Deception and Disguise in Homer’s Odyssey

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Homer’s Odyssey challenges the common view on deception as employed only maliciously. Both a mortal, Odysseus, and one of the most revered goddesses, Athena, have the common noble goal of bringing Odysseus back home to his family after nearly two decades of absence. To achieve that goal, they mainly use deception and disguise in various forms that their physical and mental powers allow. Odysseus is famous for wittily deceiving others through verbal means, fact noted by Menelaus and Helen of Troy (Book 4). He even doubts Athena, as his own skills have made him doubt other’s honesty. Athena states after realizing Odysseus’s disbelief, “Would not another wandering man, in joy, make haste home to his wife and children? Not you, not yet” (8. 420-422). Odysseus wants to make sure that Athena gives him substantial evidence regarding his family and being back because “empty words are evil” (4. 891). After this exchange, when Odysseus knows him and Athena are on the same team, they use those skills to uncover the truth of matters or people’s character and return home.

From the beginning until the end of the Odyssey, Athena and Odysseus use physical disguise to ensure that justice and truth prevail. Athena uses her infinite disguising powers to change status, sex, and age and appear as the Mentor, a little girl, a “young man’s figure” and more (3.281). While all disguising instances are essential towards helping Odysseus go back home, the Mentor disguise seems to be the most important. In Book 2, Athena transforms into “Mentor’s form and voice” as a strategy to persuade Telemakhos to believe in his potential and pursue the journey ahead of him (2. 425). Mentor is in fact a person here, Telemakhos’s tutor and Odysseus’s comrade in batt...

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... in deceptiveness and similarity with her: “Two of a kind, we are, contrivers, both. Of all men now alive you are the best in plots and storytelling. My own fame is for wisdom among the gods-deceptions, too” (8. 379-383). It is as if though Athena represents these qualities heavenly, whereas Odysseus represents them on earth. Athena further exclaims to Odysseus, “Whoever gets around you must be sharp and guileful as a snake; even a god might bow to you in ways of dissimulation. You! You chameleon! Bottomless bag of tricks!” (8. 371-375). It is of no surprise that by Odysseus and Athena gathering forces and wit in this journey, nothing could stand in their way and Odysseus’s homecoming. Thousands of years later, the Odyssey stands proof to that.

Works Cited

Homer, and Robert Fitzgerald. The Odyssey. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998. Print.

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