The Odyssey: Where Does Necessity End And Desire Begin?

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What makes a society civilized? This question has been asked for thousands of years but it can never be truly answered because of many conflicting opinions and influencing factors. Yet it’s still a widely discussed and debated topic, that is popular in literature. Odysseus’s adventures in Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, portrays his idea of civilization as the ability to fulfill one’s desire, while savagery is depicted as the life of necessity. The idea of necessity vs. desire is depicted many times throughout Odysseus’s journey home, to his family and what he believes is civilization. He runs across many vastly different landscapes and societies. Two of the most distinct lands odyssey comes across is the land of the Phaeacians and the land of the Cyclopes. The Phaeacians live a lavish and carefree life which is praised for being civilized, while the cyclopes live a life of necessity and simplicity that is described as savage. Yet is that really the case?

The Phaeacians are considered one of the most advanced societies in The Odyssey, Their lifestyle choices assert their power and what homer believes is civilization. This life they choose is one not of necessity but desire. Their walls are “plated in bronze”(Homer,182) and the king Alcinous has “fifty serving women in his house”(Homer,182). Yet even the bright-eyed goddess Athena explains that Odyssey can take refuge here, as the people are not savage because of the abundance of riches they have to offer. The Phaeacian royalty is even described as having “luxuriant trees”(Homer,183) that were “showered down by the gods”(Homer,183). This society is based around how extravagant and how many of your earthly desires can be fulfilled, though they are civilized greed runs through their veins. While the cyclops land revealed as the opposite of a basic and simple lifestyle.

The cyclops is described as a primitive and barbaric because they only have the basic means to survive. The cyclops land is portrayed as an unappealing and fruitless land, yet “the earth teams with all that

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What makes a society civilized? This question has been asked for thousands of years but it can never be truly answered because of many conflicting opinions and influencing factors. Yet it’s still a widely discussed and debated topic, that is popular in literature. Odysseus’s adventures in Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, portrays his idea of civilization as the ability to fulfill one’s desire, while savagery is depicted as the life of necessity. The idea of necessity vs. desire is depicted many times throughout Odysseus’s journey home, to his family and what he believes is civilization. He runs across many vastly different landscapes and societies. Two of the most distinct lands odyssey comes across is the land of the Phaeacians and the land of the Cyclopes. The Phaeacians live a lavish and carefree life which is praised for being civilized, while the cyclopes live a life of necessity and simplicity that is described as savage. Yet is that really the case?

The Phaeacians are considered one of the most advanced societies in The Odyssey, Their lifestyle choices assert their power and what homer believes is civilization. This life they choose is one not of necessity but desire. Their walls are “plated in bronze”(Homer,182) and the king Alcinous has “fifty serving women in his house”(Homer,182). Yet even the bright-eyed goddess Athena explains that Odyssey can take refuge here, as the people are not savage because of the abundance of riches they have to offer. The Phaeacian royalty is even described as having “luxuriant trees”(Homer,183) that were “showered down by the gods”(Homer,183). This society is based around how extravagant and how many of your earthly desires can be fulfilled, though they are civilized greed runs through their veins. While the cyclops land revealed as the opposite of a basic and simple lifestyle.

The cyclops is described as a primitive and barbaric because they only have the basic means to survive. The cyclops land is portrayed as an unappealing and fruitless land, yet “the earth teams with all that it needs”(Homer 215). The cyclopes have the three necessities in life food, water, and shelter but that isn’t seen as civilized because they aren’t striving for excessive worldly possessions. They have little to offer and little to live on they don’t have bronze walls and gold doors. What the cyclopes do have are “flocks of bleating goats” and “wheat, barley, and vines”. Homer uses these quotes to highlight how basic the cyclops’s needs are. What is truly civilized desire or necessity?

The life of desire is shown as civilization though it has impure intentions with it and a life of simplicity and necessity is shown as savage though this lifestyle is not as cruel. The civilized Phaeacians are living a life of expectation and prosperity. This life brings savage tendencies such as greed( philargyria) and gluttony (gastrimargia) which are part of the seven deadly sins. Those are savage acts to commit in a supposedly advanced society. The cyclops have no need to fight over pointless riches based on their lack of desire they seem to have at least some civilized qualities. In any civilization savagery and necessity exist without it nothing could advance, it’s just a matter of balancing and understanding what makes something or someone consumed by desire.

Work Cited

  1. Homer, The Odyssey. New York: Penguin Classics. 1996.Print.

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The Odyssey: Where Does Necessity End And Desire Begin? (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-odyssey-where-does-necessity-end-and-desire-begin/
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