Homer's Odyssey arguably stands out head and shoulders above any other piece of epic literature produced by Western civilization for nearly three millennia. Most remarkable is the extent to which the Western hero archetype is to this day still a result of the molding that occurred upon the character of Odysseus so long ago. In imagining a police lineup of the most profoundly influencing protagonists of Western epic poetry, surely Odysseus would impress in stature and roguish airs far beyond the others for is not the gray-eyed Athena, daughter of rain-bringing Zeus himself, bound in devotion to this mortal hero? It is she who repeatedly enhances Odysseus' appearance so as to impress upon others his god-like qualities:
And Athene, she who was born from Zeus, made him
Bigger to look at and stouter, and on his head
Made his hair flow in curls, like the hyacinth flower . . .
So she poured grace upon his head and shoulders. (6.229-35)
In anointing Odysseus in similar fashion throughout the tale of his arduous journey homeward, the ancient as well as modern reader cannot help but look to Odysseus as a role model. Implicit in this behavioral model is one of Homer's many subtexts, namely that having one or more of the gods on one's side is not enough to guarantee even a partial success in one's endeavors. The god Poseidon stands in direct opposition to Odysseus' goal of reaching Ithaca, yet his attacks upon the hero always fall just short of actually killing him. Instead, with each calamity that befalls Odysseus at Poseidon's hand, the hero is faced with a parallel inward struggle. Surviving the physical realm at first seems to be the test when actually it ...
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...side of the woman (the animus) and the passive, feminine side of the man (the anima). Although the two figures are always tempting the ego to identify itself with them, a real understanding even on the personal level is possible only if the identification is refused. (Jung 16: 469)
Perhaps The Odyssey, when seen from the perspective of Jungian and post-Jungian psychology, offers the reader a rich model for their own psychological development and an opportunity to re-examine the hero archetype in Western civilization. Works Cited
Cirlot, J.E., A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1971.
Hillman, James. Anima: An Anatomy of a Personified Notion. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1985.
Homer. The Odyssey. Trans., Ed. Albert Cook. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993.
Jung, C.G. Collected Works. 20 vols. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1954.
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