The Odyssey The Role Of Prophecy Essay

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The Odyssey The Role Of Prophecy Essay, Research Paper When one ponders the Greek mythology and literature, powerful images invariably come to mind. One relives the heroes struggles against innumerable odds, their battles against magical monsters, and the gods periodic intervention in mortal affairs. Yet, a common and often essential portion of a heroic epic is the hero s consultation with an oracle or divinity. This prophecy is usually critical to the plot line, and also to the well being of the main characters. Could Priam have survived in the Achaean camp if not at the gods instruction (200-201)? Could the Argos have run the gauntlet of the Prowling Rocks if not for the gods advice of using a sacrificial bird (349). Moreover, prophecy can be negative as well as positive.

Achilles was prophesied to die gloriously in battle if he chose his life s way as a warrior. Oedipus was exiled and condemned by his own words, after he slew his sire and wed his mother. This type of prophesy can blind even the gods themselves; Chronos was fated to be defeated and his throne stolen by his son. Demeter loses Persephone periodically every year because her daughter ate Hades pomegranates. Prophecy plays an important role in the whole of Greek folklore. Something this ever-present bears further examination. In The Odyssey, prophecy in its myriad forms affects nearly every aspect of the epic. Prophecies are seen in the forms of omens, signs, strict prediction of the future, divine condemnation, and divine instruction. Though conceptually these forms are hard to

distinguish, they are clearly separate in the Odyssey. Moreover, prophecies can be interpreted not only on the “plot device” level, but also on the level of characterization. Whether a character accepts or denies the gods prophecies tells the reader something about the character himself. Omens are brief prophecies intimately connected to the action at hand, which must be interpreted in terms of that action. Halitherses comments on the eagle attack after Telemakhos condemns the suitors (463-464); he correctly interests it to mean that if the suitors keep feeding off Odysseus s possessions they will be destroyed. Yet the suitors ignore the omen, inviting their eventual destruction. This haughty treatment of a divine omen is a justification for their deaths. When Penelope says

if Odysseus had returned he would, with his son, surely slay the suitors, Telemakhos let loose a great sneeze (429). This omen reinforces the previous one, and simultaneously prepares the reader for the carnage to follow. However, not all omens are effective. In the case of Telemakhos we see many bird omens signaling for him to do something about the suitors. Whether it was his immaturity to interpret the bird omens or blind arrogance Telemakhos does not act on them. In fact, it s not until Athena comes to him that he thinks to take action against the suitors in his house. Signs are similar to omens, but differ in one crucial aspect; the prophesee is looking for a specific omen in order to decide whether he should or should not take some action. There is only one good example of

a sign in the Odyssey; on page 460, Odysseus asks Zeus for two divine signs to decide if it is time to slay the suitors. Zeus answers with a thunderclap from a cloudless sky and allows Odysseus to overhear a maid s prayer for vengeance. Because of these signs, Odysseus begins his plan to slay the suitors. Later on, with a thunderclap Zeus actually signals for the precise time to strike. Signs are helpful devices; they allow not only a rationalization for when an event occurs but also shows the approval of the gods on such an action. Not only are signs and omens plentiful in the Odyssey, but also the type one usually associates with prophesying, strict prediction of the future, abounds as well. Penelope states that she will marry the man who can string Odysseus s bow and perform