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The Culture of the Odyssey compared to the culture of Current Society

coreync 2 / 3  
Jan 8, 2010   #1
I'd appreciate any imput on the paper, I have such a hard time critiquing my own writing. This is for an AP Lit class.

Written Assignment -

Write an essay in which you explain the basic societal structure within the Odyssey. Create an overall description, and be sure to support it with examples from the story or from the Cultural Concepts explanation. Emphasize the fundamental differences between this culture and our own.

(Min word count is 1500 and max is 2000, I have 1961 words)

The culture in the Odyssey was defined by the individuals who lived in it, unlike today's culture where people conform to the accepted definition of society. The human communities in the Odyssey revolved around keeping peace with the gods and one another. In this manner the people depended on leaders and kings who had the wisdom and experience to guide them such as Odysseus or his father, Laerte. The decisions made by the people were made by the majority, those who held higher rank in the community had a greater say in the decision making. However this worked against those who had yet to gain respect in the community, young men like Telemachus had this disadvantage. They generally did not have the option to oppose the majority unless they were willing to fight to get their way. This obsession of power and prestige also pushed men to pursue things that were immoral in attempt to gain that influence. An example of this was the suitors' pressure on Penelope to marry even though Odysseus had not been formally announced deceased. The gods had the final say in all matters and they involved themselves in the mortal realm to meet their own personal agendas. This society promoted the general idea of "an eye for an eye" or revenge. In our society people leave the justice system up to the authorities, with the belief that no one should take punishing others into their own hands.

Odysseus was acclaimed as a great anex or warlord. In the battle of Troy he led his men with confidence; on the battlefield the men trusted him with their lives. There are many versions of the Odyssey which have translated anex into "king;" however Odysseus was not considered a sovereign king. He was a leader in battle and a man well respected among the people of Ithaca. Yet, it was unlikely either the people of Ithaca or his men treated him the same way kings are treated in our society, with supreme authority. He was young when he left for the battle of Troy, between twenty and thirty years old, so it was unlikely that he had been able to make a huge impact on the region of Ithaca before he left. However his father, an elder in the city, did have the respect of the community and this probably influenced people's opinions of Odysseus. Wealth in this era was also a sign of status, and Odysseus was very wealthy which this contributed to his authority. Similarly our society equates wealth with power. Our society does not value the wisdom and guidance our elders could offer us. Thus our elders are not given the same respect in society as the elders were given in Ithaca.

The relationship between Odysseus and his men was rocky at best. In many instances they did not follow his orders and defied his judgment. Odysseus's men only felt obligated to obey him in times of war. When they did not agree with a command that Odysseus gave, they felt like they did not have to obey him because they believed that Odysseus no longer had the power of an anex. An example of this was when Odysseus told them not to consume the Sun god's cattle and they did it anyway, angering Helios who brought the wrath of Zeus upon them, "Father Zeus!...Punish them all, that crew of Laerte's son Odysseus....Unless they pay me back in blood for the butchery of my herd, I go down to the house of death and blaze among the dead!" Odysseus however had given the men a legitimate reason to doubt his judgment. He previously made the poor decision to linger in the Cyclops caves and not to take the provisions back to the ship to eat. His choice compromised his men's safety which lead to the death of some of his crew. Odysseus was considered a wise man yet not infallible. In today's world he would have been equivocal to a well respected government or military official. If people were placed under his command he would have had ultimate authority over them, but no control over the general public. His men and the people of Ithaca treated him with respect except when they did not find his orders agreeable.

In Ithaca there seemed to be no organized government, instead decisions were made by individuals or by majority consensus. The people of Ithaca got together in an agora, where prominent members of society gathered to discuss important issues. Some members of society, such as Odysseus and his family, had greater influence over the people due to their power and wealth. However only the gods were truly able enforce the laws. Otherwise the people took it into their own hands to decide what was right and what was wrong; usually blood was shed to get the revenge they felt they deserved. Telemachus was incapable of removing the suitors from his home due to his youth and inexperience. The young man ordered the men out but they did not listen because they held no respect for him. Telemachus was not willing to threaten the men because he knew he would not be capable of taking on the hoards of men, most were many years his senior. He called together an agora but the members were not fair in their judgment, they placed the blame on Penelope. The claimed that Penelope was only toying with the men, "Think to pin the blame on us? You think again. It is not the suitors here who deserve the blame, it is your own dear mother, the matchless queen of cunning." The people had a lot of prejudice towards their own families, they did not punish their sons for their wrongdoings but later were willing to persecute Odysseus. Our justice system prevents this type of prejudice by ascertaining that the jurors have no personal interest in the outcome of the accused. During the era of the Odyssey justice was in the eyes of the beholder which often undermined the rights of others.

The culture pressured the suitors to pursue Penelope's hand in marriage for many reasons. If one of those men were to take Penelope as his wife he would gain the status and wealth associated with that family. Not only were they wealthy but Odysseus's family held much of the power in the region of Ithaca. The suitors would have not put so much effort and time into gaining Penelope as their wife if they did not have something to gain. The men were also happy to plunder the house of Odysseus. They took advantage of Penelope and Telemachus's hospitality by eating and drinking their food and wine. Many of the people of Ithaca were family members of the suitors thus they took no action to help Telemachus. No doubt they felt they would benefit if one of their family members gained all the wealth and prestige associated with the house of Odysseus. With his father's perceived death Telemachus thought that he was the man of the house and thus should protect his mother who was his only family. He kept many things from Penelope, he made his old nurse made promise her silence "Swear you won't say anything to my mother. Not til ten or a dozen days have passed or she misses me herself and learn I'm gone. She mustn't mare her lovely face with tears." He does not want to burden his mother with the knowledge of his expedition or when he and Odysseus planned to attack the men. Telemachus loved his mother dearly and his entire journey revolved around freeing his mother and home from the greedy suitors. The lack-government of Ithaca worked against Telemachus, it allowed the suitors to plunder his home without consequence. Current government would not have allowed this injustice to occur. Penelope would have had the right to deny the men and to contact the authorities to remove the me from their property.

In that time period people were expected to abide by themis, which in that culture meant "do the right thing". Guests were expected to be treated hospitably, and welcomed heartily with food and drink. They were to be accommodated with anything they needed. The people believed that unless they followed these traditions they would be punished by the gods. There are many examples of themis, such as when Telemachus met with King Nestor and when Odysseus arrived at the Phaeacian Palace. There were times when themis was not adhered to like when Circes turned Odysseus's men into pigs and held him captive. Though she treated Odysseus with care she did not show any hospitality to his men. When Odysseus disguised himself as a thes the people of Ithaca showed him no themis, they treated him as something disgusting. Through their actions towards Odysseus their honest opinions and true morals were revealed. If they had genuinely good hearts they would have treated him with respect and kindness even though his lowly status. Telemachus showed his compassionate nature when he took the believed thes into his home despite his destitute. In current times you can also judge intentions by a persons behavior towards the less fortunate. When the people and elders of Ithaca did not assist in removing the suitors Telemachus and Odysseus took justice into their own hands. They slayed the suitors and revenged their honor. However this caused a greater conflict, the families of the suitors then wanted to avenge their sons' deaths creating a cycle called blood guilt. In this cycle the families inherited their relatives' sins and were not freed from those sins until they are reconciled. It was only the goddess, Athena who was able to demand the end of the feud, "Hold back, you men of Ithaca, back from brutal war! Break off-shed no more blood-make peace at once!" This revenge-based society created a tense environment with constant feuding which could only be resolved with the intervention of the gods.

The gods are the great power holders in the land, yet they still had to contend with one another and the supreme power of Zeus. The god's meddled in the lives of Odysseus and Telemachus, which equally benefited and hindered them. We witness Poseidon's attempts to hinder Odysseus in his journey and Athena working to help him and his family. The gods strove to get revenge when they felt it was deserved. Poeaiden wanted to revenge Odysseus's actions towards his son, Polyphemus the cyclopes. In the end it was Zeus who kept the peace in the realm of the gods, and it was Athena who settle the conflicts within Ithaca. In our society we do not have gods to jump in and correct our mistakes. Thus we have to be even more careful about our actions to prevent provoking disagreements with one another.

Throughout the Odyssey the characters were faced with many challenges and they approached them the way society had taught them. Raised in the culture of Ithaca and similar communities the characters had similar belief systems which revolved around their social interactions. Each person in the society had a responsibility to respect one another and guests. Yet also they had the obligation to stand up for their family and what they believed was right. Though some people only partially held these traditions when they felt it would benefit themselves, just as the suitors treated the disguised Odysseus as a thes instead of respecting him with themis as a guest. The societies of the Odyssey and current societies are similar in human nature but very different in their reactions. The culture of the Odyssey gave the responsibility to the individual but our culture places the responsibility on the governing body.

Thank you!
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Jan 16, 2010   #2
In our society people leave the justice system up to the authorities, with the belief that no one should take punishing others into their own hands.

This sentence ends your first paragraph, so it should express your main idea. It is not always necessary to have a thesis sentence at the end of the firs para, but it is a safe bet. I think you should change this sentence (or add a sentence after it) so that the first para ends with a sentence that clearly states the difference you are writing about in the essay. Don't just refer to our society today; refer to the difference.


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