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Consuming everything: The symbolic use of food in The Odyssey

Homer’s epic The Odyssey is superimposed on the backdrop of a common ancient Greek society. As the major character, Odysseus, and his companions travel from place to location on their way to their hometown of Ithaka, numerous folks welcome them in a show of hospitality highly valued in ancient Greece. In huge element, such hospitality requires the preparation of feasts, and the providing of every single guest ample amounts of food. Some guests, however, naturally take benefit of this hospitality, thus showing their lack of discipline and manners. Though meals is positively related with the Greek tradition of hospitality, Homer makes use of it in a damaging sense in The Odyssey to represent the gluttony, lack of self-manage, and lack of civility found in a variety of characters.



Upon docking their ship on the island of the Lotus-eaters, Odysseus’ guys engage in a gluttonous feast of lotus fruit, which causes them to neglect their duties to Odysseus. They are so hypnotized by the scrumptious taste that “any of them who ate the honey-sweet fruit…was unwilling to take any message back, or to go away, but they wanted to keep there with the lotus-eating folks, feeding on lotus, and overlook the way home” (IX:94-97). Odysseus, the leader of the group – and at this point the only man in full possession of his faculties – lastly requires them back “weeping, by force, to the ships…in haste, for worry an individual else may possibly taste of the lotus and neglect the way home” (IX:98-102). With no Odysseus, the guys would by no means have been in a position to find their way back to the ships, and their gluttony would definitely have led to their undoing.



Odysseus’ men once more show their lack of self-manage by slaughtering Helios’ cattle for dinner against the orders of Circe. This time, their actions outcome in disaster. Odysseus attempts to dissuade his companion Eurylochos from hunting the herds by reminding him of Circe’s warning: “if you do harm them, then I testify to the destruction of your ship and your companions” (XII:137-141). Eurylochos, nevertheless, disregards Odysseus’ warning and tells the other people,

All deaths are detestable for wretched mortals, but hunger is the sorriest way to die…Come then, let us cut out the ideal of Helios’ cattle, and sacrifice them to the immortals…we will build a rich temple to the sun god Helios Hyperion…but if, in anger over his higher-horned cattle, he wishes to wreck our ship…I would far rather gulp the waves and shed my life in them once for all, than be pinched to death on this desolate island (XII:340-351).

The males feast on the finest of Helios’ cattle, and seven days later they leave the island to embark on the next leg of their journey. Their grave misjudgment is not forgotten by Zeus, however a fantastic storm comes upon the ship and Odysseus’ males are “thrown in the water, bobbing like sea crows, washed away on the running waves” (XII:403-419). Odysseus mourns the fate of his companions, despite the fact that he is forced to accept it “even so he could not save his companions, difficult though he strove to they were destroyed by their own wild recklessness, fools, who devoured the oxen of Helios, the sun god, and he took away the day of their homecoming” (I:six-9).



As Odysseus and his men continue on their journey, they meet several strange creatures, which includes the monstrous Cyclops, whose complete lack of civility is displayed by their propensity to consume individuals without having hesitation. When Odysseus encounters one particular such Cyclops, Polyphemus, and tries to ask him inquiries, Polyphemus:

[springs] up and [reaches] for his companions, [catches] up two with each other and [slaps] them, like killing puppies, against the ground…then he [cuts] them up limb by limb and [gets] supper ready, and like a lion, with no leaving something, [eats] them, entrails, flesh and the marrowy bones alike (IX:287-294).

In an try to intoxicate the monster, Odysseus then brings him some wine, which he “recklessly drains” three instances (IX: 362). When Polyphemus ultimately becomes drunk, he falls asleep, “and the wine [gurgles] up from his gullet with gobs of human meat. This is his drunken vomiting” (IX:371-374). This graphic imagery conveys the Cyclops’ brutality and gluttony as fearsome man-eating creatures.



Odysseus and his males also encounter a race of giants identified as the Laistrygones they seem to be good men and women, until they devour some of the males. Upon being pointed in the direction of the Laistrygonian king’s property, Odysseus and his crew locate the wife of Antiphates, a fearsome queen as massive as a mountain peak. At once she summons King Antiphates, who promptly snatches up and eats 1 of Odysseus’ companions for dinner (X:114-116). He then calls to the rest of the Laistrygonian giants, who come “swarming up from each and every direction, tens of thousands of them, and not like men, like giants…pelting [the] males with man-sized boulders…and [carrying] them away for their joyless feasting” (X:118-124). The fearsome creatures destroy all of the ships except that of Odysseus himself, and he barely escapes from the terrible island. Once once again, by watching their buddies being eaten, the crew of Odysseus experiences firsthand the gluttony so prevalent amongst wild and uncivilized monsters.

Maybe the most insolent, disrespectful and gluttonous characters in the epic, the potential suitors of Odysseus’ wife Penelope are often described in various stages of consuming. In fact, in one particular of the extremely very first references to them in the operate, the goddess Athene complains about how they “forever slaughter [Odysseus’] crowding sheep and lumbering horn-curved cattle” (I:88-92). They also eat greedily at Penelope’s table, drawing resentment from the swineherd Eumaios, who grumbles, “the fattened swine are devoured by the suitors, who have no regard for anyone in their minds, no pity…they forcibly consume up his property, and spare nothing…and they violently draw the wine and waste it” (XIV:80-95). Odysseus is similarly angered when he comes house to learn the suitors sitting down to but another feast, and he decides to murder them just before they can indulge themselves after more. He shoots an arrow against Antinoos, who is “on the point of lifting up a fine two-handled goblet of gold…moving it so as to drink of the wine” (XXII:eight-11) and it spears the suitor in the throat. As he is shot, Antinoos drops the goblet and “with a thrust of his foot [kicks] back the table from him, so that all the great meals [is] scattered on the ground, bread and baked meats together” (XXII:19-21). This scene is the culmination of the outrageous gluttony of the suitors and the symbol employed to represent it throughout the epic – when the suitors are finally punished for their behavior, the food spills all more than the ground, just as their blood spills from them.

The powerful symbol of meals as an instrument of gluttony in The Odyssey suggests that gluttony is a thing to be avoided certainly, those in the epic who indulge excessively unfailingly meet with death and destruction. Even Odysseus’ personal guys fall into this trap, as demonstrated by the incidents in the land of the Lotus-eaters as effectively as in the land of Helios and his cattle. The only issue that saves the males from total destruction is that their leader, Odysseus himself, is wise adequate to abstain from excessive indulgence he is able to drag his males back to the ship right after their lotus feast, and he also escapes the island of Helios with his life, as opposed to his doomed crew. The reality that Odysseus in the end triumphs in returning to Ithaka and conquering the suitors suggests that his wisdom in avoiding gluttony helped him in his journey, at least by keeping his favor in the eyes of the gods. Odysseus’ sensible leadership and avoidance of the temptation of gluttony carries him to victory, and to a protected and triumphant homecoming.
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