HOMER: The Odyssey [Book VII]

In Book VII of Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus arrives at the palace of the Phaeacian King, Alcinous. Odysseus marvels at the majesty and splendor of the palace and its surrounding gardens. Then he enters and discovers that the King is hosting a feast.

Minerva reassures Odysseus and urges him to be bold and ask for aid from the King and Queen. He does so. The queen notices that Odysseus’ garments belong to her household; and therefore, she asks Odysseus how he came to possess them. He relates to the King and Queen the story of his detainment on the island of Calypso and subsequent journey to Phaeacia, where their daughter Nausicaa found him and provided him with the clothing. The King and Queen are pleased by Odysseus’ speech and promise to provide him with a ship and crew that will safely and swiftly convey him home.

Throughout the Odyssey, Homer indicates the values that the Ancient Greeks held. One such value is boldness. Upon entering the palace, Odysseus becomes anxious because all of the city’s noble men and women are attending a feast there. But Minerva encourages Odysseus. She says, “do not be afraid; go straight in, for the bolder a man is the more likely he is to carry his point, even though he is a stranger.” The Ancient Greeks favored boldness in war and in peace because they recognized its power to achieve certain goals.

Homer also demonstrates the limitations of men. Before Odysseus explains his desperate situation to the King and Queen, he tells them the following: “Let me sup in spite of sorrow, for an empty stomach is a very importunate thing, and thrusts itself on a man’s notice no matter how dire is his distress. I am in great trouble, yet it insists that I shall eat and drink, bids me lay aside all memory of my sorrows and dwell only on the due replenishing of itself.” Basic needs, such as food and drink, must be satisfied before men can turn their attentions to greater things.

Finally, Homer powerfully illustrates the feeling of nostalgia when Odysseus admits to the King and Queen the following: “I shall be content to die if I may first once more behold my property, my bondsmen, and all the greatness of my house.” The word ‘nostalgia’ is derived from the Greek words nostos – which means a return home – and algos – which means pain. The Odyssey is a lengthy meditation on this feeling that all men experience. Some Theologians interpret nostalgia as an indication that all men desire to return to their true home – i.e. their everlasting home in death, which they inhabited before being born.

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