The Odyssey

Cunning as a Defining Characteristic

At its core, The Odyssey is a story that centers around the cunning of its main characters. Throughout the epic poem, both Odysseus and his wife, Penelope, are known for their mental capabilities. Odysseus is constantly referred to as "godlike," and Penelope is called "circumspect." Circumspect, as defined by, means "heedful of circumstances and potential circumstances; prudent," and Book 23 clearly illustrates the circumspection of both Penelope and Odysseus. In this book, Odysseus uses his cunning to rid his home of the unwelcome suitors, and Penelope, in turn, uses her cunning to protect not only herself, but her people as well, by forcing Odysseus to prove his identity to her. Closely interwoven with the plot in this book is also the theme of using disguises and hidden identities to achieve one's desired results. This is something Odysseus and many other characters do, and it plays an especially important part in this book. Ultimately, the scene in Book 23 in which Penelope tests Odysseus' true identity serves to emphasize the importance of cunning as Odysseus' means of survival, as well as Penelope's means of survival; most importantly, though, it emphasizes the...

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