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Homer refers to both Odysseus and Penelope as wise. They both showed great wisdom in their own ways. Throughout the novel, both Odysseus and his wife Penelope proved their wisdom. But in order to find which one of them both was wiser than the other, I will discuss both the characters individually.
Odysseus is a man of great stature. He is an incredibly large and strong individual. Penelope gives all the suitors the test of using Odysseus’ hunting bow to shoot an arrow “through iron ax-helve sockets, twelve inline” (937). They all fail and none of them “can even bend [the hunting bow] enough to string it” (937). When Odysseus is given the test he “in one motion [strings] the bow. Then [slides] his right hand down the cord and [plucks] it, so the taut gut vibrating hummed and sang a swallow’s note” (939). His strength is not even comparable to any of the suitors. After the test of the arrows, Odysseus shouts out to the suitors, “Your last hour has come. You die in blood” (942).
He then brutally kills every last one of them, with only the help of his son Telemachus, and the swineherd and cowherd. All of this is a great representation of Odysseus’ strength and power. Odysseus’ size is also apparent when he
Many of Odysseus’ traits are honored and respected by the people and society in which he lives. First of all, he’s very clever and resourceful. When trapped by hard situations, he finds a way around them by using his wits. For example, when the Cyclops asks his name he replies, “My name is Nobody: mother, father, and friends, everyone calls me ‘Nohbdy’” (904). He does this in order to trick the Cyclops, so when the Cyclops calls for help, his friends think nobody is harming him and don’t come to his aide. Secondly, Odysseus is an excellent leader. He finds ways to help his men as best he can. Even when he returns to his home in Ithaca twenty years later, many of his men still remember him and respect him. (Brann, 179) When his soldiers discover Odysseus has returned home, they “[throw] their arms around the old soldier, weeping, kissing his head and shoulders” (938).
Finally, Odysseus is recognized as a very intelligent man by many people. The gods realize it enough to be willing to help him on his journey. It’s apparent this because Athena is the goddess of wisdom. To summarize, many of Odysseus’ abilities are very useful and well respected by those around him. (Lamberton, 95)
During his journey, Odysseus uses what he has learned from his mistakes to return home and kill the suitors. On the island of the Cyclones, and with his encounter with Polyp emus, Odysseus learns that bragging can bring damaging circumstances. On Ithaca Odysseus never brags to the suitors and is able to enter his house without the suitors knowing his real identity. He takes the punishment of Antinous and the other suitors without saying a word and is able to observe those who have invaded his house. Odysseus is able to see who is loyal and who is not and take his revenge with the suitors never knowing who he was until the final moment. (Gaunt, 119)
Odysseus also learns to pay close attention to the instructions of the gods, or he might have to face a terrible price. When Odysseus and his crew landed at the island of Areoles, they were given a parting gift that would have helped them greatly if they had paid heed to the warnings of Areoles. He gave Odysseus a bag full of the bad winds that would keep them from their home of Ithaca. Odysseus and his crew were in sight of the homeland they had waited so long to see when a band of rebel crewmen opened the bag creating a great gale that blew them back to Areoles. When Areoles saw this he believed that Odysseus was cursed and banished him from the island.
This is not the only time Odysseus was betrayed by his men and suffered a great price. When they landed on the island of Hyperons, bad winds prevented them from leaving. Food soon became low; and when Odysseus fell asleep, the crew killed the cows of Hyperons against numerous warnings. Hyperons was infuriated to see this and had all of Odysseus’ men killed in a great storm. Odysseus learns that the gods must be respected in order for any man to succeed. (Lamberton, 91)
Odysseus also learns to respect the Gods. When he landed on Aeaea, the island of Circe, he follows the instructions given to him by Hermes so that he can overcome Circe and free his men. Odysseus follows the instructions Circe had given him very closely; entering and leaving Hades without misfortune and using wax in the ears of his crew to pass the Sirens.
Penelope is very loyal to Odysseus right to the where the end of the odyssey as she has lots of suitors and does not pick any or give in to the temptation that is around with the increasing advances of the suitors, they are continually throwing themselves at her in an attempt to make her their bride. However, she does not stray from Odysseus even though he had been gone for 20 years.
The promise that she made to Odysseus that when Telemachus has grown a beard and has become a man, then she will remarry, true to her word she does intend to remarry as she sets out the challenge of the great bow to stall time, also she makes a cloth to morn Odysseus to stall time as well. So Penelope’s relationship with Odysseus is one of love and compaction were, although she still believes him to be alive she is willing to honor the promise she made to him at Telemachus’s birth and remarry when he is a man.
Penelope is always described as being wise or intelligent ‘wise Penelope’ and ‘the great Penelope’ ‘ the cautious Penelope’ this shows that she is like her husband and is cunning and wise, which becomes apparent when she tests Odysseus, to see if it is really him, by asking the nurse to move the great bed in her bedroom. She knows that if this really was Odysseus then he would know that he built it around a tree and it cannot be moved. This shows the cunning and resourcefulness that Odysseus is also known for. Penelope deceives the suitors as she gives them the task of stringing the Great Bow knowing full well that they would not be able to do it. Also, she weaved a tribute to Odysseus and unpicked it at night so that it would take loads of time to complete and would stall time for her to marry one of the suitors.
I have concluded that Odysseus is wiser than Penelope, but Penelope is wise in her own right. She is much wiser than any other woman in other Greek tragedies. Penelope is wise in that she doesn’t give up hope that Odysseus will return. She wisely fights off the suitors and puts them to do a series of tests that she knows only Odysseus can accomplish. Odysseus becomes a better man through his journeys and is able to return to his homeland to restore his name.
Throughout his wanderings for home, Odysseus becomes a humbler and more respectful man. The once boastful man learns that his bragging can bring people against him, and is quieter than before he left for Troy. Odysseus is the model of the worldly, well-traveled, persevering man who overcomes obstacles. He has courage, stamina, and power, but his real strength lies in his brain, which is shrewd, quick-witted, diplomatic, and resourceful.
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He is also eloquent and persuasive. He needs all of these qualities to survive and make his way home. His mettle is tested at every turn, either by dangers or temptations to remain in a place. Calypso even offers him immortality, but he is steadfast in his desire to return home. Athena may intercede for him with Zeus and aid and advise him, yet the will to return and the valor in doing so are those of Odysseus alone. The one thing Odysseus found truly unbearable in his travels was stasis, being stranded for seven years, even though he had an amorous nymph for company.
Odysseus’ abilities, skills, importance, and wits make him an epic hero. He makes use of all his skills in order to overcome the hardships he must face. The great action in Odysseus’ adventures makes the story The Odyssey one of the most famous stories or even pieces of literature of all time. To this extent, it’s obvious why The Odyssey has been passed down through so many years and told in so many different forms.
Brann, Eva. Homeric Moments: Clues to Delight in Reading the “Odyssey” and the “Iliad.” Philadelphia: Paul Dry, 2002: 165-180.
Gaunt, D. M., trans. Surge and Thunder: Critical Reading in Homer’s “Odyssey.” London: Oxford University Press, 1971: 112-124.
Lamberton, Robert. Homer the Theologian: Neoplatonist Allegorical Reading and the Growth of the Epic Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986: 87-96.