly in nature. This shows that his heart is clouded, by wanting to gain something for himself only. After that, the instance following his escape, Odysseus once again does not make the right choices. He taunts the cyclops, yelling,” You savage! But you got yours in the end, Didn’t you? You had the gall to eat the guests. In your own house, and Zeus made you pay for it.”(Lombardo 9.477-479) His hubris took over and he believed he was powerful enough to mock such a monster. This behavior of exceeding human nature and comparing oneself to the gods was forbidden by greek standards, where Odysseus received retribution by Poseiden for the remainder of his time at sea. If he had not provoked Polyphemus and maintained the morals of being modest, his homecoming would have come drastically sooner.

By the end of the journey, when Odysseus finally returns home to Ithaca, he becomes incredibly cruel and displays merciless behavior towards the suitors. He slaughters anyone that gets in his way, to which is emphasized by the vivid images of Homer’s descriptions. When he was faced with Eurymachus, Odysseus responded,”...not even if you gave me your entire family fortunes, All that you have and ever will have, would I stay my hands from killing.” (Lombardo 22.65-68) Despite the begging and pleads, he refused to keep the suitors alive, which is not a trait a hero should have. After all the adventures he's faced, it changed his character considerably. Instead of choosing who to kill, he now chooses who not to kill, showing his morality and views have been altered. The situation becomes worse when he asks for all his maids to be hanged as well, just for being with the suitors. Furthermore, he says,” You dogs! You never imagined I’d return from Troy, so cocksure that you bled my house to death, ravished my serving women…” (Fagles 22. 35-36) This reveals the fact that Odysseus knew that the maids were forced and raped by the suitors, but still decides to kill them all. He is immoral this way, especially when he [voluntarily] chose to be unfaithful to Penelope several times on his way home, but nothing that vicious happened to him.

Compared to the beginning, when all Odysseus wanted was to reach home to see his wife and son, his morals have adapted to fit his journey, shunning away purer thoughts, and becoming more immoral in order to survive. This immorality can be expressed in a multitude of character traits, such as the cunningness he needs to outsmart monsters, or disloyalty at times to prevent endangering his men.

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