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Reap What You Sow

As you sow, so shall you reap. In other words, karma. Throughout The Odyssey, from beginning to end, the theme of karma is showcased by the characters. For every action made by Homer’s characters, there was a consequence. Although one might argue that perhaps these all of these “consequences” were part of a predestined fate, Homer’s rhetoric shows that although there might be a predestined fate, the nature of the road leading up to that fate, is determined by the actions of the men, or in other words, karma. Often times these acts of karma were formed out of vengeance, which ultimately leads the characters to undergo an endless cycle of vengeance.

However, to clarify; the karma Homer discusses is not to be confused with the the Hindu belief that a person’s actions will follow them into the next life, but more specifically the karmic consequences of one’s present actions.

The Ancient Greeks had a strong belief that if they honored the Gods, they would be rewarded. In turn, if they were to dishonor the Gods, they would be punished. (Zekas) In Book 9 of the Odyssey, Homer demonstrates the karmic consequences invoked by the Gods. The chapter starts out with Odysseus and his men being carried out to the land of Lotus-eaters as a result of a storm sent by Zeus to punish them for the pillage of Cicones. In Ismarus, the city of the Cicones,

Odysseus and his men plunder the land. However, despite Odysseus’ request to his men to leave, they get greedy and kill the Ciconian men, took their wives as conquests, got drunk of their wine, and killed a lot of livestock unnecessarily. As a result, not only did they suffer a great defeat at the hands of other Cicones; but they were punished by Jove, the leader of the Gods. Because of their actions, Jove sent a hurricane which blows them off course for nine days, before they reached the land of the Lotus-eaters.

During their brief stay in the land of the Lotus-eaters, they are given food by its inhabitants that led Odysseus’ men delirious and with only thoughts of eating more fruit, and nothing more. However, Odysseus is able to drag his men back to the ship. As this caused more heartache, this was probably part of Jove’s punishment for them. This again leads back to the theme of a predestined fate that is led by one’s actions. Perhaps their travels home would not have been afflicted with more sorrow wrought by Jove had they not committed such abominable actions in Cicones.

After they departed from the land of the Lotus-eaters, they reached the land of Cyclopes; which arguably is the best example of karma throughout the Odyssey. In the land of Cyclopes, they are ultimately captured by the Cyclopes Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon. The Ancient Greeks had a strong belief in xenia, or hospitality. Jove was sometimes known as Zeus. Xenios as one of his roles was the patron of xenia and guests. (Newton) As part of that role he expected hospitality from hosts to guests and guests to hosts, otherwise they should fear his vengeance.

The violation of xenia is made by both Polyphemus and by Odysseus; and both of them are in turn punished by Jove for those violations.

Odysseus commits the first violation of xenia, by entering Polyphemus’s home and eating his cheese without his consent. As a result of that action, he and his men are ultimately kidnapped by Polyphemus. Polyphemus ends up eating several of the men, which in turn is a violation of xenia. As Polyphemus was the son of Neptune, he did not feel as if the laws of xenia set by Jove applied to him; despite the warnings Odysseus delivered to him of the results that would happen if he was to disregard xenia. As a result of his wrongdoings, he is outsmarted by Odysseus and stabbed in the eye, allowing Odysseus and his men to escape.

Unfortunately, the endless cycle of karma doesn’t end after the men’s escape from the land of Cyclopes. Because Odysseus had stabbed Polyphemus’s eye, rendering him blind he angered Neptune. Neptune then continues to make Odysseus’ journey back home difficult for the remainder of The Odyssey. (Homer 10) And although, Odysseus made sacrifices to Jove following his escape; they were ignored due to the violation he made of xenia by hurting and stealing from his host. Thus as a result, these actions continued the brutal cycle of karma.

Homer’s rhetoric explains how Ancient Greeks believed that karmic consequences were inflicted on men by the Gods. These Gods were a central part of their lives as demonstrated in the Odyssey. Mortals were punished for any of their wrongdoings as illustrated by Odysseus, his men, and Polyphemus. Although a man’s fate might already be predestined; such as Odysseus might have originally been to return home to his wife, his actions determined the manner of his journey back to his wife and home. If a man decided to do wrong, then he will receive the same treatment back, and vice versa; at the hands of the Gods.

Works Cited

Homer. “The Odyssey.” The Internet Classics Archive | The Odyssey by Homer, classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.html. Accessed 1 November 2017.

Newton, Rick M. “Assembly and Hospitality in the Cyclopeia.” College Literature, vol. 35, no.4, Fall2008, pp. 1-44. EBSCOhost libprox1.slcc.edu//login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db= lfh&AN=34632975&site=eds-live.

Zekas, Christodoulous, “The Language of the Gods : Oblique Communication and Divne Persuasion in Homer’s Odyssey.” 2010 EBSCOhost, libporx1.slcc.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/lohin.aspx?direct=true&db= edsble&AN=edsble.552326&site=eds-live.

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