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Odysseus’s Life: Fate Or Free Will?

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In Homer’s The Odyssey, there were multiple power struggles between various gods, including Athena and Poseidon in regards to Odysseus, the protagonist hero. Throughout the story Odysseus is confronted with multiple events that change how long it takes for him to return home to his family. Does Odysseus have free will and is capable of determining his own fate or are the gods controlling that for him? This essay will identifying three incidents in which Odysseus determines the course of events in his life including: His confrontation with the cyclops, Polymorphus(book 9), Odysseus’s choice on whether to become immortal with Calypso or leave the island(book 5), and the choice to withhold the full prophecy of Tiresias from his shipmates . I will also dissect three incidents in which Odysseus’s fate was controlled by the gods which include: Poseidon’s ability to delay Odysseus from returning home, Athena persuading Zeus to allow Odysseus to leave Calypso’s island, and Athena erasing the memory of the suitor’s families who were slain by Odysseus during his return.

In book 9 of The Odyssey, Odysseus and his comrades encounter Polyphemus, the cyclops, who is also Poseidon’s son. His shipmates want to just grab what they need from the cave they encountered but Odysseus insisted they wait for whoever owned the cave to return. Polyphemus, the owner of the cave, finds Odysseus and his men in the cave and traps him in his home. When asked his name by the cyclops, Odysseus cleverly replies “Nobody” is his name. Odysseus then offers his wine in order to get the Cyclops drunk so he could form a plan of escape. While passed out in a drunken state, Polyphemus is stabbed in the eye, which then bursts leaving him blind. Polyphemus cried out in pain. The cyclops’s friends hear his screams of pain and come to investigate. When asked if he was alright, Polyphemus stated that “Nobody” was hurting him because he was under the impression that that was Odysseus’s name. The other cyclops left thinking everything was fine and Odysseus and his men finally were able to escape the Cyclops’s cave. Odysseus’s mistake upon leaving the island, was pridefully announcing his actual name to the Cyclops. Polyphemus then calls out to his father Poseidon asking him to create difficulty for Odysseus on his way home. This decision ultimately caused Odysseus to lose not only all of his men but it also ends up taking another 10 years for him to get home.

Poseidon, furious that his son had been blinded, decides to avenge his son, Polyphemus. Poseidon cursed Odysseus with a long and painful trip home. Odysseus encounters many trials at the hands of Poseidon on the way home. In one trial, Poseidon creates a storm that destroys a raft built by Odysseus.(book 5). If it hadn’t been for his fate (already decided by the gods) and the help of the sea nymph Ino, he might have died in Poseidon’s storm. Poseidon is the main contributing factor on why Odysseus takes years to get home versus weeks. The only thing stopping Poseidon from completely destroying Odysseus is his fate, decided by the gods, which was to ultimately arrive home from Troy.

After Odysseus was granted freedom, by Zeus, from the nymph Calypso he built a raft and stocked it with supplies for the voyage. Calypso attempted one last time to keep Odysseus on the island. She offered Odysseus immortality and the choice to stay with her or to leave the island, face tough trials along the way home, and to remain mortal. Odysseus chose mortality and to leave the island to venture back home even if it meant more trials by the gods. (Book 5). Odysseus chose hardship over contentment. A lot of men, including Achilles, would have chosen to become immortal, thus becoming more “godlike”, Odysseus on the other hand, chose to remain mortal.

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Athena asked Zeus to tell Calypso to release Odysseus as prisoner and allow him to leave her island, Ogygia. Even though Odysseus was able to leave the island he was only able to due to Athena’s influence on Zeus. Zeus ultimately sent Hermes to inform Calypso that Odysseus is to be allowed to leave Ogygia. Athena stepping in to help was primarily due to her fondness of Odysseus. Without her help, Odysseus might have remained on Ogygia forever and it would have been unlikely he would have gotten to travel home if Calypso had her way. Once again his fate was in the hands of the gods.

In book 11, Odysseus encounters the blind prophet, Tiresias who tells him his future, including that if Helios’s cattle were harmed his men would not survive the trip home. Poseidon creates a storm that pushes Odysseus and his men towards Helios’s island (book ?). His men insist that they stop there to rest even though Odysseus advises against it. Odysseus informs them that they must not touch Helios’s cattle but he neglects to tell them that they will die if the cattle are harmed. Because he refuses to tell the men about the prophecy it is almost like he is choosing the fate where he has to journey home alone. If he would have told his men the full prophecy, maybe it would have prevented Helios’s cattle from being harmed no matter how hungry his shipmates were.

In the end of the Odyssey, Athena chooses to prevent any more fighting by forcing the suitors’s families and Odysseus into a pact of peace. She threatening that Zeus will be angry if they do not agree to stop fighting. Out of fear of the wrath of the gods they all agree to the pact of peace. In the end this action by Athena helped him by preventing any retaliation and further suffering for Odysseus and he is finally able to live in peace as King. If she had not forced this pact of peace the back and forth retaliation might have endured until ultimately there was noone left to fight.

Throughout Odysseus’s life he makes several decisions that determine his own fate: the battle with the cyclops, Polyphemus, choosing the life of a mortal man instead of immortality with Calypso, and the decision to omit an important part of the prophecy to his men Making a different choice in these instances could have saved him and his men plenty of suffering. Even though these were instances in which Odysseus was able to choose of his own free will, these were minuscule decisions compared to the god’s grand scheme choosing the path for Odysseus. Decisions like Poseidon’s will to keep Odysseus away from home, Athena’s influence over Zeus which allowing Odysseus’s from Calypso island, and Athena’s ability to force peace on immortal men were enormous life altering changes by the gods. From beginning to end, The Odyssey it appeared the gods primarily controlled Odysseus life, and even gave him warnings of the inevitable future he would face if an action was not avoided, such as Helios’s cattle not being left unharmed. These events illustrate that Odysseus does not have free will over his life and is why so many mortals in the Odyssey respect the gods and provide many offerings. The mortals believe the gods have the ability to change their faith dramatically and in The Odyssey that proves to be true.

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Odysseus’s Life: Fate Or Free Will? (2021, August 13). Edubirdie. Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/odysseuss-life-fate-or-free-will/
“Odysseus’s Life: Fate Or Free Will?” Edubirdie, 13 Aug. 2021, edubirdie.com/examples/odysseuss-life-fate-or-free-will/
Odysseus’s Life: Fate Or Free Will? [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/odysseuss-life-fate-or-free-will/> [Accessed 3 Oct. 2022].
Odysseus’s Life: Fate Or Free Will? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2021 Aug 13 [cited 2022 Oct 3]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/odysseuss-life-fate-or-free-will/
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