Family in Homer’s “Odyssey” and in the Modern World
Since the beginning of time family played an important role in the lives of people. It is a building unit of a society and any civilization. In the ancient times family ties were considered much closer, where even a slight disrespect towards the family reflected and influenced the individual in that family and so it was sole duty of every member to keep the family’s good name unblemished, protecting the honor for the present and future generations. In Homer’s “Odyssey” the family of the ancient times is described in great detail and can be seen as one of the major points or ideas in the story. Throughout the poem it is obvious that there is great value and honor in the family and more importantly the relationship between father and son is emphasized as something sacred and divine. There are traces of this relationship in Odyssey, which is specifically and purposefully illustrated in detail.
The story of Odysseus describes the ventures of a brave warrior who has many hardships reaching his goal of returning home. Many times throughout the story there is a link to the family and how Odysseus is in great want to return to his land, to his wife and son. Odysseus explains how much he misses his home to Calypso: “…day by day I long to be at home once more, and pine to see the hour of my return” (Homer 1871). The status of a person in the family during ancient times is defined by what is known about their family name and the family name comes from the father and the respect that he has received from his relatives and people he knows outside of the family. There are many instances in the “Odyssey” that show how important and close a family is. For example when Telemachus leaves his home to search for his father, and his mother Penelope is saddened by his leaving: “and now again a beloved son is gone on a hollow ship, an innocent all unversed in fighting and speaking, and it is for him I grieve even more than for that other one..” (Howard, 1989). A mother’s love is shown here in its full strength, proving once again how close the family ties were in the past. He was gone for a very long time but still his wife and son wait for him, keep his good name and reputation in check. Son of Odysseus—Telemachus shows several times that it is his duty to keep the household in order and to make sure that the family’s name is respected and honored (Damrosch & Alliston, 2007). This can be seen when the suitors come to court his mother—Penelope, he is ensuring a somewhat distance from them, keeping the role of the man of the house. He talks about the suitors with disrespect and disapprovement: “For my mother, against her will, is beset by suitors, own sons to the men who are greatest hereabouts…. they come and loiter in our house…Most of our substance is wasted” (Howard, 1989). Telemachus is portrayed as an exemplary son who takes on the responsibility of the protector of the home and the respect for the father. At the same time Homer tried to show how much disrespectful were these suitors to the sacred nature of the family, when they each tried to marry Penelope and break the unity of the home. This immediately creates a negative predisposition towards these men as they were disrespectful enough to endanger the well being of someone else’s family, reinforcing the view how important relatives and kin are (Damrosch & Alliston, 2007). An interesting way to show the relationship between family members and how well Odysseus and Penelope understand and know each other, is when Odysseus returns home and has several conversations with Penelope, while disguised as a beggar. Their closeness is reflected in the imprecise for the public nature of their conversations and by having hidden context within their words (Vlahos, 2011). Another example of the trust that they shared can be seen in a quote: “For wise and well instructed in the rules…Of virtuous conduct is Penelope, The daughter of Icarius” (Homer 1871). The times and values that Homer is describing in the ”Odyssey”, put great accent on the ties that existed between family and how it was seen by the outside public. The society did not have any other mechanism in their knowing of other families and people, except by their name. If the name was a well known and respected without any past shame or betrayal in the family, then it was said to be properly functioning and was thought of highly. This played a role in a case if any help was required, the family’s name would be a sort of proof or a document that that family is worthy of the effort. The whole story “Odyssey” is focused on the return of the father and a warrior home after a long time of wars. Odysseus describes how he imagines his return in the following: “…on my return to my own land I should be honored then and meet a kinder welcome there from all who see me in my Ithaca once more” (Homer 1871). This is the major point, which leads to an ending where the family is reunited after a long time apart and the story comes to a natural ending with the family and happiness restored.
Another important part of “Odyssey” is its portrayal of father-son relationship. There is a special and very close bond between father and son. This can be seen in almost every family that is mentioned in the story. This bond is represented in the duties that they have to each other. The father is supposed to protect his son, provide anything necessary for his survival and growth and in return the son must honor his father’s name and in case someone dishonors the father’s name he is supposed to fight to restore it. If the father is betrayed or killed it is son’s duty to avenge the father. Also the son becomes the primary keeper of the home when the father is gone. While Odysseus is away, his son Telemachus takes care of the household. He is the one who keeps the suitors away, as previously mentioned and it is clearly shown that there is no other way that he could represent his father, except by protecting his mother and home (Damrosch & Alliston, 2007). There are numerous examples of the close relationship between father and son in “Odyssey”. At a closer examination of one of such relationships, Telemachus is seen devastated that his father is gone to war, he has not seen him in a very long time and now it becomes his duty to be the man of the family and carry the name of his father. Telemachus talks of his duty before his father and is shown to feel some grief because he wishes his father was a simple man, so not to carry the name of a person who left and never returned. But Athena tells Telemachus directions that he must follow in the search for his father and by this advice he is reassured that he is on the right path and so readily takes on the voyage (Howard, 1989). In “Odyssey” when Homer talks about how Odysseus goes to Hades, he focuses the telling on how a father is worried about the son. Odysseus, Achilles and Agamemnon ask what happened to their sons and are each told what took place. Good news make them very happy and it becomes obvious that the wars and even a trip to the underworld did not break their spirits and hopes to return home and see their sons (Damrosch & Alliston, 2007). A very touching and sentimental moment takes place when Odysseus returns home and meets with his son. “So helplessly they cried, pouring out tears…and might have gone on weeping so till sundown…” (Henry, 1998). This moment creates a contrast between the reputation and strength that each character has throughout the story and how they were respected and feared by others, but in this moment these strong men are shown as a part of a family that has feelings and is very happy that they are finally together. These men are not afraid and not ashamed to show their true feelings and express how much they missed and cared for each other. The closeness of the family and particularly father and son described in the “Odyssey”, should be an example of love, care and responsibility for people at any time and in any nation.
When looking at the modern world the meaning of family has changed a lot in some countries. From the very beginning of human existence family and relatives were the closest people around. The family depended on each other for survival and prosperity. In the harsh times they had to stay as one unit, hunting and gathering and protecting their own from any dangers. This tradition was very important for a long time. In part this closeness was because of limited resources and so people had to unite and stay together to increase their chances of survival. But the most important reason was that members of one family knew each other for a very long time and shared same relatives, genetics and upbringing. Of course there are exceptions and examples in history when family members hated each other and fought for power and status, but there will always be exceptions and cases that do not fit the pattern and this does not mean that family and its importance should be judged by those extreme cases of hate and jealousy. In the present times family became secondary since it is the age of progress and individuality where everyone is able to make it on their own. People today want to be identified for who they personally are and not what their family is. In a way it is a good thing because a family can have a bad name and one of its members can be a completely different person, not sharing the negative sides and views that the family has. But the world today is a fast paced environment where people are focused on work and personal attributes, so very often there is simply no time for family. Everyone has different schedules and a complicated lifestyle and this in turn makes the connection between family members very hard to maintain. There is no doubt that there are nations in the world in the present that value family very highly and make sure that all the traditions of the ancestors are respected, well kept and practiced. So the moral is that in today’s world, which has become very complicated and fast paced, family should stay together as a unit that functions on kindness and love and this way there will be more understanding and hope for the whole mankind. When a new family is created there are very many strategies that could be used to make it strong and well functioning. The birth of a child should be considered the most important and crucial thing that can happen in a family and in the world. It is a new human being that is not yet filled with the negative influences of society. That is why it should be the goal of parents to raise the child with best knowledge and confidence. A lot of information and practical skills should be acquired before and while raising a child, because the child’s mind is like a sponge, absorbing everything and then this “absorbed” information is used later in life to create personal character and views about the environment and other people. Every word that is said and every action that is performed in front of or for the child should be carefully weighted and considered as it could have very noticeable repercussions in the life of that little person. The care for the child in term of their health is also very important. In the present times people grow up in cities, near industrial regions with a lot of pollution and harmful toxins in the earth, food and other products of everyday use. That is why the birth of a child should be carefully planned, so that the best conditions are created before or in the least right after the baby is born. When someone decides to create another life and have a child, the lives of those people become secondary and every resource and intention should be directed to raising a confident and strong person, who will not be limited in the food, shelter or parental warmth and comfort. And that’s why caring and love are also very important in the family. A child responds well and builds character when they are cared for and comforted in the arms of those who love and protect them.
No matter what the times are—past, present or future, family and closeness of relatives should stay very important to everyone because through such connections other people can also become more friendly and accepting of others, making the world as united and emotionally healthy as possible.
Damrosch, D., & Alliston, A. (2007). Longman anthology of world literature the compact edition. USA: Longman.
Henry, B. (1998). The Odyssey revisited. The Virginia Quarterly Review, 74(3), 57-69.
Homer. Trans. Bryant William. (1871). The Odyssey of Homer. Cambridge, Boston: Welch, Bigelow, & Co.
Howard, C. (1989). The Art of the Odyssey. Illinois, USA: Bolchazy-Carducci.
Vlahos, J. (2011). Homer’s Odyssey: Penelope and the case for early recognition. Poetry Review, 38(2), 1-75.