The Odyssey

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Themes and Colors
Fate, the Gods, and Free Will Theme Icon
Piety, Customs, and Justice Theme Icon
Cunning, Disguise, and Self-Restraint Theme Icon
Memory and Grief Theme Icon
Glory and Honor Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Odyssey, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Three somewhat distinct forces shape the lives of men and women in The Odyssey: fate, the interventions of the gods, and the actions of the men and women themselves. Fate is the force of death in the midst of life, the destination each man or woman will ultimately reach. Though the gods seem all-powerful, "not even the gods/ can defend a man, not even one they love, that day/ when fate takes hold and…

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The world of The Odyssey is defined by rules that prescribe human interactions. Important customs include hospitable behavior to strangers and guests, respect for family and marriage, and punishment of those who have violated these customs. The lines between these customs can be blurry, and at times the customs may even conflict – as in the case of Agamemnon's son Orestes, who must avenge Agamemnon's murder by his wife Clytemnestra, but in…

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The qualities of cunning, disguise, and self-restraint are closely related in The Odyssey – in some ways, they're sides of the same coin. Odysseus is cunning, or clever, in many instances throughout his journey; one needs cleverness in order to survive in this ancient world of gods and monsters. As part of his cunning, Odysseus often disguises his identity – sometimes in order to survive a dangerous trial, as when he claims to be called…

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Memory is a source of grief for many characters in The Odyssey. Grief and tears are proper ways to honor the memory of absent or departed friends, but grief as a mere expression of selfish sadness or fear is somewhat shameful – Odysseus often chides his crew for wailing in grief for fear of death. Moreover, the grief caused by memory is in many instances a guide to right action. Telemachus' grief for…

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Odysseus and other characters are motivated by pursuit of glory and honor. In the course of the story, the two terms acquire distinct meanings. Glory is attained mainly by victory in battle and by feats of strength and cunning, while honor is attained by just, lawful behavior. Sometimes the two pursuits conflict with one another, since striving for glory can lead to reckless, proud behavior that violates customs and angers the gods. For example, Odysseus…

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