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Civilization vs. Savagery: Temptation in the Odyssey

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Kevin Ji

on 11 December 2013

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Transcript of Civilization vs. Savagery: Temptation in the Odyssey

Civilization vs. Savagery: Temptation and Indulgence in the Odyssey
Stop 1: The Lotus Eaters
As Odysseus and his crew stop on the island of the Lotus Eaters, some of his crew indulges on the lotus. In his words, "those who ate this honeyed plant, the Lotos, never cared to report, nor to return" (IX, 103-5). After consuming the Lotos, those crew members begin to forget home, gradually losing their identity and beginning to forget home. This demonstrates the use of the Lotos as a method of escape, and illustrates the motif of escapism, as those that consume it use it to shed their troubles and eliminate their memories of home.
Stop 2: The Island of the Kyklops
When Odysseus and his men land on the "Island of the Kyklops", they rashly confront Polyphemos in order to gain supplies or find someone that may be hospitable. Indulgence plays a role here, as this they accost the giant for the sole reason of consuming his food (cheese). As a result, the Kyklops "beat their [the crew members'] brains out, spattering the floor." Then he made them "his meal" (IX, 315). This shows the indulgence of Odysseus' men on cheese, but also the indulgence of the Kyklops. Both result in further pain; the crew members die and the Kyklops gets his eye stabbed. And then, Odysseus further instigates conflict when he brags about his blinding of the Kylops, causing Poseidon to avenge his son by sending storms and moving them off course. All this indulgence serves no purpose but to prolong Odysseus' journey. When indulgence obstructs nostos, it is no longer civilized, and in this case, leads to hubris.

Stop 3: Aiolia Island
After departing from the island of the Kyklops, Odysseus and his men land on Aiolia Island. There, Aiolos, the king, gives Odysseus a bag of wind so that he can go home without interference. On the way home, however, Odysseus' crew begins to give in to temptation. They believe that Odysseus is being greedy and that the bag holds treasure. They decide to "crack that bag", and when they do, the winds are loosed and "the rough gale" blows the ships "and rueful crews...back to Aiolia" (X, 60-61). After giving in to temptation and attempting to indulge in treasure and riches, Odysseus' crew has to face the consequences. Again, indulgence obstructs nostos. This episode also illustrates the motif of gaster, as Odysseus' crew acts with gaster and opens the bag. Often on one's journey, they must resist their desire of gaster, but when they give in, and indulge, it stymies nostos.
Stop 4: The Island of the Laistrygonians
The next stop that Odysseus and his crew make is the island of the Laistrygonians. This time, it is not Odysseus' crew being indulgent, but the Laistrygonians. When they go to the king of the Laistrygonians, he seizes one crew member and eats him, "making a meal out of him", and then they "shoot great boulders down from slings" (X, 130-5), killing hundreds of Odysseus' men. The indulgence of the Laistrygonians reflects the connection between savagery and indulgence, as indulgence leads to savage actions.
Stop 5: The Island of Kirke
After Odysseus and his depleted crew lands on Kirke's island, they draw lots to see who will go to Kirke's lodge. The men who go are about to indulge in food and drink when Kirke turns them into pigs. The pigs symbolize the gaster of the crewmates, because all pigs do it eat. This illustrates the connection between indulgence and gaster. Later, Odysseus gives in to temptation and spends a year in bed with Kirke. This shows the connection between temptation and indulgence, as temptation leads to indulgence. It's also important to notice that Odysseus seems to be held to a double standard here, as his crew only gives in to the temptation of food, while he is faced with a beautiful goddess and food and drink.
Stop 6: Helios' Island
Odysseus and his crew make their way to Helios' island. There, they give in to temptation and decide to eat Helios' cattle. This illustrates the connection between temptation, indulgence, and gaster, as giving in to temptation results in indulgence, which stems from gaster. Furthermore, these actions are considered savage, because his crew gives in to their gaster. As a result, all of Odysseus' crew is killed by Zeus.
Stop 8: Suitors on Ithaka
The suitors on Ithaka epitomize the consequences of Indulgence and Temptation. When these mediocre men hear the beautiful Penelope is without a spouse, they pounce on the opportunity. Penelope, displaying xenia, gives them sheter, food, and care, and they violate the host-guest contract innumerable times. They "have the easy life, scot free, eating the livestock of [Odysseus]."(I,197-199) The already greedy and lazy men looking to marry into wealth power morph into even lazier men who crave indulgence and the "easy life" every single day. When indulgence hinders the nostos of Odysseus and the lives of the citizens on Ithaka, it quickly becomes hubris. In consequence, the suitors are mass murdered.
Stop 7: The Phaiakians
Unlike many of Odysseus' hosts, the Phaiakians were civilized. However, they seemed to be self- indulgent in a way, also noticed by Odysseus. They seem to be ardently in the pursuit of technology and splendor , having the most sophisticated ships and magnificent buildings. But what is the use of all this technology and luxury if they never strive for the betterment of others? When was the last time they fought in the war for not just their own island but for Greece as a whole?
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