Themes in the Odyssey

By Trent Lorcher

Themes in the Odyssey include respect for the gods, revenge, pride, the power of intelligence, and the pitfalls of temptations. Look smart by bringing up these themes in your next class discussion.

Respect for the Gods

A film adaptation of The Odyssey contains a scene with a struggling Odysseus caught in a storm after leaving Calypso's Island. On the brink of death, Odysseus yells, "What do you want me to learn?" Poseidon responds, "That without the gods, man is nothing." Although this scene does not occur in the actual epic, it summarizes the necessity of having respect for the gods in The Odyssey.

Characters in the epic find success when they respect the gods and trouble when they disrespect them:

(1) Zeus strikes down Odysseus' crew after they disobediently eat the Cattle of the Sun

(2) Athena admires Odysseus and aides him throughout

(3) The suitors disrespect the gods' laws of common courtesy and hospitality with their treatment of Penelope and her home

(4) Odysseus offers sacrifices of thanks throughout the epic

The Theme of Pride

Odysseus' pride is demonstrated by his taunting of Polyphemus. Odysseus rarely admits guilt.

For example, he blames the gods for making him fall asleep while his crew slaughters the Cattle of the Sun Odysseus, however, is not the only one guilty of pride in The Odyssey. The suitors' prideful behavior does not go unpunished nor does the pride of Odysseus' crew.

Other Important Themes

Odysseus with Alcinous 


Revenge serves as a strong motivator throughout the narrative. Poseidon's anger towards Odysseus stems from his son Polyphemus' desire to avenge the loss of his eye. Helios forces Zeus to destroy Odysseus' crew in retaliation for the slaughter of his cattle.

Odysseus and Telemachus exact revenge on the suitors for their crimes. If not for the intervention of Athena, the suitors' parents would have waged a war of revenge against Odysseus.

Intelligence over Strength

Odysseus defeats stronger opponents by outwitting them. While his crew panics, Odysseus devises a plan to defeat the cyclops: he gets the giant drunk, lies about his name, realizes he still needs the cyclops to move the stone from the door, pokes out the giant's eye, straps himself to a sheep, and rides to freedom.

He uses intelligence to defeat the suitors who outnumber him greatly by going about in disguise, removing all weapons, and finding loyal servants to help. Athena, the goddess of wisdom assists Odysseus and Telemachus as they seek revenge. Penelope use her wits as well by stalling the suitors by pretending to weave a tapestry.

The Danger of Temptations

Giving in to temptations produces bad results throughout Odysseus' journey: eating the lotus removes the desire to return home; giving in to the temptress Circe delays Odysseus for a year; and the temptation to eat Helios' cattle dooms the crew.