Cycladic, Minoan, Mycenaean, and Archaic Greek Mythology

The Odyssey

What is the popular appeal of the Odyssey?

As a work meant to entertain a general listening audience in an age no longer dominated by an aristocratic warrior class, the Odyssey, with its emphasis on the suitors, on Penelope, on the wronged son, and the love affairs of the hero, is more of a soap opera than the Iliad and also, with such figures as the Cyclops and the Sirens, more of a fairytale. There is also the sequel element that always appeals. Listeners must have been thrilled to find the notorious Helen early in the second epic and to meet familiar characters when Odysseus speaks with the dead Achilles and the dead Agamemnon and learns of their terrible fates.

One thing that characterizes both epics is the centrality of human beings, their foibles, their beauty, and their feelings. Few scenes in literature are more moving than the one in the Iliad between Hector and his wife and baby as he is about to enter his final battle, or the scene in the Odyssey when Nausikaa discovers the forlorn and naked Odysseus as she is doing her laundry. The gods are always present in both epics, but our interest is with our fellow humans who are so much at their mercy.

The writer of the Archaic period who has most to tell us about the world of the gods is the poet Hesiod.


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