Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at West Chester chapter.

The Odyssey, a harrowing tale of a man and his incredibly athletic calves trying to return home after the Trojan War. Odysseus, our hero, faces some baffling interactions and experiences trying to get to his wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemachus. Their existences are constantly assaulted by the presence of rowdy suitors, who’ve taken to living in their palace and drinking their wine as a new-age way of courting Penelope. The struggle of Odysseus, and everyone around him, to make competent decisions dooms the journey home from the onset, with a thematically-relevant hubris following Odysseus the entire journey. Which, as many other Greek protagonists have learned, has resulted in the swift dealing of a humbling; it’s sort of the cataclysmic, world-altering version of pointing and laughing at someone. And Poseidon points and laughs so hard that he turns the sea against Odysseus and his crew, ultimately culminating in Odysseus failing to return home for ten years. Anywho, without a further ado, let’s jump on a boat that’s doomed to sea and discuss some of the symbolism, themes, and the most bewildering moments in The Odyssey. 

Odysseus Blinds Polyphemus, Then Decides Succeeding Just Isn’t For Him

Essentially, Odysseus and his men end up at the land of the Cyclops. Odysseus, making what is one in a long list of poor decision-making, decides not to act with haste when stealing some available crates of milk and cheese inside an uninhabited cave. He instead decides to mosey around, take in the sights, and get caught by the cyclops that resides in the cave, Polyphemus, Poseidon’s son. Upon seeing Odysseus and his men, Polyphemus presents himself as friendly but then pulls an epic “I’m Actually A Bad Guy Mwahahaha” reveals, turns hostile, and eats two of Odysseus’ men on the spot, locking up the rest for later. Odysseus wants to immediately take his sword to Polyphemus and his big, dumb eye, but, demonstrating one of the few moments of critical thinking, understands that he cannot for Polyphemus is the only one capable of moving the giant boulder blocking the cave’s exit. While Polyphemus is out pasturing his sheep the next morning, Odysseus hardens a wooden staff over the fire, and when the cyclops returns Odysseus gets him drunk on wine stored on his ship. Polyphemus, with his stupid eye, is now properly intoxicated and cheerily asks Odysseus what his name is, and in what is I promise another rare instance of Odysseus using his noggin, he replies, “Nobody.” Then, once Polyphemus has passed out (from the alcohol), Odysseus and a select crew of men drive the red-hot staff into Polyphemus’ stupidly large eye. Polyphemus, in intense pain, shrieks and cries and his fellow Cyclops come to check on him, but leave once they hear, “Nobody’s killing me.” A completely normal statement whose easy acceptance does not hint at a wider, community-wide drinking problem amongst the Cyclops. Anyway, using some sheep as their escape mobile, Odysseus and his crew get away, unseen by Polyphemus. Now lacking the critical thinking he had just demonstrated moments ago, Odysseus calls out Polyphemus and reveals his true name, a point and laugh that will come back to haunt him so hard. Polyphemus, again Poseidon’s son, calls out to dear old daddy and asks him to rain his wrath on Odysseus in order to avenge him and his stupid, ugly eye. Shock of all shocks, Poseidon does, in the form of multiple storms that sends Odysseus and his crew to islands that will do them harm, essentially derailing his whole mission of returning home. Had Odysseus stayed “Nobody” he would have been home by now. 

The Bag of Wind Incident

OK, so I know that I spent about a milenia highlighting Odysseus’ lack of thinking, but I promise you, the lack of critical thinking is distributed amongst others. So, after hearing Odysseus’ tragic story and mourning the recent loss of brain cells having to listen to all of this poor decision-making, King Aeolus, the Keeper of Wind, gives Odysseus and his crew a bag of wind to help them on their journey home. Now you might be thinking, “Wind is helpful for sailing, such a valuable gift will surely only result in the trip home being shortened. Right?” Wrong, reader. You are so, so wrong. It actually adds two years to their trip. See, Odysseus and his crew are ridiculously close to Ithaca, like they can see it. But his crew has grown suspicious that Aeolus has not given Odysseus wind for the voyage home, but instead bouts of gold and silver. Eager to retrieve these riches they are so certain hide within the bag, they tear it open. Only to find that, yes, it was in fact wind. It’s OK, reader, you can scream, throw an object across the room, it’s only natural in the face of such idiocracy. Because, and I cannot stress this enough, they could see Ithaca. They were so close. They are blown right back to Aeolia, where Aeolus refuses to give them any more wind, coming to the conclusion that such poor decision-making must be a sign that the gods hate Odysseus and want him to suffer and opts to enforce such treatment, lest he and his subjects are similarly cursed. Stan Aeolus for clear skin. 

The Shroud that Took 3 Years

As I mentioned earlier, Penelope’s home and existence is bombarded by the presence of rowdy suitors, all of whom are demanding she take a new husband because the personification of poor decision-making with superb calves she married is obviously dead and she just needs to get over him. Stop mourning your dead husband, lady! Anyway, to get these suitors off of her back, she says that she will take a new husband after she finishes weaving a funeral shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes. But here’s the scheme, everyday Penelope would sit in the royal hall and weave, and then, at night, she would sneak back into the royal hall and undo all her work from that day. Now, to remind you, even though you just read it, she is weaving within view of everyone else, so everyone can see how much weaving she has done in a given day. So somehow these suitors did not realize that the shroud never seemed to be progressing, not even that, but that less of the shroud was completed as the days progressed. This plan somehow kept the suitors off her back for three years. The suitors weren’t even the ones to expose the Watergate of weaving scandals, they only found out because her staff told on her. Apparently, because they too think Penelope’s decision to remain faithful to those very athletic calves is sort of lame and kind of a bummer.

Alexis Stakem

West Chester '26

An obsession with polar bears, movies, and reading made into a person.