Temptation In The Odyssey
This essay is about temptation in the Odyssey, more specifically temptation and its role in the book. Showing how food displays everyday temptation and how Odysseus recklessness causes his own troubled journey home. Temptation in laments terms is the desire to do something you know you shouldn’t do.
This theme is something that is repeated constantly throughout the Odyssey in a multitude of ways and for many reasons. It shows on a scale how human and mortal the characters really are.
At the two extremes of the scale there are those who are favored by the gods and are even sometimes called “god like” and there are those who are just mortals, no special treatment from up high. Yet all fall pray to temptation at some point in time, event he great “god like Odysseus”. You will never see a god fall victim to temptation in the odyssey, for it would ruin the message and meaning of temptation on humanity. It is meant to subtly show that we as humans are imperfect, that no matter how high we reach and how noble we are we are still mortals and therefor susceptible to any and all mortal weaknesses.
We are unable to control it because we are human, and because we are human we are unable to control it. Temptation in the odyssey does more than just hint at and reinforce our humanity in comparison to the gods, it goes much deeper and starts to talk about how as humans we should act and behave. To be fall victim to temptation shows our humanity, but to exaggerate on it and show what happens if you constantly loose to temptation you start to see the difference between a civil human being and a non-civil human. Loosing that civility puts you in a very low place in society.
The Odyssey is an encoded “how to live in Greek society”. It talks about how to be goods hosts, how to treat people, how to behave and on and on the list will go. Temptation by food seems to be mentioned more than any other type of temptation. That is not to say that every time a character eats bread or drinks wine that some greater force tempts him. It also serves as part of a cultural function through banquets for celebration and with the act of xenia through out the book. Food is featured a lot in a lot of the scenes and serves as more of a general statement about temptation in The Odyssey.
“Of all the cities he saw, the minds he grasped, the suffering deep in his heart at sea as he struggled to survive and bring his men home but could not save them, hard as he tried- the fools- destroyed by their own recklessness when they ate the oxen of Hyperion the Sun, and that god snuffed out their day of return”1. The very first scene in the book talks about temptation and the “recklessness” of Odysseus’s crew. This scene is later depicted when Odysseus is describing his journey to the Phaeacians. Odysseus comes to the island of the Sun, a place filled with herds of immortal cattle and sheep.
The island its self presents no immediate threat the Odysseus and his crew. Odysseus has been warned by Cerci about the Sun’s herds and flocks “If you leave these unharmed and keep your mind on your journey, you might yet struggle home to Ithaca. But if you harm them, I foretell disaster for your ship and crew, and even if you escape yourself, you shall come home late and badly, having lost all your companions. ”2. Odysseus does not even want to stop on the island and push through the night for fear that his crew will be reckless and give into the temptation that walks the island.
His crew decides they have had enough for one day and need rest. The Island its self is a sort of temptation, a place to dock their boat and give there bodies rest, yes it would be nice to do that after rowing all day but not really necessary. It is the gods will that they are trapped on the island for a month and are tested yet again. Out of food and wine the crew becomes reckless, they have to decide whether they should forsake the sacred oath they swore to Odysseus to not touch the immortal animals or starve and pray to the gods they will be able to catch enough food to eat.
Knock, Knock whose there? Temptation! This could have been the last a final test against Odysseus and his crew before they sailed home, but they were tempted by the gods to slaughter the sacred animals and eat their lives away. This event put Odysseus back quite a ways. On the verge of almost being home the greatest antagonist of all; temptation, walks up on four legs and utterly wins again. Although food is prominently the number one source for temptation but it is not the home run, the granddaddy of them all or the big kahuna of temptation.
That spot is reserved for an act of recklessness that the “god like Odysseus” fell victim to. Kleos is a term used in epic poetry that speaks to the immortal fame or glory of a character. Characters earn it by doing deeds that could possible define who they are. Odysseus makes very little mistakes in the Odyssey. He is constantly praised for not only being strong and cunning physically but mentally as well. Odysseus and his crew came across the land of the Cyclopes. Odysseus was aware of these “Lawless savages who leave everything up to the gods.
”3 Odysseus and his crew see an island just off the shore untouched by man and thriving with animals and nature. That is where they beach their ships in the midst of night. When morning came the crew hunted down a hundred or so goats and feasted all day, while marveling at the Cyclopes across the water from them. Being the intellectual he is Odysseus decides that it would be a good idea to take a few of his men and sail over to an island just of the shore to see “what those men are like, wild savages with no sense of right or wrong or hospitable folk who fear the gods”4.
This is just the beginning of Odysseus’s brief recklessness. That scene makes Odysseus sound like he is just genuinely interested in meeting a Cyclopes since he never has and maybe never will get this chance again. But, there is and underlying purpose that Odysseus feels is worth perusing. Since he is not sure how the Cyclopes act he is optimistically hoping that he will be treated the way that everyone else has treated him, with xenia. Odysseus is hoping to get food and gifts out of the Cyclopes. This temptation of greed is what locks Odysseus into his lengthy voyage home.
If Odysseus was just wanting to look around and seeing the land that of the giants for what it was would have been ok, but Odysseus had already fallen in to the webs of temptation.. They didn’t need anything at this point, they were eating lavishly with an upwards of a hundred goats and sheep where they crew had first landed. They could have eaten and than been on there way. Heading to the high cave that was just off the shoreline Odysseus and his men take a look around and finally meet this giant Cyclopes.
His size and strength intimidate Odysseus and his crew into a corner. The Cyclopes asks them who they are. Odysseus answers with a sort of arrogant response that gives you the underlying purpose for wanting to go to the cave. He tells them that they are Greeks blown of course and that he was “hoping you will be generous to us and give us the gifts that are due to strangers respect the gods, sir. ”5 This arrogant response really infuriates the giant. He responds by picking up two of the crewmembers smashing them on the rocks like puppies and eating them limb-by-limb.
Eventually Odysseus is able to use his canny mind to hatch a plan and stab the Cyclopes in the eye to escape to his ship. Once he gets on the ship and ready to sail off Odysseus rubs the fact that he tricked the Cyclopes and escapes in his or what ever was left of his eye. He yells “ Cyclopes, if anyone, any mortal man, asks you how you got your eye put out tell him that Odysseus the maurder did it, Son of Laertes, whose home is Ithaca. ” 6 This temptation of Kleos is responsible for all of the trouble that falls upon Odysseus, his crew and even his family.
There was no need to yell out your name to the Cyclopes you just blinded except for purposeless glory. Odysseus had already won him self a Kleos, “God like Odysseus”. The need for more glory blinded Odysseus and ended up being his greatest downfall. Temptation is tough to turn away from. The human world is filled with it, in fiction and the real world. The Odyssey uses temptation to show how human we really are and how easy it is to succumb to the temptation that the world offers.
Homer uses food to show how easily one can be tempted as well as how much temptation there is in the world. Homer also shows that no matter how high you climb in life even if you become god like, you are still human and therefore fallible. Odysseus proved that with his reckless behavior while in the land of the giants. Through the use of food Homer is able to show how temptation is everywhere and that it is in our human nature to fall victim. Homer also shows that even the mightiest of men can slip and fall sometimes through Odysseus trials and tribulations.