The Women behind the Monsters
Despite the fact that all monsters are frequently seen in a negative light, in Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus encounters three monsters who each represent a life lesson Odysseus must encounter at some point. As a result, Odysseus changes his ways in life. Calypso, Circe, and the Sirens all symbolize important lessons that turn a complication into a positive influence for Odysseus’ decision making upon his return to Ithaca.
In the epic, Calypso represents the person holding us back from our goals. In the beginning of the story, Odysseus is trapped on her island of Ogygia for eight years. She offers him many endowments such as immortality and is reluctant to let him go. After eight years, Athena then convinces Zeus to set Odysseus free, which he does. Calypso is depicted as misleading, selfish and lonely. She only cares about her own well-being as seen here when she was defending herself from the gods: “Hard-headed you are, you gods! You unrivaled lords of jealousy- scandalized when goddesses sleep with mortals, openly even when one has made the man her husband…” (Homer 156). Before letting Odysseus goes, she insights accusations on the gods for their double standards, trying to lead the attention off of her wrongdoings: “Hard-hearted you are, you gods! You unrivaled lords of jealousy- scandalized when goddesses sleep with mortals, openly, even when one has made the man her husband…” (Homer 156). When we first see Odysseus, he is self-centered and the world seems to revolve around him. He had lost all respect from the gods when he blinded Poseidon’s son “…No it’s the Earth-Shaker, Poseidon, unappeased, forever fuming against him for the Cyclops whose giant eye he blinded: godlike Polyphemus, towering over all the Cyclop’s clan in power” (Homer 79). However, when he gets back to his family he is a selfless, noble hero who defends his family from the suitors as seen in this line “No fear of the gods who rule the skies up there, no fear that men’s revenge might arrive someday- now all your necks are in the noose- your doom is sealed!” (Homer 440). Calypso’s egotistical inclination helped Odysseus keep and defend his family in the end.
Circe represents the wealth of the world and the greed that follows. People tend to get caught up in the materialistic aspect of wealth and are turned into “pigs” just like Odysseus’ men. When Odysseus and his men reached the island, they saw Circe’s palace. All but one member was lured into her home, unsuspecting of the dangers inside. “… so he urged and the men called out and hailed her. She opened her gleaming doors… Only Eurylochus stayed behind- he sensed a trap…” (Homer 237). Once inside, all of the men were drugged and turned into pigs. Hermes then helps Odysseus free his men. He gives Odysseus moly, a potent drug, to shield him from her power. Their plan works and his men are set free. After one year, they leave with the directions of Circe. Circe teaches Odysseus to never let his greed control him.
Once Odysseus returns back to Ithaca, he uses this lesson. He comes back to the suitors making a mess of his home, along with the maids. He notices how both the suitors and maids got greedy and turned into pigs of their own. “You dogs! You never imagined I’d return from Troy- so cocksure that you bled my house to death, ravished my serving-women- wooed my wife behind my back while I was alive! (Homer 440). Noted in “The 12 maids who have had illicit affairs with the suitors are made to remove the bodies and clean the hall, and then—in one of the epic’s most brutal moments—they are summarily hanged. Circe’s significance turns out to assist Odysseus in the end” (Bloom), the same component that turned them into greedy pigs -Odysseus and his absence- killed them.
The Sirens represent people who try and make others live in the past. When Odysseus traveled from Aeaea, he encountered the Sirens. Their jobs are to distract and lure sailors at sea. Odysseus is instructed by Circe to have his men plug their ears with beeswax to resist temptations. Odysseus however, instructs his crew to tie him down without the wax so he could hear what they were saying and move forward. “The Sirens’ song makes Odysseus long to turn the ship. But the crew, whose ears have been sealed with beeswax, remain deaf to his entreaties and sail safely past” (Bloom). People want to move forward in life but aren’t willing to listen to what they have done wrong in the first place. Odysseus put his life on the line in order to leave the Sirens behind. In a way, he took a step back in order to move forward by testing him and his crew’s ability to not let Odysseus go to the Sirens.
Back at home, Odysseus has to face his family and the suitors before he is able to move past that point in his life. He cannot run from his fears if he wants to keep his family. He is especially tested at home when “She [Penelope] orders their bed made up in an impossible location. Odysseus complains, saying that his bed was fashioned from the trunk of a living tree and cannot be moved. He passes the test and Penelope accept the returned Odysseus as her husband” (Cook). He also has to fight the suitors off. Eurymachus tried to make Odysseus forgive and forget, “ If you, you’re truly Odysseus of Ithaca, home at last, you’re right to accuse these men of what they’ve done… before we’ve settled, who on earth could be blamed for your rage?” (Homer 441). However, Odysseus would not settle for that. “ No, Eurymachus! Not if you paid me all your father’s wealth… fight me or flee if you hope to escape your sudden bloody doom! I doubt one man in the lot will save his skin” (Homer 441). Odysseus is finally able to confide in his family and move forward with his life once his home is cleansed of the mess.
When Odysseus returns home, he is a changed man. With the help of the Circe, Calypso, and the Sirens, Odysseus is able to make better decisions and get back to his family alive. Along his journey, he encounters many plights and near-death experiences. However, if it wasn’t for these three, it would of all have been for nothing once he reached home with the same perspective. While each monster seems to be more trouble than they are worth, their subliminal messages they send to Odysseus set him on the right track. Whether he realizes it or not, they greatly influence his perspective on the world and on the people around him.