Greek writer Homer’s poetic epic The Odyssey has long been considered one of the ancient masterpieces of literature. The story follows legendary hero Odysseus as he encounters adventures, mishaps and dangers during his return home from the war against Troy. During the decade it takes Odysseus to return to his home and wife, the Greek gods do much to both aid and hinder the bold hero. Homer made sure to incorporate the gods throughout The Odyssey, and these supernatural figures became integral forces working around the events along Odysseus’ journey.
Unfortunately, there are a significant number of times in The Odyssey where the god’s interference is meant to hinder Odysseus. One Greek god who severely inhibits Odysseus’ journey home is Poseidon. This sea-god, angered when Odysseus harmed the Cyclops (which was a child of Poseidon) causes him to experience awful storms and lose all of his crewmen. Poseidon is actually considered Odysseus’ main nemesis, and he continually wrecks Odysseus’ plans to return home, or intervenes in his affairs to cause the hero strife. Another god, Calypso, was strangely cruel to Odysseus; madly in love with him, she held Odysseus captive for seven years and severely delayed his return home. Only when another god, Hermes, intervened did she consent to release Odysseus.
At many times, though, the gods in The Odyssey worked to help Odysseus and other characters. Athena was often coming in disguise to aid Odysseus’ son, appearing in dreams to Odysseus’ wife, or otherwise imploring the gods on Odysseus’ behalf. The great god Zeus, himself, was fond of Odysseus and often sent messengers to aid him. Another mythic god figure that aided Odysseus was Aelous, which tried to help the hero by providing him with a magical bag of winds (even though the gift turned out to be unhelpful, and caused a storm when opened). However, Aelous also denied Odysseus help later on, when the hero was again in dire straits. Other times, supposedly ‘good’ gods like Zeus would deny Odysseus aid or cause mortal dangers for him and his men, either because Odysseus himself had erred or the god was preventing more immediate danger.
The role of gods in The Odyssey is strong; they are prevalent, existent forces that help shape the entire course of Odysseus’ destiny. They are not simply faceless deities to pray to – they are powerful, present beings that help change the course of Odysseus’ fate, either for good or ill. Homer wrote the gods as key figures in The Odyssey, and their role is of extreme importance throughout the epic.