The Odyssey

Self-Identification in The Odyssey

Homer's Odyssey is a testament to how Homer believes people should conduct themselves in society. His characters are rewarded when they conduct themselves ideally and they are punished when they fail to abide by certain behavioral codes. One of the social gestures that Homer addresses is that of self-identification, the act of naming oneself. When Odysseus names himself to Polyphemus, he does so arrogantly, contemptuously, cruelly and without regard for the Gods. Poseidon, infuriated by Odysseus' poor judgment, destroys his ship and kills his crew. However, when Odysseus names himself to King Alcinous, he does so with modesty, patience, kindness and divine respect. King Alcinous sympathizes with Odysseus and provides him with a new ship to sail home on. When Athena names herself to Odysseus, she does so boastfully and yet with impunity. Homer's message is simple: there is a right way and a wrong for self-identification among mortals. When Odysseus names himself with respect to virtue---as is the case with King Alcinous---he is rewarded. When he ignores virtue---as with Polyphemus---he is punished. Athena, on the other hand, who violates this social code, can do so because she is a Goddess. Her case reveals that Gods...

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