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The Role of the Gods in Homer’s Odyssey

The Role of the Gods in The Odyssey

In the ancient world, the gods of the Greeks had been predominately confined to cosmological deeds prior to the works of Homer. “As Hesiod laid out the roles of the gods in his Theogony and the Works and Days, it is apparent that though the gods were active in the creation of the cosmos, natural phenomenon, and cyclical events such as seasons, they were not however, functioning in any historical way”(Bloom 36). This strictly cosmological view of the gods was in no way unusual to the ancient world. Though the breech of theology into historical events was perhaps first introduced by the Hebrews at the turn of the first millennia B.C.E., it was soon echoed in the religious paradigms of homo religiosus throughout the Near East and Europe. In the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E. another predominate thought swept the ancient world; life is suffering. An obvious question arises from the mixture of these two thoughts; if the gods are functioning in the historical reality of mankind why do they allow and/or cause suffering? This is the dilemma that Homer sets out to solve in the epic poem The Odyssey.

Holding Odysseus as the model of the homo religiosus who is well trained the rituals and ways of the gods, Homer attempts to show how the history of such a man’s life can be riddled with suffering. Also, no matter whether the suffering is inflicted by fate, the will of the gods, other people, or man’s own desires, the god’s themselves have divined a system that will work to alleviate the intolerable condition of man.

One of the central terms in The Odyssey is the heart. For Homer, the heart is the axis mundi of man. After Odysseus first arrives at the island of the Phaikians, Homer associa…

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…e life of Homer. Moreover, two and a half millennia later, this teaching is still a mainstay of all of the major world religions. Thus, Homer introduced an understanding of how if the gods participated in historical time it would allow man to establish a prosperous relationship with them, and therefore eliminate the endless cycle of suffering.

Works Cited and Consulted

Bloom, Harold , Homer’s Odyssey: Edited and with an Introduction, NY, Chelsea House 1988

Crane, Gregory , Calypso: Backgrounds and Conventions of the Odyssey, Frankfurt, Athenaeum 1988

David W. Tandy and Walter C. Neale (edd. and trans.), Hesiod’s Works and Days: A Translation and Commentary for the Social Sciences. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. Pp. xiv, 149.

Heubeck, Alfred, J.B. Hainsworth, et al. A commentary on Homer’s Odyssey. 3 Vols. Oxford PA4167 .H4813 1988

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – A Test of Chivalry

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – A Test of Chivalry

Essay with Outline Loyalty, courage, honor, purity, and courtesy are all attributes of a knight that displays chivalry. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is truly a story of the test of these attributes. In order to have a true test of these attributes, there must first be a knight worthy of being tested, meaning that the knight must possess chivalric attributes to begin with. Sir Gawain is self admittedly not the best knight around. He says “I am the weakest, well I know, and of wit feeblest; / and the loss of my life [will] be least of any” (Sir Gawain, l. 354-355). To continue on testing a knight that does not seem worthy certainly will not result in much of a story, or in establishing a theme. Through the use of symbols, the author of Sir Gawain is able to show that Gawain possesses the necessary attributes to make him worthy of being tested. He also uses symbols throughout the tests of each individual attribute, and in revealing where Gawain’s fault lies. The effective use of these symbols enables the author to integrate the test of each individual attribute into a central theme, or rather one overall test, the test of chivalry.

To establish the knight as worthy, the author first shows Gawain’s loyalty to his king. The Green Knight challenges anyone in the hall to the beheading game and no one takes him up on it. Arthur, angered by the Green Knight’s taunting, is about to accept the challenge himself when Gawain steps in saying “would you grant me this grace” (Sir Gawain, l. 343), and takes the ax from Arthur. This is a very convenient way for the author to introduce Gawain and also to show Gawain’s loyalty to Arthur, but it seems almost too convenient. There i…

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… life.

VI. Gawain’s fault is not actually revealed until he is at the Green Chapel.

A. Upon his arriving he hears what is apparently a scythe being ground.

1. The scythe is a harvesting tool.

2. This can be related to the harvest of the earth just prior to the Judgment Day.

B. The test is revealed to be the Green Knight’s scheme.

C. Gawain’s true flaw is his desire for self preservation.

VII. Gawain is placed in many different situations in which he must demonstrate that he does, in fact, possess the attributes of a worthy knight.

A. The author uses symbols to place Gawain in these different situations and as a means to show he is exemplary.

B. Loyalty, courage, honor, purity, and courtesy are all components of the term chivalry.

C. When the individual tests of these attributes are put together, the result is one overall test- the test of chivalry.

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