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The Role of the Gods in The Odyssey

The question of the origin of Greek tragedy is one of the most difficult issues in the history of ancient literature. One reason for this is that the writings of ancient scholars who lived in the 5th century BC are probably based on some more ancient documents, in particular, the works that have not managed to continue their existence till nowadays. The myth is the basic element of the most primitive life and, moreover, justified by it. Mythology has always played a huge role in the culture of antiquity. Its understanding of time and epoch is totally unique and was treated differently, but still remained a manifestation of the ancient world.

Greek mythology existed in the distant past and found its logical conclusion with the end of its development as a community system (Segal ). It differs significantly from the earlier oral literature and religious traditions, where there was always the desire for fantasy and teaching.

In the myth, there is a close interrelation of the people’s life and the existence of nature. There are various social forms, recycled art images endowed with aesthetic orientation and reflecting a mythological picture of the entire cosmos, the gods, and heroes, who accept the completed systematic form (Segal).

The Greek gods are mythological and heroes – are the descendants of gods and mortals, giants – mythical monsters, usual earthly people, personalized images of fate – Moira, wisdom – Mother Earth, time – Kronos, kindness, joy – Grace, and many others produce the image of the other world that exists without any dependence of this world that is common and known by contemporary people (Segal).

There are other determined elements that are significant for the mythological culture. In particular, they are fire, water, air, and the spirits of the elements like Oceanides, Harpies, nymphs, the Nereids, Dryads, Sirens, and all of the above-mentioned forms a ground kingdom where Olympus and Tartars are interlaced. Greek mythology has the beauty of heroic deeds, poetic definition of the world order, the Cosmos, its inner life. It is a description of the world order, complex relationships, and the development of spiritual experience (Segal).

Gods are immortal and people are mortal. The concept of the hero is the relationship or proximity to the gods. Blessed gods are enjoying the happiness and eternal life. Heroes are unhappy they are meant to live a life of suffering and battles.

Homer is not a religious poet. That is why, the Homeric gods are like people. Gods are the personification of nature at the same time. Almost all gods are powerful, but their power has its limits (Risden). The gods have the body and blood. That is why, they may suffer. They are different from the humans. People are not really afraid of the gods as they usually argue with them, but not with all of them. Sometimes, they can even hit the gods. However, in the personification of the gods every hero feels not only support, but also opposition.

The characters have no fear of the gods. That is why, gods and heroes make a strange unity. Humanized gods, heroes deified. Olympic and early Olympic gods were important to the ancient Greek myth. Each creature had its sacred biography, its detailed magical name, strength that he/she combined to perform miracles (Risden). The myth and the reality turned out to be a miracle as a matter of faith. The gods with such powers were Zeus and Hera, Demeter and Poseidon, Athena and Hephaestus, Apollo and Artemis.

Greek myths tell that the Earth, burdened with overgrown population, asked Zeus to reduce the number of people living on it. With the Earth’s requests and the will of Zeus, the Trojan War was started. Earthly reason for this war was the kidnapping of Helena Trojan by Prince Paris. However, this kidnapping was justified purely from the mythological points of view. One of the Greek kings, Peleus, married Thetis – the Sea Princess, daughter of the Sea King Nereus. At the wedding where all the gods were invited but Eris, the goddess of discord, the realization of her revenge took place.

The offended goddess threw a golden apple with the inscription “to the most beautiful” on the table where all the invited guests were sitting. Myth narrated that the applicants for the possession of this apple were Hera Zeus’s wife, Athena the daughter of Zeus and the goddess of war and crafts and Aphrodite – the daughter of Zeus, goddess of love and beauty. When the dispute reached Zeus, he ordered to allow Paris, son of the Trojan king Priam to decide who should get the apple with the title “to the most beautiful”. These mythological motifs are of very recent origin.

All three goddesses had a long mythological history and are presented in antiquity as severe beings. People already feel so strong and wise that they could even do justice over the gods. Further development of this myth only exacerbates this motif of a relative fearlessness of a man before the gods and demons: Paris awarded the apple to Aphrodite and she helped him to steal Helen the Spartan queen.

True, the belief in gods and demons is not denied, but they are presented in a form that has little to do with the primitive and folk religion. Gera, Circe, and Calypso are women in luxurious clothes, buried in pleasures, in general, enjoying their life. Engaging images of the gods have these similarities that are common for all other resources (Risden). They are exactly the same characters in the work of art as well as the most common characters for people.

There are two types of myths that are totally different in a chthonic and heroic way. First, chthonic establishes that mythology is based on the type of disaster and chaotic phenomena of nature, unscrupulous and anarchistic, sometimes animal, and often disharmonious involving such characters like harpies, Erin. and other evil powers (Risden). The second is heroic mythology, which is contrasted to the first one and operates with images that are purely human, more or less balanced and harmonious that contains the installation of certain principles and morals. Olympic gods are more heroic, but chthonic beginning is strong in most of them.

In the poem The Odyssey, there is a great deal of religious and mythological controversy. Zeus is the supreme god, but he does not know much about what is going on in his kingdom. He is easy to deceive and if there is a difficult and complicated moment, he does not know what to do, and, in the end, it is impossible to understand how he chooses the people he protects. Around him, there is a constant intrigue, not necessarily of fundamental nature, but some domestic and family quarrels. Moreover, Zeus as the monarch of the world is very hesitant.

In the image of the general course of action, in the clutch of episodes, and in some scenes, he plays a vital role of “divine intervention”. Plot movement is determined by the outside need that is portrayed by the characters as the will of the gods or “destiny”. Mythological time creates a unity in the imaginary world that epic fails to reach rationally.

The Homeric gods are characterized by two factors: they are more humanized than it was in the real Greek religion and still remain a cult fetish with animals’ worship. Moreover, they are fully attributed not only to human form, but also experience human passions and individual divine characters are bright as humans. The Odyssey is the major story in which there is a concept of gods as the guardians of justice and morality for all people.

Zeus, the reign of clouds and sky, the Thunderer, blue-eyed Athena, Ares with copper protected equipment, strong Hera and Phoebus, or beautiful Apollo are the main personalities that were famous among people.

The Odyssey begins with the council of the gods. Athena convinces Zeus that it is necessary to release Odysseus. Zeus says that his decision is in accordance with the Poseidon’s anger. Hermes flies under Athena’s orders to liberate Odyssey. Athena protects Odysseus throughout the poem. She accompanies him everywhere turning herself into a swallow with the help of magic.

Athena comes in the form of an old man to Telemachus making him start an expedition to search for his father and sends the helping wind that was needed to direct his ship. Athena talks to the consciousness of her daughter Diamond Navsikay and asks her to go to the beach to wash. Goddess inspires courage to Navsikay. Athena extends the night for Odysseus and Penelope. Hermes saves Odysseus from the spell of Circe.

The Odyssey belongs to the genre of heroic epic literature where legendary and mythological demigods and gods are portrayed close to famous historical figures. Respect for the gods, love and respect for parents, homeland safety and protection are the commandments of the Greeks as reproduced in Homeric literature.

A gallery of typical images is individually outlined by Homer. People and gods in the Homer’s poems are depicted from different sides, for example, “human” features are recognized in the gods and the “divine” are present in the heroes (Strauss). Images of Homeric poems are filled with integrity, simplicity, even naivety in many cases, which is typical for the era of the early period of the development of human society. They are outlined with remarkable vigor and vitality and are marked with the most profound human truth (Strauss).

Olympic gods of the early times were a real myth to the ancient Greeks. However, each creature had its sacred biography, his detailed magical name, and strength, which the gods and magical creatures commanded and used to perform miracles with (Lefkowitz). The myth and the reality turned out to be a miracle and mostly were a matter of faith.

With the transition from matriarchy to patriarchy, a new stage of mythology developed. It can be called heroic, Olympic, or classical mythology. Instead of small gods, there is one master, the supreme god Zeus, the patriarchal community, and he appears on Mount Olympus.

Zeus is the chief god who essentially solves the most important issues and fights with various monsters, imprisons them under the ground, or even sends them to Tartars, i.e. the underground kingdom of the dead (Risden). Each group of gods on the Greek pantheon performed strictly defined functions. Zeus was the chief god, lord of the sky, thunder owner, he symbolized strength and power. Hera was the wife of Zeus, goddess of marriage, the patroness of the family. Poseidon was the god of the sea, brother of Zeus.

Athena was the goddess of wisdom and just war. Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty and she was born from the sea foam. Ares was the God of War. Artemis was the goddess of the hunt and Apollo was the god of sunlight and bright start and patron of the arts. They were very popular in the ancient times.

Hermes was the god of eloquence, trade, and theft, messenger of the gods, conductor of souls to Hades who was the god of the underworld. Hephaestus was the god of fire, patron of craftsmen, especially smiths (Risden). Demeter was the goddess of fertility, patron of agriculture. Hestia was known as the goddess of the hearth. Ancient Greek gods lived on a snowy Mount Olympus.

Now, everything is ruled by Zeus, all the elemental forces are under his command, he now is not only a king of thunder and lightning, which people are so afraid of, but now he can also be asked for help. As in the literature of the ancient Greeks and separately in the Homeric epics, there are a lot of gods’ images that change from story to another one. The role of the divine intervention also becomes an important one (Lefkowitz).

In addition to the gods’ worshiped heroes, there are demigods born of the marriage of gods and mortals. Hermes, Theseus, Jason, and Orpheus are the main and most famous heroes of Greek poems and myths. Gods differ from common people by their divine beauty, extraordinary strength, the gift to transform into any creature, and immortality. Like people, they often quarrel among themselves and even express hostility.

The goddess Athena, the patron of the Greeks, loved Odysseus more than the rest of them and helped him during every turn or dangerous point of his life (Strauss ). But the god Poseidon hated him and that was he who sent the storm and did not give Odysseus the access to his country for ten years. Ten years at Troy, ten years spent in the journey, and only on the twentieth year of his Life Test action begins. The Odyssey begins with “the will of Zeus” during which the gods hold council and Athena interceded before Zeus for Odysseus.

More concessions are to be mentioned to provide a picture of the deity. Homer’s gods are immortal, eternally young, have no serious concerns, and all the household items of their place Mount Olympus are golden. In The Odyssey, the poet entertains his audience with tales of gods and the gods are often in the roles that any mortal would be ashamed of. Thus, in The Odyssey, there is the tale of how god Hephaestus cleverly caught god Ares when he tried to seduce his wife Aphrodite (Homer).

Homer always speaks with all the seriousness about a half personified fate Moira. There is no control over it by the gods themselves, and her hands are, ultimately the first instance that influences life and death of a person, victory and defeat in battle. Moira is relentless; nobody can contact her with prayers and make sacrifices (Lefkowitz ). As it is natural for such religious beliefs, there are gloomy views on life after death that follow the people’s minds constantly and are reflected in the Homeric poems. However, they do not leave people with a hope for a better future after death.

The souls of the dead, like shadows, live in the underworld, the realm of Hades. They are devoid of consciousness and the poet compares them with bats. Just having drunk the blood of the sacrificial animal, they acquire consciousness and memory.

Achilles himself whom Odysseus encounters during his journey into the realm of the dead said that he would rather be on the ground as a poor day laborer than reign over the shadows in the underworld. Souls of the dead are separated from the world of the living by an invincible obstacle: they cannot help those who are left on earth or their loved ones and to harm their enemies.

But even this miserable fate of meaningless existence in hell is not available for the souls whose body was not buried properly because they will be wandering, unable to have even the mournful calm that waits for them in the realm of the dead.

Soul companion of Odysseus Elpenor requests this from Odysseus (Homer)

…Before the others before me was the soul of Elpenor;

Poor, not yet buried, lying on the ground.

He was not mourned by us, was not burial accomplished,

In the house of Circe, we left it: in the way we were in a hurry (Homer ).

The Odyssey draws a later period that shows a more developed system of slaveholding. However, the poem retains a unity of style and composition principles. In the poem, the story is based on folklore and fairytale motifs.

Odysseus comes back to Penelope and seeks revenge on her suitors and all those attempting to take her from him (Homer). The action is associated with great trials and losses because Odysseus loses all his companions and ships. In the end, the main character is reunited with his beloved though it is noted by the triumph and sadness because of the new concerns of Odysseus whom fate sends a new trial by the will of the gods.

In The Odyssey, the beginning and end of the poem are devoted to episodes in Ithaca. The compositional focus that is given to the story of Odysseus concentrates on his travels that are dominated by his descent into Hades where the talk of Odysseus with the souls of Achilles and Agamemnon is rendered.

In general, the gods were the symbols of life in general and played an important role in the fate of the main character of the poem The Odyssey. All the action that takes place in this ancient story is performed thanks to the will of the gods. They are the most important wheels of the history and life obstacles for Odysseus. They influence the main hero and try to break his will and inner bravery or some self-confidence that he shows to some of the gods. They try to make him respect the higher powers and worship them in his life.

At the same time, there are not all the gods that are against Odysseus and they use their powers in order to protect him and help him to survive no matter how difficult the obstacles turn out to be and no matter how bitter and sad losses he may suffer and experience.

The role of gods is magnificent not only in this particular poem The Odyssey, but also for all people who believed in the gods and who actually created them with the help of their own beliefs and religious traditions. No matter how severe the gods can be, they resemble people by their appearance, they envy the people for their love of life, their emotions, and passion that is inevitably strong and influential.

One of the most characteristic features of the gods in the poem The Odyssey is that they are not strong enough to pay a zero attention to the one person who tries to speak against them, but on the contrary they get offended by his words and try to take revenge. It is a characteristic feature of common people, but the gods love people so much that they start to behave like them.

Sympathy of Athena towards Odysseus saves his life a number of times and protects him along the hard and dangerous way caused by the Poseidon’s anger. All the actions and episodes as well as dangerous adventures depicted by Homer in the story of Odysseus are caused by the gods. The whole story proves the fact that people are just little toys in the gods’ hands and they can do little to do anything their own way.


People have to live with respect to the gods and their power. One person who was brave enough to go against them was punished by the years of desperate search of the way out from the vicious circle of constant losses of ships and deaths of friends and the ship team. Odysseus was strong enough to live that through and his wife was faithful and loyal to him all that time that he had been away.

The poem The Odyssey showed the possibility of people to fight with the gods. However, this fight would be not equal and actually not every person can survive it. There is always a way or variant to choose, but there is a strong recommendation to think twice before any decision because the consequences can be not always pleasant.

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