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Lies and Deception in The Odyssey

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Serina Cheung

on 4 January 2013

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Transcript of Lies and Deception in The Odyssey

Lies and Deception in
The Odyssey By: Serina Cheung
Arundhati Ganesh
Emily Kaunismaa •Odysseus lies to hide his identity – he uses this to gain knowledge about people’s true character
•Athena lies to hide her identity – she uses this to persuade Telemachus to take action regarding his father and to return home for his mother’s sake.
Liars, Liars, Everywhere! The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly What makes one liar worse than the other? From White Lies to Real Whoppers! When LIES sound like the TRUTH While both characters take on a disguise, neither of them have bad intentions – that is to cause anyone harm – but they both lie for their own agenda. Athena lies and manipulates Telemachus in order to get him to do what she wants. Although, in the end, he benefits from her urging, she still lies to get there. Odysseus is also manipulative and tests people to see whether they are truly good people. Once again, not a harmful lie, but nonetheless, a lie, for his own purposes. Their lies are neither good nor bad per se – but they do serve a purpose. The suitors both lie in order to be seen either as a victim (Antinous) or more worthy for marriage (Eurymachus). Both characters tell the lies in order to gain trust or sympathy from Telemachus, but this is different from Athena and Odysseus because Antinous and Eurymachus have bad intentions and use lies to cover up the truth. They want to win Penelope as their wife, but they know that in order for Telemachus to even slightly approve, they must lie about how they really feel. Antinous wants to kill Telemachus! But if he told him, Telemachus would never allow him to marry his mother. These suitors create false identities and receive Telemachus’ “approval” under false pretenses. Liars, Liars, Everywhere: Conclusion In conclusion, Athena and Odysseus have fairly innocent lies; they do not cause damage and use lies to allow things to fall in place as they should. On the other hand, Antinous and Eurymachus tell lies in order to conceal the truth about their plans. Bad Guys What separates the “good guys” and the “bad guys” is most importantly their true intentions and nature at heart. The “bad guys” have selfish intentions that go against xenia and universal morals. For example, Polyphemus and the Laestrygonians eat people, going against basic human rules. Circe turns men into swine then keeps them in her castle, misusing her powers for her own personal gain. Both the Lotus eaters and Calypso are bad hosts by luring then imprisoning their guests. Furthermore, Poseidon spends the course of the entire book resenting Odysseus for blinding his son and he does whatever he can from allowing Odysseus to return to Ithaca. And finally, Antinous and the suitors are bad guests, and though they mooch off of Telemachus, they at heart want him dead. All these characters only have themselves in mind and don’t care about the well-being of anyone else. Good Guys The frequency of the lie plays a lesser importance than the severity of the lie. The severity of the lie is based upon the intentions behind it. For example, Penelope lies everyday for almost 4 years to the Suitors about her weaving. She technically tells the most lies but her lies are not severe because they are out of good intention – being a faithful wife. Another character Circe tells only ONE lie in the entire Odyssey but she is ranked higher than Penelope because her lie is more severe as it is out of bad intention. 1. Odysseus Odysseus often becomes the guest or encounters strangers in many situations. During these times, he tells stories of who he is and of his adventures. In fact, he tells them so well that he has been compared to the artistry of a bard. Of these stories, majority of them are a lie. He has lied to many people including Eumaeus, Penelope, Polyphemus, Arete, Telemachus, the men on his ship and Athena. The lies he tells are mainly used to mask his identity for his own protection. The one truth he holds back is ultimately what boosts Odysseus to the top of the liars list. He never told his men about Scylla which led to the death of all his men. Although it can be argued whether or not revealing that information was important, the death of everyone on the ship reflects Odysseus as a poor leader. If he had revealed the information, a few of his men could have survived and made it back to Ithaca, which was the original goal. The fact that Odysseus held back the truth from his FRIENDS makes him a liar. 2. Circe Although Circe only tells one lie, her lie was severe enough earn her a second place in the liars list. As mentioned before, frequency of a lie is not bad as long as the lie isn’t out of bad intentions. Circe tells one bad lie. She drugged Odysseus’ men and turned them into pigs. She didn’t outwardly tell the lie; instead she held back the truth which is equally as bad. After she unsuccessfully tried to turn Odysseus into a pig, she told him that she had never encountered a man who could resist the drug. This implies that she has turned many wanderers into pigs. Circe invites men into her house and turns them into pigs, which makes her an evil host as well as a liar. 2. Athena Athena is the one who watches over everything that goes on in the Odyssey. She is in favour of Odysseus and wants to help him seek revenge on the Suitors. She deceives Telemachus, Odysseus and Nausicaa by appearing before them in a different character. Her lying can be justified because she is doing this to seek revenge on the Suitors which they deserve because they have abused xenia for four years. 4. Antinous The one quality which separated the good guys from the bad guys was the intent behind their actions. We can also take into consideration, their respect for the gods as well as the sympathy which the author treated them with. For example, characters such as Telemachus, Odysseus, Penelope, and Eumaus to state the least, were all characters who may have told lies, but with a positive intention in mind. They may have acted in what might have seemed to be a negative way, but in the end, the outcome they wished for was positive. We can see this trait portrayed when Odysseus lies to Telemachus and Athena when he lands in Ithaca. He lies about how he gets onto the island; however, his intent behind this lie is to protect himself and his kingdom from anyone who wishes to usurp it. Their respect for the noble gods can also be considered. All the characters mentioned earlier, as well as Alcinous and Nausicaa were people who were god fearing and made most of their decisions based on values that were handed down by the Greek gods. The main value of xenia was seen the most evident with Eumaus. He was a fantastic host who took in Odysseus despite knowing his true identity. The “bad guys” in the book were ones who had no care for the morals and values of the gods. Polyphemus would be an excellent example of this. The sympathy with which the author regards these characters is also another important factor to consider. In general, throughout the Odyssey, all the “good guys” were treated with sympathy from the eyes of the author. Good things always happened to them in the end and justice was rewarded. Despite all the hardships that Odysseus had to face on his journey, once he returns home, he does end up winning back his kingdom with his beloved wife Penelope. Regarding all the factors mentioned above, we are able to distinguish the good characters from the bad ones in the Odyssey by looking at the intent behind the actions which they committed. Book 13, line 218-290 Odysseus speaks of his arrival to the goddess Athena who is disguised as a shepherd from the land of Ithaca.
•He talks about he is from the land of Crete and he was exiled because he killed Idomeneus’s son , Orsilochus
•He said he did this because Orsilochus forced Odysseus to serve his father in Troy but Odysseus preferred to go on his own way
•He struck Orsilochus with a bronze spear and right after; he sought safety in a Phoenician ship and set sail for Pylos.
•The wind was too strong and the ship was set off its path and ended up going to some island in the middle of nowhere
•The crew set Odysseus down along with his belongings and left him there as they returned home.
•Odysseus was left on his own to deal with all the misery that awaited him.
a)I think that there are small aspects of truth to the story which Odysseus told Athena. When Odysseus speaks of killing the son of a very powerful being, it relates back to when Odysseus killed Polyphemus, the son of the god Poseidon. Odysseus also preferred to make his own decisions and go on his own path, even though Poseidon had set up many traps for him to overcome. Orsilochus was struck with a bronze spear in Odysseus’s story and this is also very similar to the way in which Polyphemus was killed. Polyphemus was struck in the eye by an olive pole. After Odysseus set sail from Troy to come back to Ithaca, the winds didn’t favor him and blew him off track sending him to islands such as the island of Calypso, Nausicaa and others. This parallel was also found between his real story and the one he told to Athena. Finally, Odysseus is left alone at the end of his voyage as his entire crewmates die, and this is also again similar to how he is left alone by his crew in the story which he told to Athena. b)When Odysseus lies to Athena, he does so because he does not want to reveal his identity. When he first sees Athena, she does not appear in her true goddess form. She looks like a simple shepherd from the land. For this reason, he does not want to disclose any information about himself to anyone unless he feels he can trust them entirely. They could be lying about his arrival to Ithaca. It could all be a trap. His motivation to protect himself leads him to make up a false story. Book 14, lines 185-360
and 465-510 He tells Eumaeus about his journey to Ithaca:
•He says that he is from Crete and the son of a rich man
•He said that he was a very brave and valiant fighter when it came to battles and war
•He speaks of a god who troubled him and set his path astray; Zeus.
•He was set on a journey to Egypt where he would have to sack the city and bring back booty
•However, Odysseus didn’t want to sack the city, his crewmates let their violence take the better of them
•He pleaded guilty to the king and he forgave him
•Odysseus remained in Egypt for many years and became very successful
•A cunning man from Egypt told Odysseus to go on a journey to Libya, but his true motive was to sell Odysseus for a handsome amount.
•Aboard the ship, Zeus set a violent storm and all the crewmates on the ship were sent flying into the Ocean and the ship was completely destroyed
•Odysseus was the sole survivor and he went on a plank of wood to an island where he was discovered by the son of a king and was taken to his palace and given clothes with food
•The king said that he had sent Odysseus back to his homeland on a ship.
•The man was sent on a ship but the crew saw it fit to mistreat him and stole all his clothes and left him with the rags he was wearing currently.
•That is how he landed in Ithaca and met Eumaeus
a)There is an aspect of truth to this lie that Odysseus tells. In his story to Eumaeus, he says that he is bound for a journey to Egypt, which is like how he is set for a journey to Troy in his real life account. Again, Zeus is the god which Odysseus uses as the one who plots against him, when the real god is in fact Poseidon. Odysseus was indeed a brave fighter who never let his men die intentionally. This part of his story was true. The part of the story where the man arrives on the land is similar to when in real life, Odysseus arrives on the island where Nausicaa finds him and takes him to her father Alcinous. Alcinous did send Odysseus back on ship to Ithaca, but once again, his path was destroyed. b) The same reason as before was also applied as to why Odysseus lied to Eumaeus despite knowing he was someone very faithful to him. Odysseus wanted to keep his identity private because he didn’t want anyone in Ithaca to know he was back unless they were truly trustworthy. Later on, Telemachus turns out to be the one Odysseus tells his real identity to because he is the one who helps him defeat the suitors. Antinous acted like a victim and blamed Penelope for deceiving the suitors in Book 2 lines 80-110. He blamed her for leading the Suitors on and stalling by unraveling her work at night. Antinous says this during a general meeting and he acted like a victim infront of all the countrymen. He’s taking advantage of xenia and lying to others about himself so that he may gain the favor of the countrymen. He is deceiving others of his true personality and the role he plays in the palace as a Suitor. 5. Penelope Although Penelope has told more lies than anyone else in The Odyssey. Her lies are minuscule in terms of severity because she has good intentions behind them. Her daily lying spans 4 years but they are all white lies because she’s going lying because she is a faithful wife. The downside of her stalling is the suffering that it causes the servants. The Suitors are lavishly indulging themselves in Odysseus’ wine and meat while being very rude to the servants. 6. Eurylochus Eurylochus’ lie was that he broke his promise to Odysseus. Before landing on the island, Odysseus clearly told all his men to not touch the cattle because he was warned by Teiresias and Circe. All the men took an oath to solidify their actions. Eurylochus was the leader in killing the cattle because he convinced everyone to kill the cattle to use for sacrifice and food. This angered Zeus so he sent a hurricane that destroyed the ship which killed all the men except for Odysseus. Eurylochus’ lie and unfaithfulness to his oath was mainly out of hunger. This intention cannot be considered severe because it is a natural human instinct to find food when hungry. Therefore, Eurylochus doesn’t deserve all the blame because he was simply yearning to satisfy his and the men’s’ hunger. While doing so, he sacrificed cattle to the gods which makes him a more likeable character because this shows that he respects the gods. 7. Telemachus Telemachus lies about the identity of Odysseus in the palace. He is the first in Ithaca to find out that the long awaited Odysseus is finally back. He holds the truth from Eumaeus, his mother and the swineherd. This lie can be justified because it is purely out of good intention. Telemachus’ lies are part of the greater plan of Athena to defeat all the Suitors. Telemachus told one lie out of good intention which is why he’s the second lowest of the list. 8. Calypso, Poseidon and Polyphemus Lastly, these three characters have been dubbed at “The Most Truthful” because they did not tell a single lie. All characters were very straight forward with their feelings and had no reason to lie based upon their personalities and intentions. Polyphemus was open about telling Odysseus and his men that he didn’t care about Zeus. He plainly told them that he was planning to eat them all. He could have been sneaky and hold back the truth about his intention of eating them, in case they tried to escape. But because of Polyphemus’ character, he was telling the truth throughout his entire encounter with Odysseus and his men. Calypso didn’t need to tell any lies because in her eyes, the worst thing that could happen would be the departure of Odysseus. Since there was no way Odysseus could escape, Calypso had nothing to worry about, therefore she didn’t lie. Lastly, Poseidon is a god who doesn’t like Odysseus. It is evident that Poseidon is superior to Odysseus, therefore Poseidon wouldn’t be worried about Odysseus fighting back. Since Odysseus didn’t pose as a threat to Poseidon, Poseidon could easily do whatever wanted to to Odysseus. Therefore, there would be no reason for Poseidon to lie about anything based on his intentions. In the midst of all the lies told in the Odyssey, these three characters were the most truthful.
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