A theme prevalent in the works of Homer is the critical role that the gods play. Relatively in The Odyssey, Homer portrays the insignificance of human power and asserts that the free will of the gods to control the human life is unquestionable. The gods are naturally presented as part of a mortal’s daily life and Homer seeks to clearly define the difference in authority between the gods and a mortal.
Throughout the epic, the characters attempt to find favor with the gods and the culture of serving and being hospitable becomes one not out of genuine love but for an approval. Unlike the common man, Odysseus is special. He is keen, possesses a sharp mind, and capable of being both crafty and cunning. However, while Odysseus may seem to be exceptional and is depicted as a hero, it is the constant involvement of the gods that allows him to appear that way rather than through his own worth. Throughout Odysseus’ journey back home, the gods not only preserved his life in times of great danger and imminent death, but also used such difficulties to form a story worthy of an epic. In chapter 10, Odysseus vocalizes, “Dangerous for a mortal man to pluck from the soil but not for deathless gods. All lies within their power.”1 He was well aware of his incapacitated strength and did not ignore the seemingly predestined fate that he was to meet.
While Odysseus was trapped in Calypso’s island for nearly a decade, Athena had petitioned for his freedom. Upon hearing Athena’s request, Zeus’ decision to free Odysseus was delivered to Calypso. Through Hermes, the irrefutable decree by Zeus read, “Odysseus journeys home—the exile must return….So his destiny ordains. He shall see his loved ones, reach his high-roofed house, his native land at last.
“(80) For freedom, Odysseus was at the mercy of Zeus and desperately in debt to to Athena for her aid. Alone, he was incapable without the intervention of the gods. Furthermore, while Odysseus was now free from Calypso’s captivity, he was restrained by the destiny plastered onto him. His quest for homecoming would be full of trials and to complete his journey, Odysseus certainly needed to rely on the power of the gods rather than on his own strength. Upon leaving the dreaded island, Odysseus was already in need of the gods at sea. At the wrath of Poseidon, he was engulfed by the waves of the sea and in great turmoil.
Both breathless and speechless, Odysseus threw himself before the gods in prayer. His whole body swollen and to the brink of exhaustion, he would have met his death against the will of the gods. However, the goddess Ino rescued him by offering the immortal scarf for him to survive (163). The intervention of the gods had saved Odysseus for if he had perished, his heroic reputation would never have been formed.
Another occasion whereby Odysseus relied on the power of the gods was when the witch Circe had turned his men into pigs. There and then, Hermes favored him by giving him vital knowledge by saying, “But wait, I can save you, free you from that great danger. Look, here is a potent drug. Take it to Circe’s halls— its power alone will shield you from the fatal day.
“(239) Without Hermes’ help in providing the drug, Odysseus would never have overcome Circe’s spell and ultimately defeat her. Once again, even though Odysseus should have died and been forgotten, the power of the gods preserved his life when his own strength was insufficient. Even when Odysseus returned to Ithaca, he constantly needed assistance from the gods to eliminate the suitors and reclaim the land as king. During this last and final endeavor, Odysseus asked of Athena, “Come, weave us a scheme so I can pay them back! You stand beside me, fire me with daring, fierce as the day we ripped Troy’s glittering crown of towers down.
Stand by me—furious now as then, my bright-eyed one— and I would fight three hundred men, great goddess, with you to brace me, comrade-in-arms in battle!”(299) Observing Odysseus’ desperate cry for the power of the gods, he was extremely reliant on Athena in his attempt to take back his throne. One more time, Odysseus’ confidence and heroism was near and completely dependent not on the strength of his own but of the gods. He had only reached thus far in his journey simply because Athena was constant in her giving of an amalgamation of strength, courage, and might. Especially with the providence of a disguise that Athena had put on Odysseus, the goddess gave him a huge leverage over the suitors. If Athena had not intervened time after time, Odysseus would not have been successful in fulfilling his destiny.
Odysseus definitely stood out amongst the common man but was it his own capability and merit that enabled him to defeat the circumstances faced? As a mortal in a world governed by the hands of the gods, could Odysseus seriously face adversity and come out victorious on his own? Clearly, the gods played an essential role in Odysseus’ success. Without their intervention, Odysseus would have experienced numerous deaths and his heroic deeds nothing more than an anecdote of a mediocre man. Therefore, though Odysseus may be perceived as a hero, the gods are Odysseus’ heroes and ultimately deserve the credit for his heroism. 1 Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fagles, introduction and notes by Bernard Knox (New York, NY: The Penguin Group, 1996), 240.