Theme of The Odyssey
"Both a Teacher and Entertainer"
One of the most difficult tasks as a parent is to teach your
child lifes lessons. Many have tried, and many have failed. But
over the ages most successful ideas have come in a form of
story or tale. Aesops Fables, nursery rhymes, and other tales
of caution are used even today to teach this common knowledge
one must have. In the Greek civilization, thousands of years
ago, many children were taught through these fun and
interesting stories. The Odyssey is one of these tales. Through
the many episodes telling the adventures of one man, Odysseus,
numerous life lessons/ morals were taught to the reader. One
valuable episode in The Odyssey is Scylla and Charybdis. Not
only does it provide excitement and interest for the reader,
but it is an effective part of The Odyssey because of its
superb insight to Odysseus character, and the clear life lesson
that is taught. Especially in todays world, one key to making
a story interesting or exciting is to include action. For
example many recent blockbuster hits are action packed.
Titanic, Independence Day, and Terminator 2, all are examples
of these hits. The Odyssey is no exception to this trick or
technique. In the episode Scylla and Charybdis the plot is
filled with intense confrontations, a heroic leader, and more.
Some of this can be easily identified, for example, when Homer
³ ... scarcely had that island
faded in the blue air than I saw smoke
and white water with waves in tumult-
a sound the men heard, and it terrified them.
Oars flew from their hands; the blades went
wild alongside till the ship lost way...²
What the author is doing is letting the reader foreshadow. A technique
which creates suspense, a vital element in any action story. The author
then explained what was being hinted at;
³... we rowed into the strait- Scylla to our port
and on our starboard beam Charybdis, dire
gorge of the salt-sea tide. By heaven when she
vomited all the sea was like a cauldron
seething over intense fire...²
³ ... [The] dark
sand raged on the bottom far below.
My men all blanched against the gloom, our eyes
were fixed upon that yawning mouth in fear
of being devoured.²
Both of these were descriptions of horrible challenges ahead. How Homer
wrote about them also increased the excitement or interest. He used a
helpless voice to describe the monsters, and by doing so he drew the
reader into the story, and made the monsters seem truly frightening.
However, amidst all the excitement , another key aspect was being
addressed. This aspect was the further development of Odysseus
By characterizing Odysseus, Scylla and Charybdis became an
effective part of The Odyssey. The episode very clearly
introduced and/or brought more attention to three traits in
Odysseus character. The first was leadership. After Odysseus
men became afraid of the two horrors from the sea Odysseus had
to take control, or face death. He told his men;
have we never been in danger before this?
More fearsome, is it now, than when the Cyclops
penned us in his cave? What power he had!
Did I not keep my nerve, and use my wits
to find a way out for us?
Now I say
by hook or crook this peril too shall be
something that we remember.²
The next trait was courage. After he inspired his men to face the
monsters, Odysseus himself had to make a courageous move;
bidding against arms had slipped my mind,
so I tied on my cuirass and took up
two heavy spears, then made my way along
to the foredeck- thinking to see her first from there,
the monster of the gray rock, harboring
torment for my friends.²
This action was courageous, because here Odysseus was risking his most
valuable possession to fight the monster- his life. The third, and
last, trait that was clearly seen in the episode was Odysseus
compassion for his men. This was presented in two incidents throughout
the episode. First at the beginning;
³... it brought them round to action.
But as I sent them on toward Scylla, I
told them nothing, as the could do nothing.
The would have dropped their oars again , in panic,
to roll for cover under the decking.²
This might have seemed to be a selfish choice that Odysseus made, but
Odysseus knew that if he told his crew more, that the boat would fall
into chaos, and everyone would have died. The next incident happened at
the very end of the episode when Odysseus said;
³ She ate them as they shrieked there...
reaching still for me-
and deathly pity ran me through...
far the worst I ever suffered...²
The compassion in this example couldnt have been missed. The extreme
sorrow displayed in the line, ... and deathly pity ran me through...
(823) showed Odysseus loved, and cared for his men. Although there was
another part to Scylla and Charybdis that made it an essential part to
the epic. A part that this, and every episode had in common.
Lastly Scylla and Charybdis addressed the Greek tradition for
teaching. Along with the excitement and other interests, the
episode taught a valuable life lesson. The lesson was rather
simple, as with most of the lessons in The Odyssey and it was
presented at the very end of the story. To understand the
lesson, however, you must first realize the twist Homer put
onto the ending of the story;
³ Then Scylla made her strike,
whisking six of my best men from the ship.²
³She ate them as they shrieked there, in her den,
in the dire grapple, reaching still for me-
and deathly pity ran me through
at that sight- far the worst I ever suffered,
questing the passes of the strange sea.²
(809-810) & (821-825)
As you can see the ending was sad, for there was no retaliation towards
Scylla for the loss of the men. Odysseus simply sailed onward. What
life lesson does this portray? If you come across a difficult challenge
you will simply fail, and there is nothing you can do about it? The
most positive way to interpret the ending is to look at it entirely
from a real life type of perspective. In real life not every thing is
fair and equal. Homer knew this and told the reader, through Odysseus
actions, what you should do. Basically it was when you fail, lift your
head up, and continue onward;
³ We rowed on,
The Rocks were now behind; Charybdis, too,
and Scylla dropped astern...²
In the episode Scylla and Charybdis Homer did quite well
focusing on the two main purposes of this epic. One, keeping
the reader interested. The exciting encounters with Odysseus
was beautifully told creating excitement and suspense for the
reader. Also many of the details portrayed emotion and moods
that only Homer could depict. And two, Homer made this episode
a very effective part of the entire epic. The characterization
was vital, for without it much of Odysseus personality would
have been lost. And last Homer told of a very important life
lesson. Which was ( at the time) the sole purpose of the epic.
Overall The Odyssey met up to, and exceeded, its role as a
instrument to teach. It went beyond, and became a classic tale,
in which the new purpose for reading it was to enjoy.
"For complete summary and analysis of literary works, please visit