The OdysseyDisguise To Find True Identity Essay

The Odyssey:Disguise To Find True Identity Essay, Research Paper

Disguise To Find True Identity

The Odyssey is an epic that shapes and defines the roles of many great leaders. These leaders are made up of mortals, alive and dead, and immortals. The trip taken by Odysseus is not only a journey of a war hero back to his homeland, but is a journey in all of the characters lives, which develop a better sense of personal identity and selfhood as the epic goes on. It is the many disguises that each character uses that uncover their true identities from their experiences. The revelations of each characters identity are what teach the lessons that Homer is trying to portray to his audience, and what lead to each character?s success in their personal journey. Each character?s identity is constructed by the courage and morality that they reveal, through disguise, by their actions to help or prevent bring Odysseus home. These actions are what make each character who he or she is, whether god or human. Homer uses Odysseus and Athena as the principle identities developed throughout the poem to send his messages.

Homer proves Athena?s worthiness, as a goddess, with all her good deeds to get Odysseus home, protect Telemakhos, and return Ithaka to a flourishing city-state. In the world of Odysseus, one?s most treasured possession is his or her good reputation. One?s reputation is determined by how others view him or her, assessing his or her character, values, and behavior according to the prevailing social standards. As a goddess, disguising herself and others often is necessary for Athena to achieve her goals. It is through these disguises that her and Odysseus? identities and reputations as great leaders and heroes become evident. She tells Telemakhos about Odysseus:

Well, I will forecast for you, as the gods put the strong feeling in me-I see it all, and I?m no prophet, no adept in bird-signs. He will not, now, be long away from Ithaka, his father?s dear land; though he be in chains he?ll scheme a way to come; he can do anything. (I, 244-249)

The first step towards getting Odysseus home is when Athena disguises herself as Mentes, who motivates Telemakhos to find his father and aide in his return. It is Athena?s revelation of divinity to Telemakhos that spurs his courage and determination that help him realize his dream of revenge. For at first, Telemakhos feels that Odysseus is ?gone, no sign, no word of him; and I inherit trouble and tears-and not for him alone, the gods have laid such other burdens on me.? (I, 287-289) However, Athena, as Mentes, reassures him, ?Dear friend, you are tall and well set-up, I see; be brave-you, too-and men in times to come will speak of you respectfully.? (I, 348-350) and insists he address the assembly. Homer effectively uses the content and style of the speeches at the assembly to reveal the types and natures of the characters. Encouraged by Athena, Telemakhos takes the speaker?s staff and demonstrates that he is quickly becoming a man capable of speaking up to the suitors. Athena?s next identity disguise comes as Mentor and then Telemakhos to prepare and aid his journey to find information on his father?s whereabouts. As Athena leaves Pylos, Telemakhos? first stop, in the form of a hawk, Nestor reassures Telemakhos of his bright future when he says, ?My dear child, I can have no fears for you, no doubt about your conduct or your heart, if, at your age, the gods are your companions.? (III, 407-409) Here, Homer shows Telemakhos? eventual identity through his maturation. Athena eventually uses her disguised identities to help Odysseus get back to his kingdom in Ithaka. Disguised as a young peasant, she leads Odysseus to the palace of Alkinoos and Arete on the island of Phaiakia and tells him to win Arete?s favor to receive help. She then disguises herself as Alkinoos? herald, Pontinoos, to arrange his next crew to escort him home. Homer makes it quite clear that help from the gods, namely Athena, is crucial to finding one?s true identity. For before he sets sail again, Athena hints at Odysseus? true character as she ?poured out her grace upon him, head and shoulders, height and mass-a splendor awesome to the eyes of the Phaiakians; she put him in a fettle to win the day, mastering every trial they set to test him.? (VIII, 21-25) Athena arranges most of Odysseus? disguises, throughout his journey since he does not have the extensive metaphysical powers of a god. Nevertheless, it is through these disguises that Homer helps him develop his true overall sense of identity. This identity being the ultimate leader and all-powerful king that people of Ithaka and Homer?s audience in Ancient Greece have been longing for, which is also accounts for the epic moment to which Homer responds with this legendary tale.

Odysseus? disguises begin in Book IV in the tale of his spy mission in Troy where he was dressed as a beggar, unrecognized. This gives the audience a taste of Odysseus? enhanced intelligence and wit that he will reacquire throughout the epic. Odysseus? eminence is tactically lessened by Athena, in Phaiakia, to gain Arete?s favor, and then restored shortly thereafter. After his true identity is revealed to the Alkinoos, Arete, and the Phaiakians, Odysseus proves his undying determination and courage:

Yet my hunger drives me to take this food, and think no more of my afflictions. Belly must be filled. Be equally impelled, my lords, tomorrow to berth me in a ship and send me home! Rough years I?ve had; now may I see once more my hall, my lands, my people before I die! (VII, 235-241)

Odysseus? wit reappears in Book IX, when he tells the Cyclops, whom he blinds, that his name is Nobody, to avoid being caught. This is an example of how one?s true identity can eventually lead to many hardships, as Odysseus tells the Cyclops his real name after escaping, and is punished by Poseidon. Homer stresses with this anecdote that disguise is sometimes crucial in finding one?s own true self. Odysseus? return to a city in complete disarray generates new reason for disguise, overcoming the opposing suitors. Later, Odysseus? true identity is disclosed to the suitors and earlier to his son, Telemakhos, who is awed by his father?s presence appearing as an almost seemingly divine being. Yet it is just the great king that he was and will be again.

Although often through deception, illusion, lying, trickery, and pride, using pseudo-identities is imperative in achieving a developed sense of selfhood. Odysseus? identity is shown to be a combination of the self-made, self-assured, virtuous man and the embodiment of the standards of his culture in Ancient Greece. It is also apparent in Homer?s time that with the gods on your side one can attain a complete moral sense of identity. Nevertheless, the help given to Odysseus by Athena does not detract from his glory, but rather adds to it, for it is symbolic of the qualities of mind, which enabled him to triumph against such odds. Therefore, her intervention is essential, but she allows Odysseus and Telemakhos to earn their own destinies. Odysseus grows in wisdom and judgment throughout his ventures in the epic, and his true self proves to be favored by the gods, and respected and admired by mortals.


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