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The Odyssey: Odysseus as The Archetypal Trickster 

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Trickery is common in Greek mythology. Especially among Gods and Goddesses. They use their power of trickery to trick and deceive humans, to fulfill their wishes. An important figure in Greek mythology is Metis. She is the Goddess of wisdom and intelligence. Interestingly enough, Odysseus has been blessed with wisdom and intelligence, which gives him the ability to trick and deceive humans. Odysseus represents the idea of metis. The ancient Greeks admired metis: intelligence.

However, an important question to ask is: What skills does Odysseus possess that make him the archetypal trickster in The Odyssey? Odysseus uses skills such as disguise, storytelling and trickery, which makes it possible to recognize him as an archetypal trickster. Being a trickster is what characterizes Odysseus. As Oxford Dictionary defines a trickster: A trickster deceives and cheats people. Tricking is the ability to deceive and trick people by using skills and intelligence. This definition can be applied to Odysseus. Odysseus went by the epithet “resourceful man”, given to him by Homer. Homer used these phrases or names to describe a quality of his characters. Chris Northcott writes in his book “So only a brilliant ruler or a wise general who can use the highly intelligent for espionage is sure of great success”. This quote can be used to describe the importance of intelligence and wisdom in terms of achieving success. Odysseus is capable of achieving success through his intelligence. He uses intelligence as a way to trick humans. This is what makes it possible to call him an archetypal trickster.

This essay will focus on three different skills that Odysseus uses: firstly, trickery in terms of fooling the Cyclops into getting drunk, secondly disguising himself as a beggar to get past the suitors, lastly using storytelling as a way to get the Phaeacians to help him reach home.

Odysseus offers the cyclops wine. “Here, Cyclops, have some wine to wash down that meal of human flesh…”. He does this by showing hospitality, also known as xenia, which the Greeks adored. However, Odysseus uses this act of gesture to stab a drunk Cyclops in the eye with a pole. Odysseus combines xenia with his tricking, as he is certain it is going to work. Since an act of gesture and hospitality is received greatly by the Greeks. Along with hospitality a lot of planning is also put into getting rid of the Cyclops. Odysseus could have easily decided to kill the Cyclops, but he would be taking the risk of losing his men. His physical strength might not have been enough to kill the cyclops, but his mental strength surely is. This is important to understand because a Homeric hero like Odysseus, needs to act wisely, as his circumstances require it.

Homer shows the audience through this episode, that physical strength is not always what defines a Homeric hero. Mental strength can be equally significant in defeating your enemy. Odysseus uses the Cyclops’ stupidity against himself. “It’ Nobody’s treachery, not violence, that is doing me to death”. The Cyclops is too caught up with handling his own drunkenness, that he does not recognize there is no way Odysseus’ name could possibly be “Nobody”. Another thing is that the Cyclops is considered a savage. This is a trick played on a stupid person, by an intelligent person. It results in the defeat of the savage. Odysseus’ defeat of the Cyclops shows that sometimes, intelligence works better than muscles.

Homer has given several parallels between characters in this book, such as the parallels between Athena and Odysseus. Athena is Odysseus’ mentor, and she represents wisdom. Wisdom is a gift handed over to Odysseus. Homer has given the Homeric hero a chance to show his wisdom, through his trickery. Another piece of supporting evidence which shows Odysseus’ skills of trickery, is this passage: “My name is Nobody”. As the Cyclops calls out for help, he is unable to receive any help, because Odysseus told him his name was “Nobody” earlier. Odysseus plays it clever by hiding his identity to the Cyclops. However, the importance of this passage is that Odysseus is well aware of the fact that he cannot kill the Cyclops, due to his men being stuck. Therefore, he turns it around by taking advantage of the Cyclops’ stupidity. Along with this there lies an irony in the word “Nobody”. Odysseus is not a “Nobody”. He is indeed somebody. He is a significant hero in Greek mythology. The Greek word for nobody is outis, which is interesting because it has a similar sound to metis, which means wisdom, skill and craft. Mentor is a word derived from the word metis. Athena is Odysseus’ mentor. She is herself the Goddess of wisdom. And this gift of wisdom has been handed over to him. It is due to his intelligence and wisdom that he is able to trick and deceive others. Therefore, the irony of the name “Nobody” can be spotted through this passage. In reality he is somebody. He has received metis (wisdom), from the two goddesses: Metis and Athena. They are both Goddesses of intelligence and wisdom.

Throughout The Odyssey disguise plays a huge part in why Odysseus returns home to Ithica. Disguise is not only used by Odysseus. Athena, the goddess, used disguise in The Odyssey to approach Telemachus as his father’s old friend. Since Gods and Goddesses hold the power of disguise, and are able to trick and deceive humans, it suggests that Odysseus is quite powerful in terms of his trickery. Odysseus is not a God, but is blessed with the same powers as the Gods and Goddesses. This gift of his makes him comparable and equal to the Gods. Odysseus dresses up as a beggar to get the approval of the Suitors. “Your health, my ancient friend!” he said. “You are having a hard time now; but here’s to your happiness”. Odysseus is able to receive the approval of the suitors, after he defeats one of them. Through disguise, Odysseus is able to make the suitors do as he wishes. This is the art of disguise and trickery.

As Odysseus’ long tale about not being able to return to Ithica goes on for about 4 chapters, it makes the reader wonder what his motive with the tale was. At the end of the tale, Alcinous says, “I feel assured that you will reach your home without any further wanderings from your course, though you have suffered much”. Odysseus is able to win over the Phaeacians. They sympathize with him by helping him reach home. Once again, Odysseus makes use of his gift, by making people do what he wishes. This might not have been done by deceiving anyone, but he still tricked the Phaeacians into helping him get home to Ithica. Another important factor is Odysseus’ ability to make others appreciate the art behind his tales. If he had not been able to make them exciting and full of emotions, perhaps this would have never won over the Phaeacians. Even though the Phaeacians already had Demodocus the poet, to perform songs, Odysseus seems to stand out. His tales revolve around him. He is the poet of his own tales, and he successfully makes use of lies in his storytelling. He certainly exaggerates “Odysseus you are one of those men, whose spirit never flags and whose body never tires”. He exaggerates by complimenting himself through his tale. This makes him appear important in terms of a hero, and strong minded.

Homer portrays trickery and wisdom as important factors in the Odyssey. Homer makes it quite apparent that factors such as being mentally strong are as equally important in terms of being considered a hero, as being physically strong is. As the thesis states: Odysseus uses skills such as disguise, storytelling, and trickery, which makes it possible to recognize him as a trickster. These are all skills Odysseus possesses that makes it possible to call him a trickster. Even more importantly, without these factors Odysseus perhaps would have not been able to return home, due to the complications and events that required for him to use his intelligence and wisdom. Odysseus is a great example of a character who characterizes the idea of being a trickster. Therefore, it is important to recognize that Odysseus needs to be wise and intelligent, in order for him to trick and deceive others.

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