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Comparison Between Tale Of Proteus And Odysseus

’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

’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.

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