Essay, Research Paper
A Reminder of Manhood
Throughout Homer’s epic work, The Odyssey, Odysseus encounters temptations of beautiful women and the promise of immortality. Under the price of having to sacrifice his manhood, Odysseus is willing to abandon his homeland, one of the ways in which manhood was defined in the ancient world, to live in eternal bliss. Calypso, Circe, and the Sirens are all examples of the beautiful women whom Odysseus must face and overcome in order to return to his native land. Although each temptress implores different methods of enticement, a common goal of detaining Odysseus from returning home is prevalent; however through failing efforts and intervention of the gods, the constant prodding of Odysseus’ crew, or prior knowledge of the situation, Odysseus prevails over the enchantresses’ temptations, allowing Odysseus to return to his homeland, once again regaining his identity as a man.
The episode involving the beautiful nymph, Calypso, relies on the intervention of the gods to rescue Odysseus from her enticing actions. With divine power on his side, Odysseus gains the right to return home and regain his identity as a man and as a leader. For seven years, Calypso has lured Odysseus to “lay with her each night, for she compelled him” (V. 164). Using her beauty while possessing hopes of making Odysseus her husband, the enchantress becomes overly distressed when the gods announce that she must release Odysseus and permit him to return to his homeland. Reluctant to let him go, Calypso promises Odysseus immortal life if he chooses to stay with her.
Without the divine intervention, Calypso would have continued to hold Odysseus captive on her island. The gods, instructing the beautiful nymph to release him, possess power to demand her, the power that Calypso cannot challenge. Although Calypso attempts to convince Odysseus to stay, with visions of regaining his identity in sight, he declines her offer of immortal life and chooses to leave the island.
When Odysseus and his crew reach Circe’s island, Hermes is quick to warn Odysseus against this enchantress’ powers. Cautioning Odysseus against Circe’s enchanted cup, Hermes gives him a magical plant that will counteract the affects of her magic:
Your cup with numbing drops of night
and evil, stilled of all remorse,
she will infuse to charm your sight;
but this great herb with holy force
will keep your mind and senses clear (X.316-319).
Upon receiving the forewarning and the magic plant, Odysseus is able to inhibit Circe’s power and is not turned into a pig like the rest of his crew; however, realizing that she is unable to conquer Odysseus through her magic and luring him with her seductiveness, Circe tempts him into her bed.
Also, after a year of feasting, Odysseus’ eager crew prods their captain to leave the island, asking him to “shake off this trance,” the spell that Circe possesses over him (X.508). Having lost the vision of returning home, Odysseus has acted as the charming temptress’ lover for the past year. Upon the crew asking him to leave, Odysseus wishes to spend one more night with Circe and holds her to her promise that she will help him get back to his homeland.
Without Hermes’ counsel Odysseus would have fallen victim to Circe’s spell, and he, too, would have been transformed into a pig. Since he heeded Hermes’ warning, he was able to defeat the enchantress’ power; however, succumbing to her seduction and finding contentment with Circe, Odysseus would have never thought twice about his homeland if it were not for his crew prompting him to leave.
The prior warning that Odysseus gains from Circe protects his crew and him against the tantalizing song of the Sirens. Knowing that in song the Sirens tempt men to jump overboard, Odysseus heeds Circe’s warning, fills his crew’s ears with beeswax, and instructs the crew to tie him to the ship’s mast. Upon sailing past the Sirens’ island, hearing the song promising pleasures and ultimate knowledge, and once again forgetting his homeland, Odysseus bids, “‘Untie me!’” but the crew “hold(s) him still” (XII.232, 235).
If Circe would not have warned Odysseus of the trials that laid ahead of him, particularly the incident with the Sirens and their tempting song, both he and his crew would have met their demise. In their song, the Sirens lure men from the safety of their ship and coerce them to jump into the jagged rocks below, never to “see his lady nor his children” again (XII.45). Also, obeying their captain’s command, the crew does not surrender to Odysseus’ cries to be untied; instead, they restrain him and row faster past the enticing song.
Through temptation, each enchantress causes Odysseus to lose vision of ever returning home. Intervention from the gods and the crew and prior warning allows Odysseus to overcome these cunning temptresses. In order to force him in the right direction, Odysseus seems to need an extra push or a little nudge from some outside source. If the involvements of divine beings, his crew, and Circe were not acting as a driving force, a force that pushed him to regain his identity as a man, Odysseus would have lost sight of ever returning home, due to his susceptibility, his human fault, to succumb to temptation.