Throughout the formative books (namely I to V) that shape the consensus of the poem as a whole, the author portrays a series of consistent motifs and themes – primarily utilising literary mediums akin to epic poetry of this period. Indeed, a great deal of this is highlighted through initial character portrayal and their subsequent interactions with those around them as the story progresses. This is particularly evident in the cases of the legendary Odysseus, his estranged son Telemachus (the main protagonists of the poem) and the Goddess Athene – who oversees the well being of the aforemented heroes.
Odysseus, the central character of the poem, is repeatedly portrayed as a courageous character renowned for his cunning; everyone who comes into contact with Odysseus is left in awe of his abilities.
The author reiterates this point without fail whenever Odysseus becomes the topic of conversation, and the diction employed is always wholly complimentary (Cook, Book I, l.128 “stout-hearted Odysseus”, Book III, l.98 “noble Odysseus”, Book IV, l. 270 “stout-minded Odysseus”). As with most heroes of epic poetry, the usual character traits are highlighted in Odysseus (strength, nobility, a skill with words, cunning, etc.) yet most important of all is the theme of kleos (Greek for ‘good reputation’, a heroes reward for the hardships they have had to face) – “the hero’s quest for immortal kleos is one of the oldest motifs of Greek epic and commonplace amongst all oral epic poetry – and Odysseus is no exception. Indeed, though kleos is an important paradigm of both Odysseus and Telemachus’ quests in the poem, “both embark on their respective journeys for quite different reasons. Whilst Telemachus has to leave Ithica to establish his identity, Odysseus must return there to do so (thereby reclaiming the throne and restoring order to both his family and nation).ï¿½”
The main body of direct characterisation in relation to Odysseus comes in Book V, in which (predictably) Odysseus fulfils all that is expected of him. However, two important characteristics are prominent; firstly, his capacity to endure hardships (Cook, Book V, l.219 – 224 “I shall bear it my breast, my long grieving heart…for I have suffered much already and endured much”), and second, in this enunciation, an absolute refusal to give in. It is in this emotional state that Odysseus exudes a sense of pathetic fallacy (employed by the author to ‘humanise’ the character – to show that there is something beyond the legendary warrior), an idea that is continued when Odysseus begins to fear that he will never escape Calypso’s cave (Cook, Book V, l.297 “his knees gave way and his own heart went slack”).
However, it is important to discern the fact that being afraid is not an unheroic trait (whereas yielding to fear would be) and Odysseus confirms his heroic persona yet again through his composure and skill (Cook, Book V, l. 324-326 “though he was wearied…he shunned death”). Finally, Odysseus’ innate goodness can also be highlighted through Athene’s never-wavering support of him during his plight; a sign not that he is unable to take action without her aid but that he is worthy of the Gods attention and interaction.
Despite being wholly absent in the introductory books, Odysseus’ memory and subsequent fate is a prevalent issue amongst those in the palace of Ithica. His memory unconsciously dominates the proceedings due to his untouched possessions (Cook, Book I, l.128-129 “…where many of stout-hearted Odysseus’ spears had been left standing”) and the chaos that has ensued during his absence – Ithica is without an officiated ruler and, with no definitive confirmation as to his father’s fate, Telemachus had been left in limbo; unable to take up his fathers vacated position or make a new name for himself. This is one of the central themes of the introductory books and it thusly means that the majority of character portrayal therein centres on that of Telemachus.