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
Glory and Honor Quotes in The Odyssey
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.