’s Adventure To The Underworld Essay, Research Paper
Comparison Between Tale of Proteus and
Odysseus’s Adventure to the Underworld
“Now draw back from the pit, and hold your sharp sword away from me / so that I
can drink of the blood and speak the truth to you” (Odyssey 11.95). This quote, taken
from Teiresias as he is confronted by Odysseus’ request to learn of his way home and the
evils occurring in his palace, can very well be a climatic moment in the tale of the
Underworld (Don Nardo 121). After Odysseus learns of the happenings in Ithika and the
fate the Gods have bestowed upon him, he is forever changed. This change is part of the
metaphorical “death” Heros endure as a result of the wisdom and maturity they gain in
Death and Rebirth Myths. In Homer’s The Odyssey there are two comparable tales that
fall under this category, Tale of Proteus and Odysseus’ Adventure to the
Underworld. These two myths can easily be compared by analyzing the similarities and
differences of essential characters, the use of sensory imaging to describe the settings and
create a tone, and the metaphorical death and rebirth of the Hero as a result of his
attained knowledge and experience.
First, in order to have an accurate comparison between these two myths it is
necessary to acknowledge the similarities and differences of catalystic characters. The
first two characters are The Old Man of the Sea, Proteus and the prophet Teiresias.
Proteus and Teirisias both enlighten Menelaos and Odysseus on how they will get home
and the fate the Gods have for them. Although they both serve basically the same
perpose, there is a difference in which they each deliver the information. Proteus,
because he is a God, wants to clearly indicate to distinction between him and Odysseus
by being blunt and rude, he is proud and not as willing to give Odysseus information as
the Prophet is to Menelaos. This is evident in the first words Proteus speaks to Odysseus,
“Which of the gods now, son of Atreus, has been advising you / to capture me from
ambush against my will. What do u want?” (Odyssey 4.462). Teirisias has a very
different attitude towards Odysseus, he does not belive he is greater in anway way but
instead is very willing to answer any of Odysseus’ questions. The second pair of
characters serve as “Guiding Goddesses”, Eidothea and Circe. In Death and Rebirth
Myths, the Hero is always told of a passage to another world or advised to speak to a god
that holds a more respectable place in the divinity in order to learn what the Hero seeks
for (Harris 121+), these two Goddesses serve this perpouse. In Tale of Proteus, Menelaos
describes “Eidothea, daughter to Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea” as a kind soul who
aided him when he was desperate and did not know how he could possibly get home; “for
it was her heart that moved mostly/ when she met me wondering by myself without my
companions”(Odyssey 4.365). Eidothea advises Odysseus to seek her father, but in order
to do so must know how to bind him. The Goddess is very willing to show Menelaos
how to prove himself to her father as he asks her, “Show me the way to lie in wait for this
devine ancient” (Odyssey 4.395). Circe also plays this vital roll in Odysseus’ Adventure
to the Underworld. Before Odysseus leaves Circe’s Isalnd, the Goddess tells him, “first
there is another journey you must accomplish/ and reach the house of Hades and revered
Persephone, / there to consult with the soul of Teiresias the Theban” (Odyssey 11.490).
The distinction between the two roles these Goddesses play is first, Odysseus knew Circe
for almost a year and she had probably known for some time that when he left he would
first have to venture to the land of Hades. Menelaos situation was different, he was
hopeless and was pittied by a Goddess. A second distinction is the amount and value of
information each goddess provided. Circe gave Odysseus very valuable information
regarding routes and “creatures” he should avoid, even after it was explained by the
Prophet. She also told him of the sacrifices he had to make in order to invoke Teirisias.
On the other hand, Eidothea helped Menelaos in binding her father, but did not repeate or
give them any more valuable information other than how to receive her fathers help.
Another comparable and essential part to these myths is the sensory imaging used
by Homer to describe and create the settings and tones of these two tales. In Tale of
Proteus, the setting is a beach shore in the Egyptian Island of Pharos where Proteus is
King (Sherwood 261) and the story begins to unravel “at the time when the sun has gone
up to bestride the middle of Heaven (Odyssey 4.400). This image of the sun rising upon
the middle of heaven contrast with the “uncanny atmosphere of darkness and distress”
presented in the underworld (Luce 31). There are some descriptions in Tale of Proteus,
however, that create a tone of darkness such as the apparition of Proteus described by
Eidothea, “the Old Man of the Sea will come out of the water / under the bast of the West
Wind, circled in a shudder of darkening water and when he comes out he will sleep,
under hollow caverns (Odyssey 4.401), but in a whole, the beach setting is very similar to
paradise. On the other hand, The underworld in not a desirable place to be, “it is a vague,
shadowy place in habited by shadows. Nothing is real there. The Ghosts’ existece if it
can be called that, is like a miserable dream (Hamilton 42-3). The grim shoreline of
Oceanus where the Underworld is located (Sherwood 9), is described by Circe as a
dark place; ” you will find there a thickly wooded shore, and the groves of persophone, /
and tall black poplars growing, and the fruit-perishing willows; / then beach your ship on
the shore of the deep-eddying Ocean / and yourself go forward into the moldering home
of Hades” (Odyssey 11.509). This discription may indirectly imply the dark and dreary
place that is the home of Hades, but Teiresias’ opinion is first hand and very direct when
he says, “how is it, unhappy man, you have left the sunlight and come here, to look on
dead men, and this place without pleasure?” (Odyssey 11.93).
Finally, the most important factor to compare between these myths is the
metaphorical death and rebirth both Heros endure as a result of the wisdom they gain.
There is a great difference between the fate the Gods have planned for Menelaos and
Odysseus, thus there is a greater impact or change on Odysseus when he learns of the
hardships he still has to endure. On the other hand, Menelaos’ fate is “much easier to
swallow”. Although his fortune was not as bad as Odysseus’, when Menelaos is aware he
is obligated to journey back to Egypt and accomplish holy hecacombs in honor of the
Gods, he says, “the inward heart in me was broken / because he [Proteus] ordered me to
go back on the misty surface / of the water to Egypt again, a long way and a hard one”
(Odyssey 4.482). Other than learning about their fates and of their way home, both
either visualize or learn of the deaths of their comrades and family members. Once
again, Odysseus has to deal with the death of his loved ones on a harder level
than Menelaos, he witnesses their sufferings and interacts with them in the
Underworld. Although Odysseus’ experience with the death of his loved ones is harder,
the knowledge of having their family and/or friends dead deeply changes both heroes
forever. While they had been gone on their journeys to Troy, both did not know of the
happenings at their households or if the Achians they had fought along side with had
come back home. When Menelaos asks Proteus if the Achians he and Nestro left behind
come back, Proteus answers, “why did u ask me that? You should not learn it, nor know
what my mind knows, and I think you will not be free of tears for long, once you have
heard the whole story” (Odyssey 4.492). The inexplicable sorrow and emptiness
Meneloas and Odysseus bear with due to the effects of the difficult journeys they learn
they must continue to indure along with the deaths of their loved ones, causes them to
lose their will to live and sink into hopelessness and despare. A similar quote is repeated
in both Books eleven and four that capture the sorrow and pain both Heros feel, ” So he
spoke and the inward heart in me was broken, / and I sat down on the sand and cried, nor
did the heart in me wish to go on living any longer nor to look on the sunlight” (Odyssey
4.538). These two heroes experience and over whelming amount of hardships, but
because of their God-like qualities, they are able to pull themselves up from their
depression and pain and become stronger beings, thus the metaphorical death-and-rebirth
of the hero occurs.
In The Odyssey, Because the two myths Tale of Proteus and Odysseus’ Adventure
to the Underworld are both Death and Rebith Myths, they can easily be compared by
analyzing similarities and differences in essential characters, the usage of sensory
imaging to describe and create the settings and tones, and the metaphorical death and
rebirth of the Hero as a result of their attained knowledge and experience. Although their
are some differences in catalistic character traits, setting and tone, the essence of these
tales are the same. Both Heros, Menelaos and Odysseus, through another adventure,
prove themselves worthy of receiving wisdom and are forever changed by its affects,
giving birth to a new Hero.
Harris, John. “Proteus Surrenders: the life and death of death-and-rebirth.” Renascence., vol. 49. (Winter 1997). p. 121-138.
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston: Back Bay Books, 1998.
Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. New York: Harper and Row, 1967.
Luce, James T., ed. Ancient Writers:Greece and Rome. vol.1. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982.
Nardo, Don. ed. Readings on Homer. Sandiego: Greenhaven,1998.
Sachs, David. Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World. Ed. Oswyn Murray. New York: Facts on File, 1995.
Sherwood, William. ed. Mythology of All Races: Greek and Roman. vol.1. New York: Cooper Square, 1961.