The Transition in Greek Society



In the Odyssey, Homer presents a notable transition in Greek Society through the character of Odysseus and his feelings about life versus death as well as fame versus family. Odysseus’ attitude of wanting to stay alive in order to go back to his family presents the rather new emphasis on family in Greek society. Those new feelings directly challenge the old attitude of previous characters seen in the Iliad, where they mainly strive to achieve personal honor and glory. One of those characters is Achilles, as his death gives him everlasting fame among the rest of his men and all of Greece. Also seen in the Iliad is the character Hector, who chooses the honor of battle over staying with his family and being a coward in people’s eyes. Overall, the main concentration of the Iliad is war and honor, as it is full of heroic characters that meet death, and thus achieve a certain sense of immortality and fame.

At that time, those two aspects of immortality and fame were perhaps the most important in Greek Society, as Homer puts that emphasis into the characters of the Iliad. The men in the Iliad are mainly concentrated on battle, blood, and glory. Family is nowhere to be seen, as notably most of those men left their families in order to go fight the Trojans. It is obvious that through those aspects, Homer presents the general attitude of Greek society at that time, which is one of honor and glory. Those aspects are even better achieved through death in battle, as in the example of Achilles. His main concentration is fighting his enemies, and acts as if he were looking forward to dying among his comrades at the battle of Troy. Achilles then achieves everlasting fame and glory by losing his life in the pursuit of victory. An example of this is seen when his men are hardly bothered by his death, but rather praise him for dying with honor.

 In the Odyssey, Homer presents the transition of Greek society when he shifts the main concentration from honor and pride, to life and family. When Odysseus leaves Calypso’s island, more than anything he wants to go back to his home and family instead of dying an honorable death. So, after presenting us with the Iliad, a book concentrated on war, honor, and death, Homer now gives us the Odyssey, a book concentrated on home, family, and life. Odysseus strives to get back to Telemachus and Penelope, but encounters adventures along the way. Homer further stresses the change in Greek society from honor to family during Odysseus’ visit to the underworld. There, Odysseus encounters Achilles, a man with everlasting honor and fame, who is respected throughout all of Greece. The shift in attitude is best presented when even Achilles, who died an honorable death at Troy, now expresses his wish to give up all of his honor and glory in order to go back to his family and live a normal and simple life. This wish is somewhat shocking when compared to the attitude of the Iliad, but serves well in reinforcing the changing attitude in Greek society as seen in the Odyssey. In the end, Odysseus achieves his goals when he gets back home to his family. With that happening, Homer directly contrasts the end of the Iliad, when heroes achieve honor through death and victory. Through the two books of the Iliad and the Odyssey, Homer presents the transition in Greek society, from emphasizing personal honor and glory, towards concentrating more on family.

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