Complete title: The Odyssey
Written by: Homer (although some believe that there were multiple authors)
Language of Origin: Ancient Greek
Time and Place of Original Text: Presumed to be 700 BCE, Greece
Point of View: Narrated in third person. The narrator regularly offers insights into the thoughts and emotions of minor characters, gods and mortals.
Rising Conflict: Odysseus has been held prisoner for seven years, and now must return to his kingdom in order to slay the suitors who attempt to kill his son, marry his wife and take over his kingdom.
Themes: Power of wit over strength; the lure of temptation; the war between objectives and obstacles; the despair of separation; growth or character
Symbols: The matrimonial bed; the great bow; food; symbols of temptation (the cattle of the Sun, Circe, the lotus, the Siren’s song).
Food is a recurring symbol in the Odyssey, however, not in the traditional sense. Where hosting a meal for a guest is often viewed as a regular component of good hospitality, in the epic, Homer regularly uses hunger and the consumption of food to depict negative associations or conflicts. The imagery he creates with food is indicative of a lack of structure or discipline and mankind’s difficulty resisting temptation, evident for example, when Odysseus remains in the Cyclops cave and also when his men slaughter the cattle of the Sun.
The Matrimonial Bed
The matrimonial bed is symbolic of the loyalty in the marriage between Odysseus and his wife, Penelope. The bed is a place that is sacred to them, having only been seen by a single maidservant, and where husband and wife spend their first night together prior to Odysseus leaving for Troy. The bed is referred to as having ‘immovability’ – a statement Homer uses metaphorically to describe the couple’s love for each other as being unshakable.
The poem is regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of Ancient Greek literature.