The Importance of Identity in Homer's Odyssey

1427 Words6 Pages
The Importance of Identity in Homer's Odyssey Within the epic poem "The Odyssey", Homer presents the story of Odysseus's quest to find his home and his identity. According to Homer's account, with its origin in oral tradition, the two quests are interchangeable, as a mortal defines himself with his home, his geographic origin, his ancestors, his offspring, etc. But in addition to this Homer illustrates the other aspect of human identity, shaped by the individual and his actions so that he may be recognized in the outside world. Through this Homer presents Odysseus in two ways: the first his internally given identity as ruler and native of Ithaca, son of Laertes, father of Telemachos; the second the definition of the external world which sees the "god-like" mortal famous for his clever actions and the god's almost unanimous favor. For this second identification Odysseus has undergone a long journey, measured not only by time and distance but also as a series of alienations in foreign lands, illustrating to Odysseus what exactly his identity does not consist in, namely the immortal, the underworld, or other nationalities. Through these alienations Homer establishes the hostile world in which Odysseus must struggle to exist and in which sometimes the Gods themselves become hostile, causing mortals to suffer. In order to survive this, Odysseus also explores what it is to present oneself as without a past, home, fixed identity, or as he names himself to the Cyclops - a "Noman". That is to say that in certain instances Homer presents Odysseus as performing the opposite action of most mortals(i.e. attempting to make a name for themselves) by disguising or even eradicating his name, thus establishing an externally identifiable ... ... middle of paper ... ... to recognize himself, for he knows that he has a past and a homeland, both of which construe his identity. Homer includes the story of Circe and the men who while in her house "forget their fatherland wholly" and are turned to swine only to illustrate what Odysseus has known all along, that just as he can not be immortal nor can he truly be "Noman" for that means he becomes an animal (Ch. X, 236). In this way, the artifice of being "Noman" only serves to remind himself of who he truly is. For Homer this recognition becomes essential to Odyssey's ultimate identity - that of the civilized human. The student may wish to begin the essay with the quote below: "Noman is my own name. Noman do they call me." -Odysseus taking on the guise of "Noman" in Ch. IX, 366. Works Cited: Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Vintage Books, 1962.

More about The Importance of Identity in Homer's Odyssey

Open Document