THEMES IN THE ODYSSEY
1. Hospitality and civilisation.
Basically, a question of the abuse of power.
"They that have power to hurt and will do none" (Shakespeare Sonnet 94;). Not to be held accountable, except by gods and conscience, for treatment of strangers immediate social consequences. Compare the behaviour of the suitors what having power can do to a person.
2. Eating and its social and community significance:
an index of the proper/ improper relationships between people. NB -Part of the essential relationship between host and guest (see 1. Hospitality) The meaning of commensality (taking salt together, parasitism etc) cannibalism and abuses of commensality (Cyclops, Laistrygonians, Circe and Helen putting
something wicked in the dish).
3. Relations between men and women.
Note picture of marriages: Odysseus' , and Arete and Alcincos, also Helen and Menelaus. Also, Calypso, Circe (power abused), and Nausicaa. To some extent Athena? The tree symbolism comes in here; also, the female monsters, Scylla and Charybdis. Eurycleia; Melantho. Compare Nausicaa and Polycasta, Nestor's daughter. The affairs of Aphrodite and Ares. Leucothea and Eidothea; helpers of Menelaus and Odysseus.
4. What one can learn from travel.
(See 1 above) NB - the meaning of informal education; understanding one's own by understanding the different from one's own. Telemachus and the Bildungsroman of the first four books; falling in love and sentimental education: also Nausicaa's growing up by falling in love with Odysseus: growing up. The Wanderjahre; danger, adventure = grasping one's own capacities so as not to be afraid (as of the suitors) in future.
5. The search for identity.
Its relation to one's past history, to one's home (Odysseus' longing for his home), to one's private life and one's family. On the other hand, the public face and reputation: the persona. The Cyclops never thought Odysseus would be such a scrawy little chap. Compare the public reputation and the reality of Helen; Menelaus. Is there more integrity in Penelope? Do we define integrity partly as when the public and private faces correspond?
6. The value of being immortal.
What does Calypso really offer? How superior are the gods? What Achilles says about life being worthwhile under any condition. (Book 11)
7. Minstrels and what they can offer.
Demodocus' song makes Odysseus weep and be himself again, reminded of his past. Phemius' song does the same for Penelope: life is enhanced by pain when the pain is the heart's dearest emotion. Yet the minstrel is dependent on favour, and cannot disobey: he is a servant too.
8. Slavery and its effects on a man or woman.
Eumaius' story -the girl who kidnapped him. Eurycleia's sneaking on the other maids; Melantho and her rudeness (the abuse of power) - due perhaps to too much favour from Penclope her mistress? Melanthius and his currying favour with the suitors and abuse of strangers.
9. Fathers and sons.
Parenthood and what it means. Aegyptios, Telemachus, Nestor, Peisistratus and Antilochos; Menelaus and Megapenthes; Helen and Hermione, Penelope and Telemachus.