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What are the major conflicts in the Odyssey?

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Conflicts in The Odyssey can be divided into three main categories — man vs. gods/nature, man vs. society, and man vs. self. There are a few instances of each type of conflict in the poem. Most notable are Odysseus vs. Poseidon, Odysseus and Telemachus vs. Penelope’s suitors, and Odysseus vs. his pride.

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  • Man vs. gods/nature

The central theme of The Odyssey is the protagonist’s fight against numerous struggles on his way home. His conflict with Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, is essential. It is the key to understanding some other disputes. By blinding Polyphemus, the cyclops son of Poseidon, he incurs the wrath of the latter. Upon leaving Calypso’s island on a raft, Odysseus encounters a storm raised by Poseidon. He survives it with the help of Athena.

The confinement of Odysseus on Calypso’s island is another example of a man vs. god conflict. Odysseus falls under the spell of Calypso. Due to that, he spends seven years on her island. He manages to escape her grasp only as a result of another Athena’s intervention. The goddess pleads his case before Zeus.

  • Man vs. society

The multiple storylines in The Odyssey allow for several major conflicts to develop at the same time. Odysseus has to face the wrath of the gods. Meanwhile, his son, Telemachus, struggles to control the household. The crowd of suitors has taken it over, trying to marry his mother’s hand. This conflict develops in the first books, commonly known as “Telemacheia.” It gets resolved only at the end of the poem when Odysseus takes his revenge.

The lengthy absence of Odysseus results in unrest at Ithaca. Numerous nobles are fighting for the crown. They hope to obtain it by marrying Penelope. Her son Telemachus is too young and inexperienced. He is unable to overcome the suitors on his own. Much like in the other conflicts, Athena’s intervention changes the situation. She encourages Telemachus to kick out the suitors from the house. After, she tells him to leave the island searching for his father. Upon coming back to Ithaca, Odysseus and Telemachus slay all the suitors in the palace.

  • Man vs. self

Internal conflicts play a significant part in The Odyssey. They are often related to other types of disputes. The quarrel between Telemachus and the suitors is key to the formation of his personality. He is initially shy and diffident and under Athena’s guidance. However, he overcomes his doubts. Telemachus establishes himself as the head of the family in Odysseus’ absence.

The excessive pride of Odysseus is the cause of many conflicts in the poem. After blinding Polyphemus, Odysseus makes fun of the cyclops and makes sure he remembers Odysseus’ name. Ultimately it angers Poseidon, who incurs revenge against the hero.

Odysseus’ fight against temptations is another major theme in The Odyssey. In book 10, Circe’s hospitality makes him forget about his true goals. So, he overstays on the nymph’s island. However, Circe is the one to warn Odysseus of another temptation. She says that’s something awaiting them on the way home are the Sirens. To avoid falling under the Sirens’ charm, Odyssey asks his crew to tie him up. The king gives the team bee wax to put in their ears not to hear the Sirens’ song. When passing the Sirens’ island, Odysseus cannot resist their song. He commands the crew to release him. However, his companions stay put on their oars. Due to that, they save their lives and escape the danger.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'What are the major conflicts in the Odyssey'. 29 January.

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