A comprehensive guide to Homer's Odyssey
A major characteristic of Greek people is their hospitality, which is extended even towards strangers. This is because it is believed that gods often approach mortals in disguise. King Alcinous, in Book 7, states that Odysseus could be “one of the deathless powers” (186), or an immortal god in disguise as a wandering traveler, but Odysseus puts this suspicion to rest, proclaiming he is indeed a mortal. Athena, the goddess of wisdom and battle, plays out her major role in the epic through several disguises in order to help Odysseus return home. She also disguised herself as “Mentes, lord of the Taphian men” (83) to guide and inspire Telemachus, who realized “overwhelmed with wonder—this was a god” (88).
It is evident throughout The Odyssey that entertainment in forms such as dance, singing, and storytelling were highly valued. The Greeks actually invented theatres, and would put on performances in front of thousands of people. The plays they had were either comedies or tragedies. Comedies dealt with the funny side of a story, while tragedies were more serious, and often included lessons on right and wrong. The actors in these plays were almost always males, and they wore masks to help the audience identify different characters. To help tell the story, a group of people called the chorus would sing songs to help explain the background or what was going on. Although there are no examples of this in The Odyssey, there are many instances of storytelling. The Odyssey is in fact just a story told by Homer and others that was then written down. Homer was a bard, who is someone that is part of the oral tradition of poetry and story telling. Even in the actual story, a good portion of it involves people telling stories such as Odysseus or Menelaus telling their own tales. Throughout the story bards are treated with much respect. They are described as inspired or famous, and it is said that their song was a gift from God. (Book VIII) Dance was a common form of amusement. It is even said in The Odyssey that, “Odysseus gazed at their flying, flashing feet, his heart aglow with wonder.” (Book VIII) These were the main forms of entertainment for the Greeks, and they were vital in establishing Greek culture as a whole.
In “The Odyssey” while Odysseus is in the Underworld he sees Elepenor who requests for Odysseus to burn his body so that he can die in peace. In Greek culture cremation is important for the memory of the deceased. In Ancient Greece when a person dies their soul leaves their body and goes off like a gust of wind. Following the death the family members would prepare for a proper burial. The women of the family were primarily the ones to organize and carry out these services. The burial consisted of three parts, prosthesis which is the laying out of the body, ekphora which is the actual funeral ceremony and finally the cremation of the body. These are similar to common day funeral services. At the prosthesis the family members would mourn over the body similar to that of a wake service while the ekphora would be the funeral procession where there would in fact be a tombstone of the deceased. An aspect that is seen in “The Odyssey” when Elepenor requests for his body to be burned is that the Greeks believed that it didn’t matter about the actual deceased person’s body because immortality was achieved through remembrance by loved ones.
One of the important traditions of the Greeks is a proper burial. With this being said in Ancient Greece, all people that pass away their bodies need to be properly cared for. They believe that when the spirit left the living body this is when the body needed to be respectfully buried. They believed that if they were not properly taken care of in their afterlife, this is disrespect to their dignity. The three main parts of the Greek burial was the protheis, which was the laying out of the body, the ekphora that was the funeral procession and the interment or cremation of the remains. They had a strong belief in the underworld, ruled by the god Hades and the spirit couldn’t pass through Hades without being properly buried. This theme is evident in The Odyssey with Elepanor requests Odysseus to properly care for his body so his death can be cherished.