Odyssey is one of the major poems written by Homer. It has been translated to a number of modern languages and originally it was expected to be sung, rather than read. Odysseus, a Greek hero, is a central character of the poem and throughout the story the reader can observe his complicated relationships with other characters, be those Gods or ordinary mortals. The relations of Odysseus with all the individuals and Gods in the poem are worth analyzing, though the ones with Athena, the goddess of warfare, seem to be of the greatest interest. At first glance it may seem that Athena simply wants to win Odysseus’ favor and to be a friend of his, though a deeper analysis shows her real intentions. The characters of Odysseus and Athena have a number of similarities with both of them being evident leaders; despite strong leadership features, however, Odysseus still listens to the advice of Athena who plays a role of his patroness and who, though she seems to have feelings for him, simply uses him to win the bet she made with other gods.
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To begin with, Odysseus and Athena have similar characters and it was namely Odysseus’ desire to be a leader that attracted Athena in him. Odysseus’ self-confidence and heroism accounted for other people and gods’ liking him. On his way to his beloved he confronted a number of difficulties and “all the gods … pitied Lord Odysseus” (Homer and Fitzgerald 2: I: 31) with Athena pitying him most of all. This makes Odysseus close to gods, which Homer constantly reminds his readers of. Odysseus is presented as the strongest and the wisest person. This likeness to God makes him similar to Athena; both Odysseus and Athena were action takers and both were good at designing strategic plans and further implementing them, as well as both were good at story-telling and coping with problems arising on their way to their goals. Thus, except from being mortal, nothing makes Odysseus worse than the goddess of warfare and their similar characters show that gods and mortals can be equally brave, resolute, and committed.
In addition, the relations between Odysseus and Athena are those of a protected and a protector with Athena playing the role of Odysseus’ patroness. Athena guides and helps Odysseus on his way to Penelope and in the course of his developing into a heroic ideal. Thus, Athena takes different shapes turning into different people who aid the hero. One day she is Princess Nausikaa who shows Odysseus the way home (Homer and Fitzgerald 100), the next time she pours sea fog around Odysseus to protect him, and once she even turned into a little girl who showed him the way to the palace (Homer and Fitzgerald 111). Athena as Odysseus’ counselor and patroness sees that they are similar in their being a goddess and a man of action and wishes to show to Odysseus who she really is: “Would even you have guessed that I am Pallas Athena, daughter of Zeus, I that am always with you in times of trial, a shield to you in battle” (Homer and Fitzgerald 239). This discloses Athena’s attitude towards Odysseus and her desire to tell him that she controlled his actions all the time. Therefore, realizing similarities between herself and Odysseus Athena plays a role of his protector, teacher, counselor, and guardian angel that accompanies the hero everywhere and aids him whenever it is possible.
Finally, the importance of such relationships between Odysseus and Athena lies in showing that, though gods may sometimes exhibit love, they often act for mercenary motives pursuing their own goals and using the mortals for this. Thus, Athena who may seem to experience tender feelings for Odysseus is in reality simply trying to win the bet. In this way Homer is trying to show that mortals are nothing but puppets in the hands of the gods and, in case of Odyssey, the gods were acting like children who were simply playing with their puppets. Sometimes the readers can get convinced that Athena has feelings for Odysseus, especially with her stating “But my own heart is broken for Odysseus,/ the mastermind of war, so long a castaway/ upon an island in the running sea” (Homer and Fitzgerald 3: I: 67). This, however, has been done only to convince Zeus to let her help Odysseus and thus win the bet she has made with other gods.
In sum, tracing the relationships between Odysseus and Athena is complicated due to evident likeness between these two characters. They both are leaders from nature with Athena admiring Odysseus’ selflessness and resoluteness, which makes her help him on the way to his goal. Athena’s divine origin is, perhaps, the only distinction between these two characters because Odysseus has all the potential of the god of battle. Their relationships are those of protector and protected, of teacher and student, and of guardian angel and an ordinary mortal. At this, however, though Athena’s feelings for Odysseus seem to be sincere, her primary purpose is winning the bet which she made with other gods who saw no value in human life and wished only to entertain themselves.
Homer and Fitzgerald, Robert. The Odyssey. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.