The theme of The Odyssey is one of homecoming and reunion with loved ones. Though the proem of the epic states that Odysseus’ own purpose is simply the fight to save his own life and return his shipmates home safely, the gods of Olympus are the unknown captains of this journey. It is an epic story of the making of men, mainly Odysseus and Telemakhos. Homer methodically details the struggles set forth by the gods. The contests of Odysseus’ wisdom, honor, piety and prudence. These tests of will prove Odysseus ‘master mariner and soldier’, truly virtuous and capable. He becomes not only the last hope of those still true and loyal, but he is the only one who can discern the proper course of action in the re-ordering of his house and his household.
In the opening of the epic, the gods, at home upon great Olympus, sit in conversation reflecting upon the pride of men. One example being Agisthos, who is run amuck with greed and pride. Zeus’ remark that “Greed and folly will double suffering in the lot of man...” is indeed the standard by which men are judged to be the Shepherd or the wolf. It is greed and folly, which are the marks of impious men, men who engage in improper feasting. Worse still are those who give into temptation after long suffering, for it denies them the knowledge of the good; namely virtue.
Of improper feasting there are numerous examples, from the gluttonous behavior of the suitors and the cannibalism of the Kyklops, to Odysseus’ own shipmates who kill and feast on the cattle of Lord Helios, the Sun. As illustrated by the text, improper feasting is a sin against the order of Zeus and thus the order of men. Telemakhos recognizes the wrong done against him and his household. The youth of Telemakhos prevents him from doing more than sitting by in mute fury, but it is the visitation of Athena that unlocks his silent disgust. He reveals to the goddess that the feast of the suitors is plunder, and their acts rapine. He tells Menthos (Athena in disguise) that the suitors lives are easy and scot-free. At the assembly, Telemakhos’ remarks are quick and to the point. “My home and all I have are being a pack they came...these men [that] spend their days around our house killing our beeves and sheep and fatted goats, carousing, soaking up our good dark wine, not caring what they do. They squandered everything.” In response to this, Antinoos gives a brash reply, claiming that it is Telemakhos that judges them wrongly. He mislays the blame upon Penelope, who has contrived all these years to deceive the suitors and avoid a match. Antinoos betrays his own impious nature when he says that Penelope’s deception at the loom was “a plan some god put into her mind.” He does not recognize the weight of his own admission. If a god was the author of that scheme, would it not be the obligation of any sensible man to leave off his courtship? Eurymakos too scorns the god when he insults the auger. This is a sign of overweening pride and impiety. It is hubris.
Polyphemos, son of the great earth-shaker, Poseidon, embodies supreme horror. He is hubris personified and his actions are indisputably grotesque, blasphemous, and extreme. He is described as a caveman, primitive and barbarous, unaccustomed to the polite ways of the world of men. According to Zeus’ laws of hospitality, it is an egregious error to turn strangers from your feast, and worse still is it to murder a guest, but to eat a guest– or six –is a trespass without parallel. Thus, cannibalism is one of the greatest acts of atrocious impiety; not only is it contrary to Zeus’ holy laws, but it is against the natural order. For truly if the house of Atreus was ever cursed by the gods for Tantalus’ insidious act of deceit, so much greater the offense of the Kyklopes. Son of Poseidon flaunts a ‘smite-me’ sign. Further, he scoffs at the gods in bliss, particularly Zeus, Lord of Olympus: “We Kyklopes care not a whistle for your thundering Zeus or all the gods in bliss; we have more force