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Exploring the Complex Beliefs and Priorities of Ancient Greek Society in Homer’s Odyssey

Jun 3, 2023 | 0 comments

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Jun 3, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

According to Homerus (2016), the story of Odyssey, frightening monsters, amazing islands as well as the persistent meddling from the mythological Greek gods is commonplace. Nevertheless, this tale and many more stories, it is made of, act as a greater reason in which the reader is invited into the beliefs, understand and priorities of the world according to the what the Greek people believed in. the philosophy which is revealed through this tale is the one where nature and man are in regular clash (Glacken, 1992). It demonstrates a never-ending struggle to describe oneself when the nature forces (gods), combat all efforts to do so.


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Glacken (1992), stated that the ancient Greek was guided by a complex system of belief and the story of Odyssey is characterized by the same, nevertheless, inside the tale of Odyssey, there exists a character who exemplifies the complexity of Greek thought, Pallas Athena. Pallas Athena happens to be a god who is a female, and the personification of victory all can be put together into a bigger idea about the nature of the world, this is as well as, the exclusivity of her character exposes the height of Greek beliefs and their conflicting function on the grander phase of life.

For us to understand the nature deeply, we need to understand the connection of nature with Greeks supernatural being who in this case is Athena. Nature was an embodiment of the gods. Each and every phenomenon of the natural world had a god who represented it and controls it all in a powerful way (Finley, 1978).

Another concept that needs to be assessed is the relationship linking nature and man. The ideas of the Greek in terms of this were based majorly on conflict. According to Finley (1978), nature has an order to each and everything it owns and man being intelligent being with ability to alter the nature, the attempt of the man in altering the nature cause conflicts with the nature and at the end of it man is often at a disadvantaged side when this nature hits back. Even though the interruption of man on nature is applicable to both the actions of a group as well as the individual actions, it more clearly relates to the individual pursuit for self-identification. For instance, the scenario where a group versus man versus nature is the conflict that happened in Odysseus,” Cyclops – if any man on the face of the earth should ask you who blinded you, shamed you so – say Odysseus, raider of cities, he gouged out your eye, Laertes’ son who makes his home in Ithaca” (Homerus, 2016). In this line, Odysseus declares his personality rather than remaining with no identity in a multitude of men.

Finley (1978) argued the declaration is what triggers Poseidon’s anger and is the main conflict point of the book. For that reason, in these few lines, the relationship that links nature and man is clearly stated. And man has been given a choice to remain unidentified to the gods as a sign he is a member of a larger group or another choice is to claim an identity which would put him at risk with gods because the gods would be angry by the man’s action of taking an identity. This, when looked deeply, is the conflict between the dominion over nature and the anger of gods expressed clearly through natural calamities like for example lightning and storm

Another component is the understanding of nature in the aspects of masculine and the feminine in Greek. Nature was regarded as feminine in its fundamental nature, and on the other hand, civilization was regarded as masculine. As a result, every engagement that involved civilization avow itself in opposition to the forces of nature is similar to a brutal sexual encounter, or more particularly man’s brutal penetration into nature’s world. Therefore, based on this an individual who declares himself is an easy target as compared to group affirmation, hitherto the fact that they both point to the same ‘raping of the wilderness’ and both acts are significant.

Remarkably enough, even though nature is feminine in the core, it reveals its power via camouflaging as a male. This adds another dynamic aspect to the link between man and nature in which they both are struggling to sexually dictate the other. Nevertheless, it also appears that the moment man manages to control nature it changes to the feminine as well as submissive. This concept is demonstrated clearly in Circe scene,” The moment Circe strikes with her long thin wand, you draw your sharp sword sheathed at your hip and rush her fast as if to run her through. She’ll cower in fear and coax you to her bed” (Homerus, 2016) if the sword and wand as symbolized by euphemisms, then the sexually dictating nature of this engagement is clear. In addition, this point throws in the notion of conflict between nature and man by exposing it to be not only more complicated than a god and the dynamic of a man, but also to expand the idea into the dominion of gender. Therefore, due to the fact that nature is basically feminine, it can become docile as well as answerable to the will of masculine society.

The conflict between nature and man is portrayed in three ways by Athena. First, the fact that she is a goddess, this tackles this obvious god versus man conflict and she is like all the other gods in regards to the respect she commands; all-powerful, vicious of man’s pursuit for identity, and biased in favours as she favours only those that represent her powers, and that is Odysseus. Nevertheless, the two core things that differentiate her are gender as well as her personification of victory. Similar to other female embodiments in Grecian nature, her power is demonstrated in a more masculine way for example when she changed the appearance of Odyssey, “Athena stroked Odysseus with her wand” (Homer 13:492). Hence she does not only use her power through masculine sexual act but she also uses her power on Odysseus instead of allowing him to take over her and make her submissive. Therefore, she retains her masculinity traits. Another example of this is displayed in Athena’s fondness to masquerade herself as a male and when she assumes the functions of authority “Athena led the way, assuming the pilot’s seat” (Homerus, 2016), she dissimilar to Circe, demonstrate the masculine, feminine dispute when nature remains in charge.

Furthermore, Athena not only takes over man through a masculine show of her power but she also works against the man search for identity. This was to portray the natural side of masculinity as a man is naturally aggressive and a warrior at the same time. This according to Finley (1978), she does perfectly by exemplifying victory. Through this exemplification the actions of that that look for identity through, violence, glory or anything that is related to victory is turned into meaningless. Their identity is stolen by Athena because their glories and victories are solely tied to her. And this is demonstrated when Odysseus is raided of all that he had achieved “I willed it, planned it so when you set out for home – and to tell you all the trials you must suffer in your palace” (Homerus, 2016). This demonstrates how Athena reveals the undoing of the goods in the search for self-identification, in spite of the fact that she asserts to be on the side of Odyssey.

In addition, in the Odyssey Athena plays a huge responsibility helping Odysseus to get home, and sarcastically, even though she takes the identity of Odyssey that he earned through a series of battle, without Athena’s aid he wouldn’t have found the identity that appears at the closing stages of this epic tale. The component of nature in this can be revealed in the sense that despite the victory and the glory a man is often answerable to a supernatural being in according to the Greeks the gods were naturally powerful and dictators in their own spheres. To affirm this Finley (1978), stated that this identity is emerging not only from blood or battle but also from the connection of human, personal as well as group narratives as well as the exercise of nature than domination. As a result of this, Athena who is restricted in her victory to power is unable to take away humans of identities that have been created from the above list, and the recreation of nature instead of domination produces a concession in which she would consider no need to.

According to Sweney (1992), the war waged between Troy and Greece are also known as the Trojan War was meant to push for the return of Helen, who was wife to Menelaos and she had eloped to Paris with Priam the son of King Troy. Iphigenia in Aulis starts with Greek armies standing at Aulis, ready for the journey to Troy but wait for the wind to fill their sails. Euripides and Hartung (1852), stated that the fortuneteller Calchas declared that the wind will not be able to allow the forces to sail to Agamemnon, this forces the leader of the Greek army to offer a huge sacrifice of his own daughter, Iphigenia.
In this content, nature has had a very powerful stand to the extent that it has dictated the course of the war. For the Greece army if they didn’t get to listen to the prophecies of Calchas it meant that they were going to a battle where they were guaranteed to lose an ultimate sacrifice had to be made to appease the gods as according to Greece the gods were fully in charge of the natural occurrences and for this case is the wind. From a wider perspective, we see the weight or the impact that nature had on the armies and it was worth everything.

Going further, the play revolves around the compulsion of Greece to put an end to Troy, the moral dilemmas emerge from the necessity and the struggle to mollify the violent as well as the ostensibly whimsical, demands of their gods. Even though it is within the will of Artemis that is the basis for the state in which Greece find themselves in, the action of the play revolves around the human sphere as well (Euripides & Hartung, 1852). Its emotional effect relies upon the meandering moral arguments of the main characters; Agamemnon, Iphigenia, Achilles, Clytemnestra and Menelaus, in one way to the other, they move inevitably towards sacrificing Iphigenia. In the end, she takes on the obligation and gladly gives her life to Greece in front of the whole army.

Iphigenia, in this case, acted as an interface between the gods, nature and the Greek army. And as much as she had no obligation to accept herself to be offered as a sacrifice this according to the Greek culture is well connected to the demands of their gods when they were facing a tragic natural phenomenon.

There is a possibility that the sacrifice that Iphigenia offered to Greece did not exist in the original telling of the myth and Euripides invented it afterwards, undeniably, the original version of the myth ended contrary to Euripides version. An epilogue to the original text of Iphigenia in Aulis gives this a different version. According to Sweney (1992), a messenger arrived to inform the grieving Clytemnestra of an outstanding story of “awe and wonder”.At the instant of Iphigenia’s sacrifice, he narrates, “they [the Greeks] saw the apparition which a god had sent but no man had foreknown”: a deer lying on the altar of Artemis, puffing its last breath as well as attaining “deathless glory” for the Greeks, in which in other words Iphigenia didn’t die; at the time of sacrifice, a deer was exchanged for the girl by Artemis and took her away to Tauris, where she offered out her life in the goddess’s temple (Euripides & Hartung, 1852).

This demonstrates how the act of sacrifice was important to Euripides as it had to add more weight in connecting Iphigenia to what nature dictated at that particular moment the initial tale where a deer has replaced her as a sacrifice has a perspective. Euripides altering the original content wanted to bring forth the emotion to demonstrate the bond that the Greeks had with their gods as well as demonstrating the fact that they can give it all in order to win the war.

In conclusion both Odyssey and Iphigenia tales have a strong attachment to the nature, it portrays the fact that Greeks were more concerned about the nature to the extent that they linked it to the works of their gods and even though Odyssey was given an identity after the battle, this was quite uncomfortable for him because of the policies of their gods who wanted to appear in each and every battle and take all the praises for victory. Iphigenia, on the other hand, had to pay the ultimate price for the gods to give them a favour and offer them strong winds that could make them sail to Troy. The two tales have managed to put nature role as part of the main theme, as it takes the centre-stage through which major decisions are based on in the play, for instance, the sacrifice of Iphigenia.


Euripides, ., & Hartung, J. A. (1852). Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis. Leipzig: Engelmann.
Finley, J. H. (1978). Homer’s Odyssey. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Glacken, C. (1992). Part One: Nature, Home and Horizon in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Retrieved from www.d.umn.edu/~pfarrell/Environemntal%20Conservation/western%20attitudes%2 <www.d.umn.edu/~pfarrell/Environemntal%20Conservation/western%20attitudes%252>
Homerus, ., Verity, A., & Allan, W. (2016). The Odyssey.
Sweney, L. (1992). Iphigenia and the Greeks: Towards understanding a cultural memory of maiden sacrifice.

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