is common in Greek mythology. Especially among Gods and Goddesses. They use their
power of trickery to trick and deceive humans, to fulfill their wishes. An important
figure in Greek mythology is Metis. She is the Goddess of wisdom and
intelligence. Interestingly enough, Odysseus has been blessed with wisdom and
intelligence, which gives him the ability to trick and deceive humans. Odysseus
represents the idea of metis. The ancient Greeks admired metis: intelligence.
an important question to ask is: What skills does Odysseus possess that make
him the archetypal trickster in The Odyssey? Odysseus uses skills such as
disguise, storytelling and trickery, which makes it possible to recognize him
as an archetypal trickster. Being a trickster is what characterizes Odysseus. As
Oxford Dictionary defines a trickster: A trickster deceives and cheats people. (Oxford Dictionary, 2017) Tricking is the
ability to deceive and trick people by using skills and intelligence. This
definition can be applied to Odysseus. Odysseus went by the epithet
“resourceful man”, given to him by Homer. Homer used these phrases or names to
describe a quality of his characters. Chris Northcott writes in his book “So only a brilliant ruler or a wise general who can use the highly
intelligent for espionage is sure of great success” (Northcott,
2015, s. 242 MI5: At War 1909-1918). This quote can be used to describe the
importance of intelligence and wisdom in terms of achieving success. Odysseus
is capable of achieving success through his intelligence. He uses intelligence
as a way to trick humans. This is what makes it possible to call him an
This essay will focus on three different skills that
Odysseus uses: firstly, trickery in terms of fooling the Cyclops into getting
drunk, secondly disguising himself as a beggar to get past the suitors, lastly
using storytelling as a way to get the Phaeacians to help him reach home.
Odysseus offers the cyclops wine. “Here, Cyclops, have some wine to wash down
that meal of human flesh…” (Homer, The
Odyssey , s. 119).
He does this by showing hospitality, also known as xenia, which the Greeks adored. However, Odysseus uses this act of
gesture to stab a drunk Cyclops in the eye with a pole. Odysseus combines xenia
with his tricking, as he is certain it is going to work. Since an act of
gesture and hospitality is received greatly by the Greeks. Along with
hospitality a lot of planning is also put into getting rid of the Cyclops.
Odysseus could have easily decided to kill the Cyclops, but he would be taking
the risk of losing his men. His physical strength might not have been enough to
kill the cyclops, but his mental strength surely is. This is important to
understand because a Homeric hero like Odysseus, needs to act wisely, as his
circumstances require it.
Homer shows the audience through this episode, that
physical strength is not always what defines a Homeric hero. Mental strength
can be equally significant in defeating your enemy. Odysseus uses the Cyclops’
stupidity against himself. “It’ Nobody’s
treachery, not violence, that is doing me to death”. (Homer, The Odyssey , 2003, s.
The Cyclops is too caught up with handling his own drunkenness, that he does
not recognize there is no way Odysseus’ name could possibly be “Nobody”. Another
thing is that the Cyclops is considered a savage. This is a trick played on a
stupid person, by an intelligent person. It results in the defeat of the
savage. Odysseus’ defeat of the Cyclops shows that sometimes, intelligence
works better than muscles.
Homer has given several parallels between characters
in this book, such as the parallels between Athena and Odysseus. Athena is
Odysseus’ mentor, and she represents wisdom. Wisdom is a gift handed over to
Odysseus. Homer has given the Homeric hero a chance to show his wisdom, through
his trickery. Another piece of supporting evidence which shows Odysseus’ skills
of trickery, is this passage: “My name is
Nobody” (Homer, The Odyssey , 2003, s. 119). As the Cyclops
calls out for help, he is unable to receive
any help, because Odysseus told him his name was “Nobody” earlier. Odysseus
plays it clever by hiding his identity to the Cyclops. However, the importance
of this passage is that Odysseus is well aware of the fact that he cannot kill
the Cyclops, due to his men being stuck. Therefore, he turns it around by
taking advantage of the Cyclops’ stupidity. Along with this there lies an irony
in the word “Nobody”. Odysseus is not a “Nobody”. He is indeed somebody. He is
a significant hero in Greek mythology. The Greek word for nobody is outis,
which is interesting because it has a similar sound to metis, which means
wisdom, skill and craft. (Heitman, 2005, s. 5 ) Mentor is a word
derived from the word metis. Athena is Odysseus’ mentor. She is herself the
Goddess of wisdom. And this gift of wisdom has been handed over to him. It is
due to his intelligence and wisdom that he is able to trick and deceive others.
Therefore, the irony of the name “Nobody” can be spotted through this passage.
In reality he is somebody. He has received metis (wisdom), from the two
goddesses: Metis and Athena. They are both Goddesses of intelligence and wisdom.
Throughout The Odyssey disguise plays a huge part in
why Odysseus returns home to Ithica. Disguise is not only used by Odysseus.
Athena, the goddess, used disguise in The Odyssey to approach Telemachus as his
father’s old friend. Since Gods and Goddesses hold the power of disguise, and
are able to trick and deceive humans, it suggests that Odysseus is quite
powerful in terms of his trickery. Odysseus is not a God, but is blessed with
the same powers as the Gods and Goddesses. This gift of his makes him
comparable and equal to the Gods. Odysseus dresses up as a beggar to get the approval
of the Suitors. “Your health, my ancient
friend!” he said. “You are having a hard time now; but here’s to your
The Odyssey , 2003, s. 242). Odysseus is
able to receive the approval of the suitors, after he defeats one of them. Through
disguise, Odysseus is able to make the suitors do as he wishes. This is the art
of disguise and trickery.
As Odysseus’ long tale about not being able to return
to Ithica goes on for about 4 chapters, it makes the reader wonder what his
motive with the tale was. At the end of the tale, Alcinous says, “I feel assured that you will reach your
home without any further wanderings from your course, though you have suffered
The Odyssey , 2003, s. 168). Odysseus is able
to win over the Phaeacians. They sympathize with him by helping him reach home.
Once again, Odysseus makes use of his gift, by making people do what he wishes.
This might not have been done by deceiving anyone, but he still tricked the
Phaeacians into helping him get home to Ithica. Another important factor is
Odysseus’ ability to make others appreciate the art behind his tales. If he had
not been able to make them exciting and full of emotions, perhaps this would
have never won over the Phaeacians. Even though the Phaeacians already had
Demodocus the poet, to perform songs, Odysseus seems to stand out. His tales
revolve around him. He is the poet of his own tales, and he successfully makes
use of lies in his storytelling. He certainly exaggerates “Odysseus you are one of those men, whose spirit never flags and whose
body never tires” (Homer, The Odyssey , s.
He exaggerates by complimenting himself through his tale. This makes him appear
important in terms of a hero, and strong minded.
Homer portrays trickery and wisdom as important
factors in the Odyssey. Homer makes it quite apparent that factors such as
being mentally strong are as equally important in terms of being considered a
hero, as being physically strong is. As the thesis states: Odysseus uses skills
such as disguise, storytelling, and trickery, which makes it possible to
recognize him as a trickster. These are all skills Odysseus possesses that
makes it possible to call him a trickster. Even more importantly, without these
factors Odysseus perhaps would have not been able to return home, due to the
complications and events that required for him to use his intelligence and
wisdom. Odysseus is a great example of a character who characterizes the idea
of being a trickster. Therefore, it is important to recognize that Odysseus
needs to be wise and intelligent, in order for him to trick and deceive others.