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Themes, Motifs, & Symbols


  • These descriptor words play a major part in Homer’s epic.

  • He uses epithets to describe characters

    • Bright-Eyed Athena

    • The Great Odysseus


  • Odysseus is given the chance to be granted immortality from Calypso and yet he turns the offer down

    • Many men would normally accept this offer, but Odysseus’ rejection of this offer shows that he has a distinct wisdom

    • He realizes that a life of immortality would be filled with pain and suffering for he would live forever (everyone he knew and loved would die around him)


  • There are many instances throughout the epic in which Odysseus should have been killed and yet he lives to tell the tale at the end

    • His destiny was constantly being changed by the gods and goddesses and he constantly cheated the Fates


Divine Intervention
  • There are many times when the gods and goddesses interfere in the lives of the mortals below them

    • These instances are critical to the journey that readers embark on alongside Odysseus because without them, the journey would have ended with Odysseus life


Pride vs. Intelligence (Temptations)
  • Odysseus faces many temptations throughout the book and one of these temptations is when he faces moments where he overcomes great odds

    • When this occurs, sometimes he abandoned his intelligence and intellect and his pride overcame him and a reckless attitude overcame him


Loyalty & Hope
  • Penelope is faced with the struggle of maintaining order in her household while the suitors ravage it and even after many years pass, Penelope remains loyal and hopeful that her husband will return

    • No matter what is thrown her way, she never gives up and these mentalities help to contribute to the beautiful ending: her reunion with her husband

  • Telemachus is first shown as the boy that his father left behind and he has no power over the suitors in his household

    • After Athena visits Telemachus, she instills in him the courage and power that he needs to transition from childhood to manhood

    • This growth contributes to the story due to the fact that it leads him to find the truth of his father: that he is indeed alive and is trying to journey home to his family


Archetype: often referred to as a pattern, is one in which a number of elements appear, in differing forms, throughout different works of literature throughout history and across cultures.


Heroic Archetypes:
  • Hero as warrior: a near god-like hero faces physical challenges and external enemies.


Journey Archetypes:
  • There is a “hero,” or protagonist who is searching, struggling, or, trying to fulfill a mission.
  • The hero goes on a journey – often in a foreign or strange land.

  • The journey is full of adventures which test and tempt the hero. The test are often physical and the trials are often seductions by powerful women.

  • There is a “crucial encounter” with life and death consequences. Often this crucial encounter requires a journey to the “land of the dead” or an underworld and place of ancestors with allusions or symbols of death and rebirth.

  • If the protagonist survives the crucial encounter, he is changed or transformed in significant ways of seeing the world and one’s identity in a different (enlightened?) way.


Characteristics of the Hero's Journey:
  • The hero meets monsters or monstrous men

  • The hero yearns for the beautiful lady who is sometimes his guide or inspiration

  • The hero must go on a journey, learn a lesson, change in some way, and return home.

  • The hero often crosses a body of water or travels on a bridge.

  • The hero returns to the land of his/her birth in disguise or as an unknown.

  • The hero struggles for something valuable and important

  • The hero has help from divine or supernatural forces

  • The hero engages in tests or contests of strength (physical and/or mental) and shows pride in his/her excellence.


Situational Archetypes:
  • The Task: the nearly superhuman feat(s) the Hero must perform in order to accomplish his quest.


Symbolic Archetypes:
  • Supernatural Intervention: Spiritual beings intervene on the side of the hero or sometimes against him.

  • The Underworld: A place of death or metaphorically an encounter with the dark side of the self. Entering an underworld is a form of facing a fear of death.

  • Haven vs. Wilderness: Places of safety contrast sharply against a dangerous wilderness. Heroes are often sheltered for a time to regain health and resources.

  • Heaven vs. Hell: Man has traditionally associated parts of the universe not accessible to him with the dwelling places of the primordial forces that govern his world. The skies and mountaintops house his gods, the bowels of the earth contain diabolic forces.


A special acknowledgement to:
Ms. Crowe, Minersville Area High School (Archetype)

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