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A Dream within a Dream The Odyssey

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2035 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Homer, the greatest ancient Greek poet, wrote both the Iliad and the Odyssey, two poems that continue to fascinate the educated modern world. The Odyssey is a story of the great hero Odysseus making his way home after the events of the Trojan War in the Iliad. Odysseus is plagued with many misfortunes that prevent him from returning home immediately after the war; it takes him ten years to finally return to Ithaca. In the Odyssey Homer uses many dreams, prophecies and omens to determine the path the story will take. Dreams are introduced during a crisis in the narrative, they are a prediction or interpretation of what is to come, a symbol that has to be interpreted by the dreamer. A prophecy is a prediction or foretelling of the future which is confirmed by omens from the Gods; in the case of two prophecies being given it is up to the bearer to decide which road he wishes to embark on. Prophecies are the most impacting on the narrative as they are the truthful foretelling of the future, which gives people confidence to act and presents the road that is about to be embarked on. An omen from the Gods is always seen either shortly after a prophecy is given or is the omen in which the prophecy was based upon. Dreams are the means through which the gods act, a subtle divine intervention in the storyline in which the Gods have their wills fulfilled. Dreams impact the story line as it is the Gods way of commanding an act to be done by the dreamer, it makes the story unfold as the Gods deem fit. Dreams, unlike prophecies are not always true and can mean the opposite of what they seem. In a way a dream can be considered a prophecy, as it gives the dreamer a cloaked foretelling of the future; therefore, prophecies are the most impacting on the narrative of the Odyssey.

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The main reason for dreams within the Odyssey is to continue the development of the plot. Homer used dreams in both the Odyssey and the Iliad, but presented them in very different ways. In the Iliad a dream was always received by a male and was presented by Zeus, whereas in the Odyssey we see dreams always presented by Athena and experienced by a female. Penelope experiences two dreams given by Pallas Athena. The first dream is where Athena disguises herself as Penelope’s sister Iphthimê and comes to reassure her about Telemakhos’ voyage and that the suitors will not bring him any harm. This dream is used to reassure Penelope and prevent her from worrying and planning anything foolish. This is a great act of compassion from Pallas Athena, something that you do not see very often from the Gods. Athena deeply cares for Odysseus and will do anything she can to make sure everything goes as planned. This dream is used more to foreshadow for the reader and prepare them for the upcoming events than it is to impact the storyline. Penelope is mostly reassured of her son’s safety and given the knowledge that a Goddess is on his side. If Penelope had not had this dream she would have just worried frantically until Telemakhos had returned to Ithaca, she would not have been able to do anything dramatic against the suitors besides pleading with them to spare her son.

The last dream in which Penelope experiences from Athena is where an eagle swoops down and kills twenty geese that are feeding by her house. The eagle then speaks “All these geese were suitors, and the bird was I. See now, I am no eagle but your lord come back to bring inglorious death upon them all!” Pretending she does not know what it means, Penelope asks the disguised Odysseus to interpret this dream for her, which is also a prophecy in the sense it is foretelling the future. This is used to advance the plotline of the story, having a significant effect on the narrative. In this dream concocted by Athena, Penelope is reassured that Odysseus is in fact alive and in Ithaca. She then mischievously says “We have twelve axe heads. In his time, my lord could line them up, all twelve…Then he’d back away…and whip an arrow through. Now I’ll impose this trial on the suitors.” The one who is able to achieve such a feat will be able to claim Penelope as a wife. She knows that no one will be able to achieve this except for Odysseus. This laid out what was to happen next in the story. By creating a contest she proved all the suitors to be inferior to Odysseus. Without even realizing it, Penelope had given Odysseus the means to destroy all the other suitors and reclaim his household. This is impactful on the narrative as Odysseus then proves who he is and kills all the suitors in his home, exacting revenge. Odysseus is then home after twenty years gone, reclaiming his household and his wife and restoring peace.

Another dream that has significance is the one Pallas Athena gives to Nausikaa. Athena disguised as a girl Nausikaa’s age convinces her to go down to the river to wash her clothes and the men will want to marry her because of this. She ends up the next day going down to the river to wash her clothing, where Odysseus is sleeping. Athena’s plan was to have Nausikaa offer him some clothing and invite him back to the palace. Athena has put a charm on Odysseus making him handsomer than before, which has Nausikaa fall in love with him. The Queen and King take an instant liking to Odysseus and commit to providing him a ship and escorts to return home to Ithaca. This is important to the storyline as this ends up fulfilling Poseidon’s prophecy of one day destroying the Phaeacian ships. It also is how Odysseus ends up getting home, leading to his destruction of the suitors and reuniting with his wife. The dreams in the Odyssey do impact the story line, as they give the next step so they story can progress. The dreams are the divine intervention of Athena to direct the actions and events in the way that she deems fit.

Prophecies on the other hand are more impacting on the narrative than dreams are. In the beginning Pallas Athena appearing in disguise to Telemakhos predicts that “never in this world is Odysseus dead.” This is the foundation as to why Telemakhos sails to other lands to hear news of his father. Pallas Athena tells him that he must sail to foreign lands to hear news of his father and whether he is alive or dead, but she reassures him that he is alive. She then tells him that once he does hear news of his father it will be time to consider how to advance with the suitors’. With this Athena is setting the state for Telemakhos to learn of his father being alive and for him to gain some experience, she also has him removed from the house so he will not be harmed, so that upon Odysseus’ return he will be able to help him defeat the suitors of Penelope. In another conversation with Telemakhos, Athena predicts the suitors’ doom by stating “neither do they know anything of death and the black terror close upon them.” This is foreshadowing the suitors to all come to their deaths, which happens with her gentle guidance by the end of the Odyssey at the hand of Odysseus. She is subtly hinting to Telemakhos that his journey on the seas will be fruitful and fulfilling as he worries about the ill-wishing all the suitors have on him. She reassures him by telling him that he has a goddess protecting him and that the suitors are near to their doom and do not yet know it, a death that she will be responsible for and personally see it through. When Telemakhos arrives and holds court with Nestor, Athena turns into a sea-hawk and gives Telemakhos a warm welcoming among them. They believe that as turning into a sea-hawk a god was among them and that Telemakhos is being protected by evil, it is a good omen. Telemakhos is continuously directed by Athena so they story goes in the path that she wants it to. Prophecies seem to have a direct impact on the narrative. You see main characters make decisions because of them and are constantly influenced by the Goddess Athena, and backed up by signs of good omens.

When Odysseus meets Teiresias the prophet he tells of two ways that his travels could potentially end. If Odysseus or his men are greedy, everyone will die but him; if they take the path of righteousness everyone would survive and return to Ithaca. He warns Odysseus that they will be beached on an island in revenge for him blinding the giant. By Odysseus becoming aware of his potential future, he knows what to expect. He realizes what trials and tribulations will befall him and his men and is able to strategize ahead of time. The prophecy advances the plot because Odysseus then finds out what the Gods have in store for him. He keeps fighting to get home, and knows that he will eventually make it there, making him fight harder.

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Other prophecies are seen in the form of omens from the Gods. The first eagle omen is seen when Telemakhos leaves Menelaos, they see an eagle with a white goose in his talons. This ends up being interpreted as Odysseus soon coming home from his hard wanderings and bringing a fury down on his house. The next omen is when Telemakhos arrives back home in Ithaca, they see a hawk with a dove in his talons. This goes on to be interpreted as Odysseus house will always be in power. Both of these omens are good omens from the gods that they are on the right path and the way they are choosing is correct and blessed by the gods. This encourages the people in the story to continue on the path they are on. The way the omens are interpreted is the gods prophesying of what is to come and what will be. The impact on the narrative is that it directs the story, and gives the means for which they act. The last two omens are seen by Zeus and Athena. Athena at the banquet before the day Odysseus will exact vengeance makes the walls run bloody and the suitors look like death is upon them. This foreshadows what is to come shortly. Odysseus will kill the suitors and blood will fill the hall. Zeus sends Odysseus a thunderclap as a sign of his agreement to what is to come. These have an effect on the story as they give guidance and the courage for the characters to continue on the path they are on. With the Gods agreeing to what they are about to do, it gives them the means to act.

Athena shows her support of Odysseus mission to get home and his revenge on the suitors who tried to marry his wife while he was away. Athena is the most important god in the Odyssey. Through all the prophecies and dreams she concocts throughout the story, she is the one controlling and steering the story to its end product. Dreams affect the narrative by giving the humans the ideas that Athena has presented in them. Take Nausikaa for example, she is presented the idea to wash her clothing in the river by a disguised Athena. She then goes to the river and discovers Odysseus who then comes to the castle and is offered a way home by her parents. The dreams in the Odyssey are the way in which the gods subtly act to have their wish fulfilled and to continue the journey forward; it is a way for Athena to avoid obstacles and have the journey of Odysseus continue smoothly. Prophecies and omens impact the narrative more than dreams as they give the people the means in which to act. Omens are seen as a sign of divine will and the Gods’ consent to upcoming events. They can be interpreted to be a foretelling of the future as we see with the eagle and the dove. Prophecies are very similar as they are a foretelling of the future by a God or a prophet. Prophecies impact the storyline by the power of suggestion, giving the idea of what will happen and the one prophesied acting upon that. They tell the future and give the events that will happen beforehand, giving Odysseus, Telemakhos and Penelope the means to act appropriately to what is to come. Prophecies are the most impacting as they create the story, the suspense and the flaws of humanity that we will see. Greeks held the Gods above everything and the omens were the way for the gods to communicate with society. The prophecies and the omens walk hand in hand and create the story that the Odyssey tells.


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