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YMMV / The Odyssey

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  • Alternative Character Interpretation: There have been plenty over the millennia.
    • Some old sources and poems see Odysseus as a low coward who tricks his way out of fighting violently like a real man. The Prose Edda even shows or posits the transformation of the Greek gods and heroes into the Norse ones – and Odysseus transforms into the trickster, Loki, 'Lie-smith.'
    • The Romans were of two minds about Odysseus (or Ulysses, as they called him) – on one hand, they claimed to be descended from Aeneas and his Trojans, and thus saw him as an enemy; on the other hand, they were also proud because in some versions of the myth, they were also descended from him through his son or grandson Latinus, Aeneas's father-in-law.
      • It is worth mentioning however, the King Latinus in the Aeneid is an old man, yet chronologically the Latinus who was the son of Odysseus/Ulysses would have been seven years old. Unsurprisingly many see these figures as two distinct men who just happen to share a name.
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    • Dante puts Ulysses in Hell in his Divine Comedy for false counsel.
    • Furthermore, Zachary Mason's The Lost Books Of The Odyssey is full of Alternative Character Interpretation, such as the story from the POV of a solitary, gentle Cyclops, one where Odysseus actually crafted most of the story up in his life as a bard, and one that posits that both The Iliad and The Odyssey are an extremely elaborate description of a chess game.
    • Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad retells the story from the point of view of the women left behind on Ithaca, Penelope and the maids of hers that Telemachus hangs in The Odyssey.
    • Some have taken note of the fact that many of Odysseus' adventures are not seen directly, but recounted to the Phaeacians after the fact. Because of this, there have been plenty of people who speculate that Odysseus was embellishing the story — or even outright making things up.
      • There's even further speculation of this speculation; namely, Odysseus' motive for doing so (assuming he did, of course). Was it to make himself look good? To garner sympathy? To teach some kind of lesson?
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  • Americans Hate Tingle: Odysseus was a national hero to many hellenic states, where he was praised for his cunning, intelligence, and guile. The Romans, who called him Ulysses, despised him as a villainous, dishonest, deceitful falsifier. Vergil constantly refers to him as "Cruel Ulysses" in The Aeneid; his character did not lend itself well to the Romans, who has a rigid sense of honour and respected the Trojans for their gallant and determined defence. Indeed, the Romans championed the Trojan prince Aeneas as the ancestor of Romulus and Remus.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: The story of Ares and Aphrodite's love told by Demodocus. It's quite long and irrelevant. Many think this part is an interpolation.
  • "Common Knowledge": Circe is a goddess, not a witch.
    • Well I mean she's still a female sorcerer, and many translations still call her a witch. Though at this point we'd be debating what one specific word meant.
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  • Designated Hero: There are many occasions when it's hard to see Odysseus as a hero, primarily because the Greeks believed a hero was closer to protagonist, performer of great and noteworthy deeds and were not really supposed to be moral. To a modern reader, Odysseus is an unrepentant war criminal, pirate, adulterer, generally a bad and selfish leader who got most of his crew killed thanks to his stupidity in announcing his name to Polyphemus and who on returning to Ithaca brutally kills the other suitors after committing Cold-Blooded Torture and not even sparing servants and serving girls. Other modern readers will admit this but also agree with the Greeks, that Odysseus is nonetheless a highly compelling character, an embodiment of humanity's ruthless will to survive.
    Harold Bloom: The very name “Odysseus” (which became “Ulysses” in Latin) means either a curse’s victim or an avenger who carries a curse to others. This ambiguity hints both at the sufferings of Odysseus and at his dangerousness to his enemies. He is a survivor: prudent, wise, perhaps a little cold. You do not want to be in one boat with him, however admirable you judge him to be: you may well drown, but he will reach land.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Penelope is a major one for both Ancient Greek and modern readers alike for being one of the more complex and well-rounded women in mythology and her incredible devotion to her husband despite having a significantly passive role in the plot compare to Odysseus and Telemachus. It is telling that in many cities, she was the one that was worshipped as the symbol of faithfulness and displace the goddess of marriage itself Hera.
  • Fridge Brilliance: Odysseus has been away from Ithaca for twenty years, and Telemachos is just beginning to take control of his family in the last six months or so. So who's been ruling Ithaca? That's right: Penelope.
    • Probably Fridge Horror as well, but it's said that human flesh tastes like pork, hence the euphemism of "long pork" and the trope The Secret of Long Pork Pies. The Odyssey may well be one of the earliest instances of recorded recognition of this, since Circe turns Odysseus' crewmates into pigs, in some versions with the intention of eating them.
  • Genius Bonus: When Odysseus strings his bow, the narration describes the procedure of stringing a recurve bow, a type of bow that is effectively impossible to string unless you have both great strength and knowledge of said procedure (and may even break your arm if you're not strong or skillful enough), and was a new technological development in the time of the Odyssey.
  • Heartwarming Moments: When Odysseus and Penelope finally get back together, they can't stop talking to each other, and Athena has to personally delay the dawn goddess to give them time to talk, maybe do other things, and finally get a bit of sleep.
  • Ho Yay: Eurylochus to Odysseus: "You're a hard man, Odysseus. Your fighting spirit's stronger than ours; your stamina never fails. You must be made of iron head to foot." Also, Telemachus and everyone.
  • Idiot Plot: But it seems that a good deal of Odysseus' problems either come from his own stupidity or, at the very least, his crew's. But he's already been stated to be a master tactician, and he worships frickin' Athena, patron goddess of Smart Guys. It's like every time they land on an island, Odysseus gets pegged in the face with the Idiot Ball.
    • There is a reason behind this. The Greeks strongly believed in a concept called ὕβρις, which is often rendered today as "hubris" and can be translated to modern days "Pride" or "Acting as a human shouldn't". Another thing that hubris carries along is punishment (if you are guilty of hubris, you are going to be punished somehow). All of Odysseus' mistakes are made out of hubris. For a better description of what hubris means, see The Other Wiki's explanation.
    • And after all, Odysseus' name is the Ancient Greek word for "trouble."
  • Narm: In one of the live-action adaptations, Odysseus' mother being Driven to Suicide involves a shouting match between her and Penelope and a servant rolling around on the ground doing... something. It's very hard to take the scene seriously with all that.
    Penelope: (blocking Odysseus' mom's path as she's about to walk into the ocean) RAGGHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!
  • Nightmare Fuel:
    • The Laestrygonians, a tribe of man-eating giants Odysseus encounters after the second meeting with Aeolus. Of all Odysseus' adversaries, they cause the most damage, killing and eating the vast majority of his men and sinking all but one of his ships.
    • Scylla and Charybdis. The former is a monstrous, multiheaded dragon beast and the latter, though often thought of as a living whirlpool, is described more as a horrific Eldritch Abomination consistent essentially of a giant living stomach with flippers.
      • Heck, imagine having to cross between those two like Odysseus did (twice). You get two options: Either you take your chances with Charybdis, who will swallow your ship whole and then spit it and you out in pieces, or glide by Scylla, who has at least ten heads, all of which are always hungry and always ticked the heck off.
    • Athena... influences the suitors' minds, leading to a frightening description of their hallucinations.
  • Tear Jerker: The whole story of Odysseus' dog, Argos. Don't know the story? Well, Argos was his dog, who he trained when he was a pup. Then Odysseus had to leave for 20 years, going to Troy, trying to get back, ect. During his leave, the dog, since his master wasn't there anymore, had to live outside, staying on a pile of dung to keep warm, getting too old and sick to move anywhere else anyway. Odysseus eventually gets home and walks past his dog (disguised as a beggar by Athena). Argos senses that the person is his master and proceeds to die by the happiness and shock of seeing his master again. And the worst part? Since Odysseus is pretending not to be himself, he can't even grieve for his now-dead dog. You can't say that you didn't get a bit teary eyed when you read about that.
    • Argos is a very special dog.
    • And totally Heartwarming Moments.
    • Also a bit of Writers Cannot Do Math, given that a dog is extremely unlikely to live that long in an era without veterinarians.
      • Then again, considering the genre, it could simply be Homer's way of telling us just how strong the bond was; it's doubtful he and his audience were unaware of the relative shortness of an average dog's lifespan.
    • To make it even worse, one comic book adaptation had Athena carrying the dog's spirit away to the afterlife with a sweet, motherly smile on her face.
    • Odysseus seeing his mother's ghost (when he hadn't even known she was dead) and trying in vain to hold her is pretty sad, too.
    • Odysseus meeting his old friends and allies in Hades (especially when Ajax still refuses to speak with him even when Odysseus pleads with him to let bygones be bygones). In other news, Achilles is still a whiner.
    • Telemachus trying, and failing, to get the Ithacan assembly to condemn the suitors is a minor one.
  • Values Dissonance: The story is over two thousand years old, after all.
    • What's the very first thing Odysseus does on his way home? He and his men make a halt on a foreign coast, where they attack and plunder a town, killing the men and taking the women as slaves. It's described as a completely normal thing for them to do.
      • Although the Cicones were allies of the Trojans, so technically, Odysseus is at war with them.
    • Also, nowadays, the killing of the handmaidens who slept with the suitors and the goatherd who allied himself with them seems rather... unnecessary, and are cut from most retellings. The ones that do leave it in (like the TV miniseries) usually cut it down to a single handmaiden who is unintentionally killed in the crossfire trying to aid the suitors.
    • Odysseus sleeping with several women and thus cheating on his wife during his journey home while Penelope remains steadfastly faithful would be considered to be rather jerkass behavior of Odysseus, but in Ancient Greece, this behavior was rather normal. Although some of Odysseus's... "adventures" can hardly be considered consensual in the first place.
    • In the first song, Penelope politely asks a bard to change his song about the Achaeans' homecoming because it reminds her of her husband. Telemachus orders his mother to shut up, go back to her sewing, and leave the men alone. For a modern reader, this attitude is pretty rude, but in these times, women, even widows, were under the authority of a man who can be their own son. Penelope doesn't seem at all upset, in fact she may even have welcomed Telemachus' asserting himself - all her problems come down to not having a strong male protector after all.
  • Values Resonance:
    • The story makes a point of averting Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male by acknowledging that Odysseus is held against his will by Circe and Calypso and clearly condemming them for their actions.
    • For being one of the oldest examples of The Quest, it's pointed out several times that Odysseus is not some grand adventurer yearning for treasure; he's just a soldier who desperately just wants to return home. Even in this day and age, it's a plight that many war veterans can relate to.
  • What an Idiot!: Odysseus is wise enough to listen to the advice he's given. His companions, on the other hand, never learn to take his direst warnings seriously... which is pretty much the reason why Odysseus comes home alone.
    • Odysseus also suffers from this in places. Like when he and his men have successfully escaped the Cyclops, he turns around and starts insulting him. Fair enough, except he also told the Cyclops his name, his father's name, and where he lives. This is a bit like slapping a gangster in the face and then giving him your wallet.
      • Also, Aeolus' bag of winds. If keeping it closed was so important that he didn't dare go to sleep while guarding it, why did he even need to bring it with him at all? Letting Aeolus hang onto the bag, opening it only after news of Odysseus' safe return reached him, would've saved Odysseus years of travel later and a whole lot of sleeplessness right away.
      • Except WHEN Aeolus got the news may have been an issue...
    • And Elpenor. Most of Odysseus' men who die do so for generally sound reasons (devoured by monsters, killed in a divine storm, etc). How does Elpenor die? He goes to bed on the roof drunk, wakes up with a hangover, and proceeds to forget he's on the roof, so he falls off it and breaks his neck. What.
  • The Woobie: Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus, all in their own ways.


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