Odysseus as Pawn of the Gods in The Odyssey
Throughout literature characters have relied upon entities greater then themselves to furnish them with aid as they meet the many challenges they must face. The Odyssey is a tale of Odysseus’ epic journey and the many obstacles that bar his return home. But Odysseus is not alone in this struggle and receives aid from many gods, especially the clear-eyed goddess Athena. There are times when Odysseus beseeches the gods for aid, but other times he is too foolhardy to receive aid from even the immortal gods. In Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus’ journey revolves around the cyclical phases of his dependence, independence and his return to reliance upon the gods’ aid.
While with Calypso Odysseus relies upon the gods to decide whether he shall return home or if he is fated to stay with the nymph goddess. Though Odysseus is powerful amongst mortal men his attempts to free himself from Calypso’s island prove to be in vain. Instead, Odysseus must wait, for "…in the gods’ lap it lies to say if he shall come and wreak revenge in his halls…" (6). Odysseus must bow to the gods’ wishes and it is Athena, rather then Odysseus himself, who convinces mighty Zeus to free Odysseus and set him upon his journey home. Athena pleads Odysseus’ cause to the gods upon Olympus and beseeches her father begging that "…if it now please the blessed gods that wise Odysseus shall return to his own home…" (2) then she will aid him in this journey. Were it not for Athena’s intervention, Odysseus might never have returned to his native land and seen his dear Ithica once more.
Through Telemachus, Odyssues’ son, the reader sees Odysseus’ utter dependence upon the gods’ aid. During Telemachus’ journey, all those that he chances to meet are astounded by his likeness to his great father Odysseus. This likeness is clearly illustrated by Telemachus’ similar dependence upon Athena’s guidance. The clear-eyed goddess Athena herself tells Telemachus that "…not unbefriended of the gods have you been born and bred" (19). Her reference highlights Telemachus’ greatest inheritance, which is the aid of the immortal gods. Even Nestor, a mortal, notes the aid which Telemachus receives from the gods, and marvels that Telemachus must be truly favored "…if when so young the gods become [his] guides" (26). Such qualities in Telemachus constantly remind the reader of the dependence on the gods’ aid Odysseus has developed in his travels.
Though Odysseus is as great a man as ever lived, he is still only mortal and at the gods’ mercy. Odysseus does not control his own destiny, but instead the gods determine what shall befall him and whether he shall ever reach his home. Odysseus is only a man and "hard is a god for mortal man to master" (36) even if he is great amongst his brethren. Odysseus can not control the gods anymore then he can control his fate and so he is left at their mercy. Even Zeus, who gives Odysseus many signs, will sometimes deal...