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The Importance of Identity in Homer’s Odyssey

The Importance of Identity in Homer’s Odyssey

Within the epic poem “The Odyssey”, Homer presents the story of Odysseus’s quest to find his home and his identity. According to Homer’s account, with its origin in oral tradition, the two quests are interchangeable, as a mortal defines himself with his home, his geographic origin, his ancestors, his offspring, etc. But in addition to this Homer illustrates the other aspect of human identity, shaped by the individual and his actions so that he may be recognized in the outside world. Through this Homer presents Odysseus in two ways: the first his internally given identity as ruler and native of Ithaca, son of Laertes, father of Telemachos; the second the definition of the external world which sees the “god-like” mortal famous for his clever actions and the god’s almost unanimous favor.

For this second identification Odysseus has undergone a long journey, measured not only by time and distance but also as a series of alienations in foreign lands, illustrating to Odysseus what exactly his identity does not consist in, namely the immortal, the underworld, or other nationalities. Through these alienations Homer establishes the hostile world in which Odysseus must struggle to exist and in which sometimes the Gods themselves become hostile, causing mortals to suffer. In order to survive this, Odysseus also explores what it is to present oneself as without a past, home, fixed identity, or as he names himself to the Cyclops – a “Noman”. That is to say that in certain instances Homer presents Odysseus as performing the opposite action of most mortals(i.e. attempting to make a name for themselves) by disguising or even eradicating his name, thus establishing an externally identifiable …

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… to recognize himself, for he knows that he has a past and a homeland, both of which construe his identity. Homer includes the story of Circe and the men who while in her house “forget their fatherland wholly” and are turned to swine only to illustrate what Odysseus has known all along, that just as he can not be immortal nor can he truly be “Noman” for that means he becomes an animal (Ch. X, 236). In this way, the artifice of being “Noman” only serves to remind himself of who he truly is. For Homer this recognition becomes essential to Odyssey’s ultimate identity – that of the civilized human.

The student may wish to begin the essay with the quote below:

“Noman is my own name. Noman do they call me.”

-Odysseus taking on the guise of “Noman” in Ch. IX, 366.

Works Cited:

Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Vintage Books, 1962.

The Nature of Space in Kafka’s The Castle

The Nature of Space in Kafka’s The Castle

From the end of the nineteenth century to the outbreak of World War I,

great developments in technology and knowledge brought about significant

changes in the way man viewed time and space. The necessity of clear train

schedules led to the development of World Standard Time and the plurality

of private time. In regards to space, with which this paper deals, man

moved into other subjective realms beyond the two and three dimensions

described by Euclid. In fact, with Einstein’s theory of relativity, the

number of spaces inherent in life increased beyond calculation to equal the

number of moving reference systems of all the matter in the universe. This

theory echoes Nietzche’s contemporary philosophical theory of

perspectivism, where space only consists of points of view and

interpretations, not objective facts. Thus, these two doctrines signaled a

breakdown of the old notion that there is a single reality, a single,

absolute space. Space became subjective and relative, man could not be sure

of what it was that actually surrounded him and made up his physical world.

Creative artists, painters and novelists, attempted to deal with this new

concept. Attacks were made on traditional notions that there is only one

space and that a single point of view is equal to an understanding.

Writers, specifically, responded with multiple perspectives depicting

different views of the same objects in space in order to demonstrate that

the world is always different as it is perceived by various observers at

varying times. Man had to come to grips with the fact that with such a

plurality of space, he cannot know, understand, or even see the physical

world completely.

Thus, it is not surprising that Kafka’s final work, The Castle, which

emerged out of the pluralism and confusion of this age, deals with this new

notion of space, this new relativity of the world surrounding man. While

the book can be looked at on a spiritual level, with the castle symbolizing

divinity or the ultimate spiritual meaning of man’s existence, in regards

to space, the castle could also symbolize the actual literal, physical

world. Through the nature of K. and his quest, the different ways the

Castle is perceived by K. from various viewpoints along his quest, and the

inability of anyone to know the true nature of the castle officials, Kafka

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