The Ancient World (HUM 124 - UNC Asheville)/Texts/Odyssey/Setting in space and time

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Settings in Space and Time[edit | edit source]

The Underworld[edit | edit source]

The Odyssey's take on death and the underworld offers much to be observed. In book 11, Odysseus travels to the underworld so that he may speak to a prophet of Apollo. Whereas many mythologies speak of the underworld as a distant place that often seems to be within the Earth, Odysseus actually sails to a specific island to enter the gates of Hell in order to speak with the dead. After performing certain rituals, the dead in the underworld come up from Erebus (deeper part of Hell) and surround Odysseus as ghosts, eager to drink the blood of the freshly sacrificed sheep. Many of the ghosts were surprised to see him there and ask why he is, giving an impression that he is physically in the underworld. This raises other theories as well. However, one being that the underworld is not a physical location, but rather a different realm or dimension and the island is merely the channel to connect the land of the living to the underworld. The island also may not be a connection to the underworld, but rather a way of revealing it. When Odysseus speaks to his mother she asks him "How did you come here through the darkness while you were still alive? This place is hard for living man to see".[1] She speaks as if the underworld is unseen rather than a place. When people die their 'souls' seem to linger, yet their bodies go back to the earth. The ghosts did seem to be in a sort of haze which does not allow them to speak to Odysseys until he lets them drink of the blood, in a sense, giving them another taste of life. With the life given by the blood, the ghosts were able to communicate with the living.

When Odysseus meets Tiresias the Prophet, Tiresias asks "why did you abandon the sun, poor man, to see the dead, and this place without joy?".[2] The land of Hades is obviously a place to be feared that is bound to be dreadful, but the story makes a certain point to emphasize just how terrible it really is. For example, when Odysseus meets the great Achilles, Achilles says that he would "prefer to be a workman, hired by a poor man on a peasant farm, than rule as king of all the dead".[3] Although Achilles chose to die as an honored soldier over having a long boring life, he clearly shows to regret this choice. Odysseus meets many great warriors and well-known figures who are in the underworld, however it seems that each of them speaks as to how horrible the underworld is and show great remorse when they see Odysseus show up.

The underworld appears to be outside of the constraints of time. At the point when all the dead start to show up, the book expresses that "many men cut down in battle by bronze spears, still dressed in armor stained with their blood" came. This implies that when they die they are cursed to remain in the state that they were at the time of death for all of eternity. The phantoms who address Odysseus do appear to know about time having passed, yet they are not endured by it, but instead stuck in a wrecked and unceasing condition of depression.

Odyssey's interpretation of death is seen all through numerous books, including book 14. Odysseus re-visitations of his previous slave, all while the slave didn't recognize Odysseus. The slave, Eumaeus, permits Odysseus to come into his home, giving haven and food. Eumaeus gabs about the demise of his previous proprietor, and how he realizes that with no return, he is dead. He proceeds with how everything had changed while Odysseus was no more. With Eumaeus being certain that he had passed on while in battle, Odysseus attempts to guarantee him that he will restore one day and isn't likely dead, yet Eumaeus is still set on his beliefs.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson (New York: W. W. Norton, 2018), p.333
  2. Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson (New York: W. W. Norton, 2018), p.330
  3. Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson (New York: W. W. Norton, 2018), p.345