The Odyssey: Lies Save Lives

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Ask anyone if lying is an appropriate course of action in any situation and their response will most likely be a hard “no.” For our entire lives we are taught that lying and deceiving others is completely wrong no matter the circumstances. But sometimes lies and deceit are not only completely acceptable, but also necessary. The characters in The Odyssey lie as though their lives depend upon it – in fact, often their lives do depend on lies. In Homer’s The Odyssey, dishonesty is justified when you are doing so to protect yours or others’ well-being.

In Book Nine of The Odyssey, Odysseus and his men find themselves trapped in a cave with a man-eating cyclops named Polyphemus. Polyphemus is steadily eating men and he shows no intent of stopping until each is devoured. Odysseus engages in a conversation with Polyphemus. When Polyphemus asks Odysseus where his ship is moored, Odysseus has no choice but to lie. If Polyphemus knows where the ship is, he will destroy it without hesitation and eat the men inside.

Odysseus replies to Polyphemus cleverly, “My ship? Poseidon, God of the Earthquake smashed my ship, he drove it against the rocks at your island’s far cape, he dashed it against a cliff as the winds rode us in. I and the men you see escaped a sudden death.” (p. 220, book 9). Odysseus’ ship was not destroyed by Poseidon, and all of his other men are dutifully waiting in the ship to escape at any moment. Had this information been disclosed to Polyphemus, many more men would killed. They would be eaten, and in the unlikely case of survivors, there would be no ship in which they could escape. Odysseus lied, but had he not, the men could never have escaped Polyphemus.

Later on in Book Nine of The Odyssey, Odysseus develops a plan to escape Polyphemus. Eventually he and his men are able to blind Polyphemus with a burning stake. Before this could be achieved, Odysseus gave Polyphemus enough wine to inhibit his reasoning. Odysseus says in Homer’s the Odyssey “when the wine was swirling round his brain, I approached my host with a cordial winning word.” (p. 222, book 9) Soon after this Odysseus blinds Polyphemus, Odysseus and the remainder of his men are able to escape the cave. Odysseus’ lies allowed he and his men to survive.

While Odysseus was braving the sea to find his way back home to Ithaca, his son Telemachus and wife Penelope faced problems of their own. In Ithaca, Odysseus was believed to be dead. Suitors swarmed beautiful widow Penelope to take his place. All of Penelope’s suitors drained the household of food and resources. They constantly pestered Penelope to make a decision and her mental health slowly declined. In Book One of the Odyssey, Homer says “[the suitors] reached out for the good things that lay at hand, and when they’d put aside desire for food and drink the suitors set their minds on other pleasures.” (p. 82, book 1).

Telemachus is only a boy and Penelope is grief ridden and weak. Neither casts away the suitors, so the men persist. Eventually, Penelope develops a plan to cease the nagging. She begins weaving a shroud for Odysseus’ grieving father and says she will not marry until she completes the web. In Book Two of Gareth Hinds’ Graphic Novel Version of the Odyssey, Antinous (one of the suitors) complains: “we agreed, and she wove all day at her loom for three long years, but at night by candlelight she would unpick her works.” (p. 15) Her lie temporarily staved off the suitors, and it was necessary for her and her son’s well-being.

In all of these situations, characters in Homer’s the Odyssey face problems that can not be solved without lies or deceit. Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus are in danger, and their only escape is through dishonesty. In many situations, lies are considered unjustifiable. However, in Homer’s the Odyssey, sometimes lies are the only way to survive.

Cite this paper

The Odyssey: Lies Save Lives. (2022, Feb 10). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-odyssey-lies-save-lives/

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