Odysseus is a legendary character depicted by half-legendary ancient poet Homer. Researches attribute The Odyssey – the second famous epic created by Homer to 800 – 600 BC. Homer’s works are the world treasure and the great example of oral tradition of his times. Odyssey is closely interconnected with the first Homerian Epic called Iliad. Homer describes the life and journey of the main character – greed hero Odysseus. The epic describes events that followed the fall of Troy. It also contains the description of life of Odysseus’s native island – Ithaca. Plutarch was a famous Greek essayist and historian. He had an opportunity to travel in the Mediterranean world and even visited Rome twice. He has a number of famous works, such as Life of Themistocles, Life of Aristide, and Herodotus, which depict the lives of individualities of the same names.
Odysseus is described as a smart and cunning character, who uses his wit to escape many troubles and protect himself and his family. He uses lies and deception in order to reach his aims. His intelligence helps him to survive in many difficult situations. Themistocles is also described by Plutarch as a man of great intelligence. Since yearly age Themistocles differs from the rest of his friends and wise people forecast his great career. He uses his intelligence for the sake of his native Athens from Persian invasion.
Themistocles lives in difficult times when his country is under the constant threat from the side of Persia. He takes responsibility for the future of Athens and challenges the existing ruler Aristides. Being a good strategist, Themistocles finds the only right solution to use the navy in order to defeat the enemy. Historians attribute to Themistocles the foundation of the Greek navy. His bravery and strategic plan is appreciated even by his enemies. His talents get high appreciation from the Persians he had defeated even after he was banished in his native Athens.
Homer doesn’t show his attitude to the characters he describes. He retells the events as an impartial judge. His works Iliad and Odyssey are aimed to depict the perfection of Greek people. They depict people and their inner world. So, in Odyssey Homer introduces us a number of different characters, which Odysseus meets during his travel. Homer insists that both obscure people, Laestrygonians, for example, and famous people, such as people of Nausicaafor, are equally interesting and fascinating.(Butcher)
Plutarch also followed this principle in his work Life of Themistocles. In this work he depicts a lot of people and a lot of events trying to be objective. He doesn’t try to show his opinion or to thrust it on people. He wants his readers to be the judges of the history.
In his two works Homer created a literary form, which is used till present day. He creates a narration about the heroic quest of the main character. He also creates an unfading portray of the literary hero and strong leader. The type of the protagonist created by Homer was used by many authors during many centuries. In addition, Homer described the type of a leader, which really existed during the times described and reading his Odyssey we can make our opinion about the type of social relationship, political structure and economy of the times described. The same type of the leader describes Plutarch in his Life of Themistocles. Themistocles is described as unmatched leader, who leads the Athenians to prosperity and wealth. The system declines when people lose faith in their leader and become disappointed in his authority. So, both works present the portraits of the leaders, who determine the destinies of people and countries they rule.
There is a significant difference in two great works of ancient literature, though. Homer, who created his work much earlier, describes the lives of people as fully dependent on the will of whimsical gods. Gods decide the fates of ordinary people same as the destinies of heroes like Odysseus. People become a toy in the hand of sometimes cruel, sometimes kind gods who control everything and people have no other choice but to obey their changing will. Even great heroes and protectors, such as Odysseus can not protest them. Gods in Odyssey possess human features and reflect the mythological and religious beliefs of Ancient Greeks (Hamilton). The power of gods is not so strong in Life of Themistocles by Plutarch. This can be explained by the time span between the time when two works were created. When Homer created his epic, which existed in oral form for a long time, it reflected the beliefs of his times and strong connection of mythological beliefs with everyday life. Same did Plutarch. So, we can trace the evolution of religious beliefs.
In these two works we can also trace the evolution of the Greek society and political thought and economic relations.
Homer’s Odyssey is so valuable not only for its literary meaning. It’s also interesting from historical point of view. In his work Homer gives good description of the time period, which followed the Trojan War. Historians regard Homer’s epics as a source of historical data. Ithaca, native island of Odysseus, is thought to be situated in the Ionian sea.
Initially the epic was created in order to glorify the Trojan War and Greek people. Society, described by Homer represents authoritarian power of ruling class. People are divided according to their origin and social position. The idea of a wise man and strong leader embodied in the character of Odysseus perfectly reflects the political system of those times. Odysseus kills suitors, who want to marry his wife and doesn’t feel guilty for killing the sons of the people, who died in journey, which he organized. Moreover, gods interfere with humans and stop people, who wanted to revenge Odysseus for killing their sons.
On the contrary, Plutarch depicts more organized society in Athens. The democracy is in its prosperity, the society is organized so that people are able to elect the governors and to displace them if they are not satisfied with their policy. Plutarch presents the society with private property, system of election, treasury and rights of the population and, what is really important, with organized inner and outer policy. Themistocles is able to organize the whole Greek society against the Persians.
Themistocles propagandizes among the Greek population the idea to attack the Persians. His idea is popular among people because he proposes new ways to attack the enemy – he proposes to defeat the enemy with the help of the navy. The existence of navy is another illustration that Athens were country on the high level of development that were ready to protect native people and defeat the enemies.
There was no official public treasure in Athens at that time but there was a law to distribute eight drachmas to everybody who served and so it helped to keep the fleet in order. So, we can see that it was a primitive tax structure that is the attribute of the developed society.
All in all, we can find similar features in the societies described by Homer and Plutarch. The governors of both societies used to be charismatic persons who could organize people and rule the country. The elections that took place were not always fair and the winners were tricky, as well.
Plutarch’s works had a great influence on English and French literature. We can feel Plutarch’s influence in William Shakespeare, Thomas North, Boswell, John Milton, Francis Bacon’s works. His literary heritage is really great and gives us an opportunity to plunge in the ancient times. Homer’s literary prophesy also became a source of inspiration for people of art. The themes and characters, described by two great authors are still used in modern literature and other arts.
Homer: The Odyssey. Translated by S. H. Butcher and A. Lang. With introd. and notes. New York, Collier,  The Harvard classics v. 22.
Barrow, R. H. 1967 Plutarch and His Times (Bloomington).
Keaney, J.J. & Robert Lamberton, edd., 1996. [Plutarch]: Essay on the Life and Poetry of Homer (Atlanta)
Dickie, Matthew W. 1991 “Heliodorus and Plutarch on the Evil Eye.” CP 86: 17 -29.
Hamilton, E. Echo of Greece. The Norton Library, W.W. Norton and Company, Inc. 1957.
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