The Role of Family in Homer’s Odyssey

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by M. J. Joachim

If you’ve ever been homesick, you understand the longing for family that Odysseus, Penelope and Telemachos faced in Homer’s “Odyssey”. This is a story that everyone can relate to, as the characters accept the challenges of dealing with the world face to face individually, yet united as one in their family spiritually. No obstacles can discourage them from their ultimate goal of reuniting. No temptation can distract them. They are bound by blood and are fully aware of the strength of that bond.

Men who leave their homes for the greater good often only survive because they know what awaits them when they return. Such was the case with Odysseus. He was called to serve, but in the process was long delayed in coming home, so long in fact that his son Telemachos went to find him.

Telemachos was a good son who defended his mother, Penelope’s honor. You see while Odysseus was away, many men sought to convince her Odysseus had died so they could marry her. The family home of Odysseus was in turmoil, as these men puffed about like peacocks trying to win the prize and claim Penelope for a bride. Telemachos sought to end this by appealing to the authorities, but he did not succeed.

Penelope knew in the deepest part of her heart that Odysseus was alive and would come home some day. She did what she could to keep the men from becoming frustrated with her unwillingness to choose a suitable spouse from their pack. And indeed, they were like a pack of wolves, seeking to devour the very essence of family bonds and love that originated in Odysseus’s home.

Faith, the kind that can only be found when all hope should be lost, is what kept Odysseus, Penelope and Telemachos going. Odysseus never gave up hope. He never reasoned away desire or accepted false rewards. Penelope too stood fast in her resolve to wait for Odysseus’s return. Telemachos took action and went in search of his father, despite the many dangers he knew he would face to accomplish the task, and ultimately bring his father home safe and sound.

Each of us can relate to the plight of this poor family. We know that we would move heaven and earth to find a lost loved one, despite any obstacles we might face. We understand the brokenness of Penelope as she waited against all reason for the return of her husband. We feel the fear she expressed upon realizing her son secretly left home to fix things any way he could. Telemachos, in an effort to care for his mother, did not give her the opportunity to forbid him to go in search of his father.

So many people struggle with these types of family challenges daily. Whether it is soldiers serving far away or family members being abducted, we know what it’s like to cling to hope, regardless of all common sense and reason. Perhaps that’s why scholars have called Homer’s Odyssey, “The Greatest Tale of All Time.” It is based on true matters of the heart, and presents the story of family as the foundation for all other things in life, designating its importance to the highest of all priorities.