The Odyssey

Fathers, Sons, and the Sisyphean Challenge in Homer's Epics

In Greek myth, Sisyphus repeatedly rolls a giant boulder up a mountain only to have it roll back down the peak every time. He serves a sentence of eternal suffering for trying to escape from Death and Hades. Like Sisyphus, the warriors of Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey suffer consequences when they push the limits of human achievement. The men attempt to win glory for their fathers, glory for their sons, and above all, glory for themselves (The Iliad 6: 529). They pursue power and omnipotence - an unattainable, ultimate goal. Fathers reap honor and set difficult benchmarks, and their sons strive to surpass them. This never-ending pursuit is at the center of the father-son relationships involving the heroes Hector and Achilles of The Iliad. Similarly, in The Odyssey, Odysseus and his son Telemachus also face important responsibilities in a world that embraces lineage and recognizes a man's superiority in the honor amassed by his line. The fathers and sons embark on endless quests for glory. In the Sisyphean challenge of winning power and glory that underlies father-son interactions, Homer's two epic poems mirror each other and provide a greater understanding of the patriarchal society of ancient Greece.

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