A Hero's First Death, an essay on Homer's The Odyssey

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A Hero's First Death

David Blumenthal

In two of the founding stories of our culture, there seems to be a requirement that people

who have experienced something horrible cannot establish a proper home. In the Bible, the

Israelites wandered through the desert for 40 years to ensure that an entire generation passed and

none of the people who were slaves in Egypt saw their homeland. The same is true in Homer's

the Odyssey. Odysseus and his men, who spent many years at war, must die off instead of going

home. However, the difference between these two stories is that while Moses too had to die,

Odysseus was destined to see his homeland anyway. Therefore, to do this he also has to die and

then be reborn. When Odysseus is finally ready to die, he dies and Athena allows him to be


Odysseus spends a long time fighting death. According to the writer, Odysseus "fought

only to save his life" (1.9-10):

When he was a prisoner of Kyklopes who "feasts" (9.373) on men,

Odysseus drives a "red hot bar" (9.421) into the man-eater's "great eye socket" (9.419). He had

to do this instead of killing the Cyclops because if he "killed him [Odysseus and his men] perished

there is well, for [they] could never move his ponderous doorway slab aside" (9.328-330). He

needs to be smart, to really think if he is to save himself. He can't just exact revenge, which is

what he would like to do. When Odysseus passes the "huge and monstrous" (12.105) Skylla,

"eternal evil itself" (12.138-139) , he takes up "two heavy spears" (12.294-295) even though

Kirke tells him "there is no fighting" (12.141) Skylla. He fights even when there can be no fight.

When Odysseus goes down into the underworld, he still crouches...