Odyssean gods

The Odyssean gods are the ancient Greek gods referenced in Homer's Odyssey.

The story's major gods include Athena, Poseidon, Calypso and Circe; minor gods include Ino, Hermes, Zeus, and Heracles.

Contents

Major gods

The Odyssey's major gods include Athena, Poseidon, Calypso and Circe.

Athena

Helmeted Athena, of the Velletri type. Roman copy (1st century) of a Greek original by Kresilas, c. 430 BC

Athena is the Greek goddess of wisdom and battle strategy, and was also the patron goddess of heroes. Odysseus was a great hero among the Greeks, and so had Athena’s favor and aid in many of his exploits. She was also a key goddess in the story of "The Odyssey" as a divine assistant to Odysseus on his journey home.

From the very beginning of the Odyssey, Athena is helping Odysseus. Her first act is persuading Zeus to send Hermes to Calypso’s island to inform Calypso that it was Zeus’s will that Odysseus continued his journey home. Seeing as no god could thwart or evade Zeus, Calypso had to let Odysseus go despite her own wishes to have him stay on the island forever. Athena also secures Odysseus future through other characters, such as the Phaecian Princess Nausicaa. In Book 6, she makes sure that Nausicaa meets Odysseus elsewhere on the island by coming to her in a dream and inciting her to go to the river to wash clothes. Odysseus was in a horrid state of nudity of grime when he initially met Nausicaa, but Athena gave Nausicaa the courage to stand her ground so that she could get around to helping him.

Athena has also done minor things to help out Odysseus, such as improving his appearances so that he is respected by other characters. An example of direct assistance by Athena includes when she led Odysseus to the palace of the Phaecian in the disguise of a little girl. She also helps him directly by transforming him into an old beggar in the later books of the odyssey. Athena has also helped Odysseus indirectly by planting ideas into his head and by causing the javelins of the suitors to miss their target when Odysseus finally engages them in book 22.

Poseidon

Neptune reigns in the city of Bristol.

Poseidon is the Greek god of the sea and the brother of Zeus, Hades and Hera. Beckoned by the curse of Polyphemus, his cyclops son, he attempts to make Odysseus' journey home much harder than it actually needs to be. He appears to be very spiteful in The Odyssey and actively causes problems for Odysseus on sight. Although he cannot kill Odysseus, as it is his destiny to return home, he makes every effort to make Odysseus suffer.

Odysseus earned Poseidon’s wrath by blinding Polyphemus. While the blinding alone may have been justifiable for the poor mistreatment by Polyphemus to his guests, Odysseus pride was really what incurred Poseidon’s wrath. As Odysseus was leaving the island of the Cyclops behind, he mocked and talked down on Polyphemus and accused him of being impious. Polyphemus exclaimed that he was the son of Poseidon, yet Odysseus did not believe him. To prove that he was indeed the son of Poseidon, Polyphemus called out to his father commanding that Odysseus never reach his home.

In the Odyssey, Poseidon is a powerful and respected elder god, as none of the other Olympian gods dare to mention Odysseus and his predicaments whilst Poseidon is there to hear it. The council of gods that decided to set Odysseus free from calypso’s island was held when Poseidon was accepting a sacrifice in Egypt. Athena, out of respect for her uncle, does not show her support to Odysseus whilst Poseidon is around. When Odysseus set sail away from calypso’s island, Poseidon spotted him and caused him to become shipwrecked. In this way, Poseidon is seen to be a very direct god in that he instantly causes problems for Odysseus himself instead of working through other means like Athena.

Calypso and Circe

"Now he's left to pine on an island, wracked with grief" (Odyssey V): Calypso and Odysseus, by Arnold Böcklin, 1883

Two interesting goddesses in the Odyssey are Calypso and Circe, who both show friendly and hostile reactions toward Odysseus.

Calypso rescued Odysseus after his ship and crew were destroyed by the storm created by Zeus after Odysseus's crew killed Helios's sun cattle, even after a warning from Circe. She tended to his needs on her isolated island and made him her lover. In total, Calypso held Odysseus captive on her island for seven years and she hoped for him to stay there with her forever as her husband. Seeing as Calypso was a goddess, Odysseus could not argue or resist the goddess’ desires and it took the divine intervention of Zeus to ensure Odysseus passage onto his next destination. While appearing hostile towards Odysseus in her deeds of keeping him captive on her isle for so long against his will, Calypso does genuinely care for Odysseus. She feeds and shelters him and allows him to wander the isle at his own will. She does not bear him any ill-will as he is preparing to leave her island and helps him out by showing the best places to obtain wood from her island for his ship and provides the tools for constructing it. Calypso can be seen to be a friendly goddess, but a bit sharp-tongued too. When she learns that she must release Odysseus, she’s criticizes the gods and how they are able to have affairs and sleep with mortal women whilst Goddesses suffer consequences if their intentions are not as pure.

Circe, like Calypso, is also a goddess found in an isolated location, with her house among dense woodland. Circe is initially hostile to Odysseus and his men and attempts to turn them all to pigs with a potion slipped into the food she offers them, but with Hermes aid, Odysseus is able to enter her abode and pacify her. She returns all of Odysseus’ men to their natural state and offers them food and hospitality for an entire year. Unlike Calypso, Circe appears to be quite unemotional with Odysseus. She is of great help to him and his homeward journey; . Later, Circe will marry Odysseus' son by Penelope, Telemachus.

Minor gods

There are other gods in the odyssey that play minor roles in aiding Odysseus’ homeward journey. Because of their small role, there is very little that can be said about them. Below is a brief overview of the gods and how they aid Odysseus.

Ino

It isn't known why she helps him, but she does. Ino gives Odysseus a magical scarf that keeps him buoyant. She leads him toward the land of the Phaecians, where Nausicaa and Arete help him to get back to Ithaka.

Hermes

Hermes is Patron of Travellers, Messenger of the gods and one of the 12 Olympian gods, Hermes appears three times in the Odyssey. The first time is to deliver a message to Calypso to let Odysseus return home. The second time, he appears to Odysseus to warn him about Circe and provides the necessary information that Odysseus need to put Circe into submission. The third time he is sent to escort the spirits of the suitors from the halls of Odysseus's home to the underworld.

Zeus

Zeus does very little in the Odyssey aside from pass judgments and send omens. The King of the gods and God of Thunder, lightning and girls (and the Patron of guest friendship too) is only seen being persuaded by Athena in Book one to send Hermes to send the message to Calypso, and, at Helios' request, sending a storm to punish Odysseus' men for killing the cattle on his island.

Heracles

Odysseus meets Heracles in the Underworld and mentions that it was only his ghost as his immortal half was sent to Olympus where he married Hebe.

See also


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