The Odyssey

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Glory and Honor Theme Analysis

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.
Glory and Honor Theme Icon

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 blinds the Cyclops Polyphemus in order to avenge the deaths of six crew members: the violence is an act of honor because vengeance is customary and just.

Odysseus escapes the Cyclops with most of his crew in part by naming himself Nobody – a symbolic act of self-effacement. But at the last moment, he calls out to the Cyclops to declare that it was he, Odysseus, who defeated him, so that the Cyclops can spread his fame and win him glory. And because Odysseus names himself, the Cyclops brings great misfortune to him and his crew by inciting the rage of Poseidon (the Cyclops' father). In seeking glory, he betrays his crew and greatly prolongs his journey home. Similarly, he decides to face both Scylla and Charybdis, "hell-bent yet again on battle and on feats of arms," although it costs him several of his men.

In the course of his journey home, however, Odysseus seems to repent of his youthful hunt for glory. Disguised as a beggar, he says to one of the suitors: "I too seemed destined to be a man of fortune once/ and a wild wicked swath I cut, indulged my lust for violence…. Let not man ever be lawless all his life,/ just take in peace what gifts the gods will send." He humbles himself in front of the suitors in order to avenge the great dishonor they have brought to his wife and his household. Although the vengeance brings him glory in battle, it is ultimately an act of honor. By the end of the journey, honor rather than glory becomes the guide to right action.

Glory and Honor ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Glory and Honor appears in each section of The Odyssey. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Glory and Honor Quotes in The Odyssey

Below you will find the important quotes in The Odyssey related to the theme of Glory and Honor.
Book 1 Quotes

Ah how shameless – the way these mortals blame the gods.
From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes,
but they themselves, with their own reckless ways,
compound their pains beyond their proper share.

Related Characters: Zeus (speaker)
Page Number: 1.37-40
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Zeus, the king of the gods, surveys the lives of Odysseus and his son, Telemachus. As Zeus prepares to meddle in the life of Odysseus--sending a messenger to free Odysseus from his captivity  on Calypso's island--he comments on the relationship between humans and gods. People, he notes, are fond of blaming the gods whenever anything bad happens to them. The truth, however, is that the gods are only partly responsible for human misery--humans themselves are capable of making choices (usually), and thus compounding their own suffering unnecessarily.

On one level, Zeus is being almost comically disingenuous here, as he complains about mortals denying free will while simultaneously Zeus is meddling in mortal affairs and affecting their fates. But Zeus's observations also complicate our understanding of free will and fate. While the gods of ancient Greece are extremely powerful, they leave humans space in which to exercise their freedom (but the exact amount of free will is very blurry and ambiguous). Although Zeus is complaining about the people who blame the gods for their own misfortune, his statement could be interpreted optimistically: humans do have the power to control their own destinies. In the poem, we'll see Odysseus exercising his own agency and using his ingenuity and courage to control his fate.

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Book 2 Quotes

You should be ashamed yourselves,
mortified in the face of neighbors living round about!
Fear the gods' wrath – before they wheel in outrage
and make these crimes recoil on your heads.

Related Characters: Telemachus (speaker), Antinous, Eurymachus, Ctesippus
Page Number: 2.69-72
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, young Telemachus yells at the suitors who have overrun his mother Penelope's court. In the absence of Odysseus, suitors have come from across the land to ask for Penelope's hand in marriage, and they're all incredibly rude and sloppy. Telemachus angrily warns the suitors that the gods will punish them for their rudeness one day (foreshadowing the final scenes of the poem).

Telemachus's outburst reminds us that he's too young and weak to attack the suitors himself, but he's also portrayed as a moral authority in the poem: he's been trained in right and wrong, and immediately recognizes when the suitors overstep their position. In ancient Greece, the highest law is the law of the household: visitors and guests are required to be polite and orderly. Thus, for the suitors to be rude and spend all their time in Penelope's home, abusing the law of hospitality, is a sign of their immorality--a crime for which they'll eventually pay with their lives.

Book 5 Quotes

Three, four times blessed, my friends-in-arms
who died on the plains of Troy those years ago,
serving the sons of Atreus to the end. Would to god
I'd died there too and met my fate that day ….
A hero's funeral then, my glory spread by comrades –
now what a wretched death I'm doomed to die!

Related Characters: Odysseus (speaker)
Page Number: 5.338-445
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Odysseus nearly drowns, thanks to the plotting of Poseidon, the god of the sea. Odysseus thinks that he's going to die in the middle of the sea, and wishes that he could have died on the battlefields of Troy instead.

It's important to understand why Odysseus would have preferred to die in Troy, as he declares in this monolgue. Odysseus still abides by the unwritten code of honor and glory: there is no better way for a man to die than on the battlefield, fighting for his people--and it's even better if the story of his death is then retold and glorified to others. To die on the middle of the sea is undignified, even feminine: Odysseus wishes his death could have been a major spectacle, witnessed by his followers and spread throughout Greece.

But there's another reason why Odysseus wishes he could have died in Troy: Odysseus can't stand the agony of almost making it back home. For Odysseus, one torture of the Trojan War was being separated from his wife and child--and now, he's eager to return to them. Poseidon wages psychological warfare on Odysseus by allowing him to get close to Ithaca, but not actually letting him make it home. Odysseus can't bear his own nostalgia and homesickness.

Book 8 Quotes

The gods don't hand out all their gifts at once,
not build and brains and flowing speech to all.
One man may fail to impress us with his looks
but a god can crown his words with beauty, charm,
and men look on with delight when he speaks out.
Never faltering, filled with winning self-control,
he shines forth at assembly grounds and people gaze
at him like a god when he walks through the streets.
Another man may look like a deathless one on high
but there's not a bit of grace to crown his words.

Related Characters: Odysseus (speaker)
Page Number: 8.193-202
Explanation and Analysis:

Odysseus is here goaded into competing with the talented athletes of Nausicaa's kingdom. Odysseus is initially reluctant to compete in athletic events of any kind, because he wants to conceal his excellence--he's afraid that the others will deduce that he's a king. Odysseus modestly claims that he's not good at everything: after all, people who are good at talking aren't necessarily good at sports.

Odysseus's words are highly ironic, since he's a hero: an all-around "good man." Odysseus is a clever speaker, a talented warrior, a great leader, a fantastic athlete, and a handsome man, too. Indeed, James Joyce commented that Odysseus was the most "complete man" in all of Western literature: a father, a son, a husband, a warrior, a poet. In short, Odysseus embodies more human virtues than just about anyone else--but here he feels he must restrain those virtues, and cover them with a vague speech about how "no one's perfect."

Book 9 Quotes

Calypso the lustrous goddess tried to hold me back,
deep in her arching caverns, craving me for a husband.
So did Circe, holding me just as warmly in her halls,
the bewitching queen of Aeaea keen to have me too.
But they never won the heart inside me, never.
So nothing is as sweet as a man's own country.

Related Characters: Odysseus (speaker), Calypso, Circe
Page Number: 9.33-38
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of this book, Odysseus introduces himself as a lover of his own country, and his own wife (Penelope). Odysseus reinforces his loyalty to his homeland by claiming that beautiful women like Circe and Calypso have tried to seduce him away from his family, but he always proved too strong for them. Odysseus's lust for women is nothing compared to his affection for his home: his family, his house, and his entire kingdom.

The passage is an important statement of the key theme of the poem: the importance of a home, and the memory of home. Odysseus is given many opportunities along the way back to Ithaca to live a good life: he could have stayed on Calypso's island, for example. Instead, Odysseus remembers his duty to his wife and child, and his duty to his subjects. In short, Odysseus proves himself to be a noble king by refusing to stop short of Ithaca. At the same time, Odysseus is further glorified as a hero by the fact that these goddesses, witches, and queens all fall hopelessly in love with him.

Book 11 Quotes

Even so, you and your crew may still reach home,
suffering all the way, if you only have the power
to curb their wild desire and curb your own.

Related Characters: Tiresias (speaker), Odysseus
Related Symbols: Food
Page Number: 11.117-119
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Tiresias urges Odysseus to obey the laws of the gods so that he and his crew can return to Ithaca alive and well. Tiresias instructs Odysseus to refrain from killing and eating the famous Oxen of the Sun, the sacred cattle of the god Helios. Tiresias warns Odysseus that if his men kill the oxen, the gods will punish them all very harshly and make their journey back to Ithaca all but impossible.

It's interesting that Tiresias frames Odysseus's challenge as a test of "wild desire." Throughout the poem, Homer will portray gluttony, lust, and other bodily sins as crimes of desire more than anything else. A true leader, it's implied, can control his desires, and those of his followers, completely: instead of giving in to hunger, thirst, lust, etc., he uses his mind and his willpower to stay strong.

No winning words about death to me, shining Odysseus!
By god, I'd rather slave on earth for another man –
some dirt-poor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive –
than rule down here over all the breathless dead.

Related Characters: Achilles (speaker), Odysseus
Page Number: 11.555-558
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Odysseus, still in the Underworld, visits the ghost of Achilles, who has been sent to the Underworld after being killed on the battlefield at Troy. In life, Achilles made a choice: he decided to die young in return for everlasting glory. But here, Achilles makes it clear that he regrets his own choice: if he could go back, he would choose to live a long, forgettable life, rather than surrender to death so soon.

The passage is important because it calls into question an entire code of honor. Achilles was the very embodiment of glory and honor in the Iliad, the precursor to the Odyssey. Here, Homer suggests that there's something lacking in Achilles's way of life: Achilles was too willing to sacrifice his worldly pleasure for the abstract promise of glory. Odysseus, an altogether different kind of hero, is by now less interested in glory and valor--instead of fighting and dying on the battlefield, he survives and tries to return to his home. Although Odysseus has previously wished he could have died on the battlefield, his encounter with Achilles makes him see that he should savor his home, his family, and a long life of peace. In short, the scene critiques Achilles's militaristic, aggressive way of looking at the world, and puts forth a more moderate, harmonious, and altogether modern form of heroism.

Book 12 Quotes

So stubborn! …
Hell-bent again yet again on battle and feats of arms?
Can't you bow to the deathless gods themselves?
Scylla's no mortal, she's an immortal devastation.

Related Characters: Circe (speaker), Odysseus, Scylla
Page Number: 12.125-128
Explanation and Analysis:

Odysseus has captured the witch Circe, who gives Odysseus advice for how to survive the coming dangers. Circe explains that Odysseus will have to sail past two dangers: the whirlpool known as Charybdis, and the monster known as Scylla. Odysseus believes that he'll be able to fight off Scylla without losing any of his men, but Circe angrily corrects him: Scylla is immortal, and can't be defeated by mere mortals. Odysseus will have to sacrifice six of his own men to feed Scylla if he hopes to get back to Ithaca.

Circe's point of view is interesting: she encourages Odysseus to accept the inevitable; i.e., accept the fact that he's going to have to lose some men in order to get home. She further accuses Odysseus of being overly eager to fight, and suggests that he's hopelessly violent and desirous of glory. In short, Circe is urging Odysseus to accept his limitations, and sometimes take the easier way out. Odysseus is a hero, but he's also mortal, meaning that he'll never be able to beat Scylla. Odysseus's boundless confidence in his own abilities is part of what makes him such a compelling character, but as we'll see, it also makes him reckless and careless at times.

Book 17 Quotes

Odysseus was torn…
Should he wheel with his staff and beat the scoundrel senseless? –
or hoist him by the midriff, split his skull on the rocks?
He steeled himself instead, his mind in full control.

Related Characters: Odysseus, Melanthius
Page Number: 17.257-260
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Odysseus, disguised as an old beggar, ventures toward his palace. While he's walking there a goatherd named Melanthius gives him a kick and insults him. Odysseus is tempted to reveal himself to Melanthius and punish him for his disobedience. But instead, Odysseus keeps his self-control and walks on. If he were to get in a  fight with the goatherd, he'd ruin his plan by revealing his strength and youth.

The passage shows that Odysseus is a very different kind of hero than the ones we met during the Trojan War (including younger-Odysseus himself, at times). Odysseus is a talented warrior, but by now his mind is even more powerful than his body: he has the discipline and caution needed to pull off a complicated plan, and is even willing to take a humiliating beating if it means the plan will succeed. The passage thus suggests that Odysseus has become more disciplined during his journey home. The old Odysseus had ruined his own plan by bragging to the cyclops--the new Odysseus, however, isn't so reckless or so arrogant.

Book 21 Quotes

Shame?...
How can you hope for any public fame at all?
You who disgrace, devour a great man's house and home!
Why hang your heads in shame over next to nothing?

Related Characters: Penelope (speaker), Antinous, Eurymachus
Page Number: 21.369-372
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Odysseus, still disguised as a beggar, is in the court of Ithaca, surrounded by arrogant suitors. Odysseus asks to handle a heavy bow that--little known to anyone else--was once his property. While the suitors are reluctant to give the bow to a mere beggar, Penelope convinces them to hand it over, arguing that the suitors have already embarrassed themselves enough by squatting in another man's house. In general, she angrily criticizes the suitors for disrespecting Odysseus's memory, and abusing the sacred law of hospitality.

Penelope's speech reinforces her status as a moral center of the poem. Penelope sees firsthand the rudeness and cruelty of the suitors on her property; moreover, she's fully aware of the laws of hospitality, which the suitors are breaking by spending far too much time in the court. It's interesting to note that Penelope's criticism is enough to convince the suitors to hand over the bow to Odysseus, setting in motion the slaughter that follows. The suitors may not be good men, but they're self-aware enough to feel shame and embarrassment about some things--i.e., they know they're doing wrong by living on Odysseus's property, or at least they feel ashamed of being scolded by the woman they're trying to woo.

Like an expert singer skilled at lyre and song –
who strains a string to a new peg with ease,
making the pliant sheep-gut fast at either end –
so with his virtuoso ease Odysseus strung his mighty bow.

Related Characters: Odysseus
Page Number: 21.453-456
Explanation and Analysis:

In this satisfying, climactic passage Odysseus--still disguised as a beggar--succeeds in a seemingly impossible task. He's able to string a heavy bow, which only the former "King Odysseus" was able to handle, and which all the suitors have failed to string. Homer compares the skill with which Odysseus strings the bow to the way a talented bard strings a lyre. The scene represents the first sign for the suitors that Odysseus the beggar isn't really a beggar at all: Odysseus is confirming his status as the rightful king of Ithaca, and also beginning to reveal his skill and power (both as a warrior and as a cunning, creative man--like a singer or musician) to those who have usurped his position.

Critics have noted that this passage is one of the only times in the poem when Homer alludes to his own profession: Homer was a professional bard, meaning that he had to play the lyre and perform for large audiences. Moreover, by comparing himself to Odysseus, Homer might be implying his own status as a great man, skillful and powerful even if in humble ways. Like Odysseus, Homer is clearly an intelligent person and a quick thinker, and enjoys showing off his abilities.

Book 22 Quotes

No fear of the gods who rule the skies up there,
no fear that men's revenge might arrive someday –
now all your necks are in the noose – your doom is sealed!

Related Characters: Odysseus (speaker), Antinous, Eurymachus
Page Number: 22.40-42
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Odysseus has revealed himself as the rightful king of Ithaca. The suitors, who have been squatting on his property for years now, beg for mercy. But Odysseus refuses to grant them mercy of any kind: there's nobody who can save them now. Odysseus and his son Telemachus proceed to slaughter every suitor on his property.

It's important to note the obvious pleasure that Odysseus takes in avenging the suitors. While he'll later scold others for rejoicing in the deaths of the suitors, he seems to do exactly that here, gloating that he's tricked them all, and that nobody can save the suitors now. Perhaps Homer believes that Odysseus is entitled to some gloating--he's been trying to get home and regain his throne for years, and now that he's back, he should be able to dole out punishments to people like Antinous who have broken the sacred laws of hospitality and marriage.

Book 24 Quotes

What good sense resided in your Penelope –
how well Icarius's daughter remembered you,
Odysseus, the man she married once!
The fame of her great virtue will never die.
The immortal gods will lift a song for all mankind,
a glorious song in praise of self-possessed Penelope.

Related Characters: Agamemnon (speaker), Odysseus, Penelope
Page Number: 24.213-218
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, the ghost of Agamemnon, confined to the Underworld, crosses paths with the ghosts of the various suitors Odysseus has just slaughtered. Agamemnon is glad to hear that Odysseus has reclaimed his place in Ithaca, because it proves that Penelope was a good and faithful wife to him. Agamemnon was murdered by his own wife, but he's pleased to hear that Penelope really is a loyal, moral woman.

Even if Agamemnon is trapped in the Underworld forever, he's gets some relief with the knowledge that not all marriages are treacherous, and Odysseus has come to a happy ending. Furthermore, Agamemnon's speech reminds us that, in a way, Penelope is another true hero of the poem: her intelligence and faithfulness will be remembered for just as long as Odysseus's wiliness and strength. Furthermore, both king and queen are ultimately most praised for their self-restraint--Odysseus when he allowed himself to be disguised as a humble beggar, or chose to give up glory in pursuit of his ultimate goal, and Penelope when she chose to remain loyal to Odysseus, despite all indications that he would never return from Troy.

Now that royal Odysseus has taken his revenge,
let both sides seal their pacts that he shall reign for life,
and let us purge their memories of the bloody slaughter
of their brothers and their sons. Let them be friends,
devoted as in the old days. Let peace and wealth
come cresting through the land.

Related Characters: Zeus (speaker), Odysseus
Page Number: 24.533-538
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final pages of the poem, the gods tie up all the "loose ends" in Ithaca. While it's possible that civil war could break out with the return of Odysseus and the slaughter of the suitors (all young noblemen with influential families), Zeus ensures that both sides of the conflict make peace and unite around Odysseus's newly restored leadership. In this way, the gods intervene to ensure a happy ending to the story.

The passage is one final reminder of the relationship between free will and divine intervention. Zeus ties up the loose ends, but only because he's pleased with what Odysseus has accomplished all by himself: i.e., his defeat of the suitors and his reunion with his equally-admirable wife and child. In other words, Zeus chooses to intervene in the lives of the people who deserve his help. After years of war, jealousy, and betrayal, all caused by Helen's abduction from Greece, Zeus decides to shut the book on the whole affair and bring some happiness to the human race (at least in the case of this poem). He rewards Odysseus, out of all those involved in the Trojan War, because Odysseus has proven his own worth as a free human being beyond all doubt.