Odysseus' meta-narrative


“Cyclops – if any man on the face of the earth should ask you who blinded you, shamed you so – say Odysseus, raider of cities, he gouged out your eye, Laertes’ son who makes his home in Ithaca!” (9.558-63)


“…no one will ever heal your eye, not even your earthquake god himself!” (9.582-3)


Odysseus’ foolishness in this passage alludes to one of the recurring themes of the “reckless ways” (1.39) of men during his time. He succumbs to hubris and intentionally taunts Polyphemus for no apparent reason apart from his desire to spite him. In giving in to this base desire and exacting his vengeance, Odysseus foolishly challenges Poseidon in the process and subjects himself to Poseiden’s wrath and punishment.

One effective feature of the meta-narrative structure of Odysseus’ story is that it allows us to characterize him based on his own thoughts and actions; producing a depiction of Odysseus which is distinct from that of bravery and heroism as described by the bard in his songs about Odysseus’ battle of Troy (8.584-5). We perceive this story within through the lens of Odysseus and it reveals his own self denial and inability to hold himself accountable to his own foolish actions. Odysseus constantly attributes blame to the gods for the current state that he is in – “What pains – the gods have given me my share.” (9.16) and he never seems to come to the realization that his own “reckless ways” (1.39) are a significant cause of his own suffering. The blaming of the gods seems to serve as a coping mechanism for him as it resolves him from undertaking any responsibility for the current state that he and his men are in.

Odysseus also faces this inner conflict in which he is unable to repress the human urge towards his baser desires such as vengeance, lust and greed; which often prove to be the source of his downfall. On one hand, he tries to “move the god” (9.617) through the use of sacrifices in an attempt to get them to intervene and alter the dismal conditions that he is being subjected to. Yet, he is unable to control the temptation to repress his feelings of vengeance and greed; going out of his way to offend the gods by challenging them (9.582-3) and even defiling holy places of worship. Through his meta-narrative, we see a vulnerable side to Odysseus that reveals his human struggles and exposes the fragile relationship that he shares with the gods; where his fate is subject to their fluctuating whims.

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