How Far Is Odysseus Motivated by Nostos?

Published: 2021-07-18 14:00:05
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Category: Odysseus, Odyssey

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“Odysseus is motivated only by his desire to return home (nostos). ” How far do you agree with this view? In your answer you should: * Consider how Odysseus behaves on his journey home; * Include an analysis of his motives; * Support your answer with evidence from The Odyssey. On his journey home, Odysseus encounters many obstacles which he attempts to overcome swiftly so that he may arrive home as soon as possible; however, it can be argued that nostos is not his only motive throughout his journey, though it may be the most significant.
In Book 5, Homer presents Odysseus for the first time, and we find him weeping for his “lost home” and discover that he has been doing so for the past seven years every day. This shows how much he longs for his nostos and that this is his main aim in life. However, despite his apparent pain and homesickness, he has not yet attempted to leave the island, nor does he hate Calypso for keeping him here, as he sleeps with her every night and shows no aversion to eating and talking with her.
Of course, if he did try to escape he would die immediately, so his motive for not doing so is self-preservation rather than nostos; on the other hand, if he died he would never achieve his nostos, so perhaps his sole motive is nostos. Furthermore, he declines Calypso’s offer of immortality as he claims his “never-failing wish” is to achieve his nostos. In Book 9, Odysseus tells the Phaeacians that he and his men raided Ismarus when they left Troy.

Odysseus’ motive for this could either be a desire for booty (in which case he wants kleos rather than nostos) or a desire for supplies (in which case he does want to achieve nostos, and so is preparing himself for the journey). Also, he is anxious to leave Ismarus as soon as possible which shows a desire for nostos; however, he allows his men to overrule this decision, which either shows that his motive is to please his men, or that his desire for nostos is not very strong at this point.
If it is the former, his sole motive his not nostos. (Incidentally, when he drags two of his men away from the Lotus-eaters, his motive is to please his men as well as to be a good leader, not nostos, which shows that his sole motive is not nostos at this point). In Book 9, Odysseus explains how he tried to escape the Cyclops’ cave as he and his men were in “mortal peril”; thus, his motive was self-preservation and good leadership (as he wanted to save his men as well).
Furthermore, the reason they were trapped in the cave in the first place was because Odysseus desired booty; though his men tried to urge him away, he wanted “gifts” and would not leave without them. In addition to this, he called out his true name to the Cyclops as he wanted kleos and thus provoked the Cyclops to curse him (which hindered his nostos). At this point in his journey, he was motivated more by kleos than by nostos. In Book 10, we find out that Odysseus stays with Aeolus for an entire month, thus fulfilling the laws of xenia by not rushing away, so piety seems to take precedence over nostos here.
When he has left Aeolia, however, he is certainly anxious to reach Ithaca swiftly and even takes complete control of the “sheet of the ship” in his “anxiety”. He does not relax until they are finally in sight of Ithaca. Furthermore, when the winds blow him back to Aeolia, he does not attempt to linger once more but immediately requests Aeolus to assist him in reaching Ithaca as soon as possible and feels “deep distress” when the request his denied, showing how important nostos is to him.
In Book 10, Odysseus also relates how he stayed with Circe for a year simply finding “pleasure in living” and enjoying himself. He does not feel any pressing need to return to Ithaca, and it is his men who finally remind him that they need to go home. This shows that he is not motivated solely by nostos on his journey. On the other hand, when his men urge him to leave Circe’s island, he is quick to agree and they leave the next day, showing his eagerness to return home – however, despite nostos being the significant motive it is clear that it is not the sole motive at this point.
In Book 12, Odysseus encounters the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis and the island of Thrinacie. Here it is very clear that his motive is not nostos; he listens to the Sirens rather than putting wax in his ears, motivated by kleos and curiosity; he attempts to kill Scylla rather than sailing swiftly past, again motivated by kleos; he easily gives in to his men and lands on Thrinacie despite knowing that their “deadliest peril” (and greatest obstacle to nostos) lies there, claiming his motive is that he cannot go against the majority vote.
Although he does pray to the gods for a “way of escape” from Thrinacie, he can also be motivated by wanting supplies and self-preservation, so his sole motive is not nostos. On Scherie, Odysseus states that “All I seek now is my passage home”. The use of “all” shows that it is the only thing he wishes for and therefore his sole motive since he has left Calypso’s island. It can be argued, however, that it is only because Odysseus has achieved kleos (his name is known even in the heavens) and no longer has the responsibility of his men that his sole motive is now nostos.
Also, he has now been away from home for twenty years, and is now truly homesick. Odysseus’ arrival in Ithaca is quite anti-climatic: although he is “overjoyed” and kisses the earth, Homer does not linger on the moment but relates how Athene and Odysseus proceed to make a plan. The killing of the Suitors is much more significant, as it is described in great detail and Books 14 – 23 concern mainly this matter.
Then again, perhaps this is because Odysseus has not achieved his nostos simply by arriving at Ithaca: he must regain his position as well, in which case the killing of the Suitors is far more significant. However, it can be argued that the killing of the Suitors is not solely motivated by nostos but also a desire for revenge, especially since Odysseus does not spare any of them and kills his disloyal servants as well, and would have killed the Suitors’ families if it had not been for Athene’s interference: it does not seem like the sole motive for all of this killing could have been nostos.
In conclusion, Odysseus is motivated by many things throughout his journey, including kleos, revenge, curiosity, the desire to please his men, good leadership, leading a comfortable life and nostos. Before he lands on Calypso’s island, nostos is not the most significant; however, it becomes his sole motive for the rest of his journey. Once he lands in Ithaca, it can be argued that he is also motivated by revenge, but nostos is still a significant motive even if it is not the sole motive.

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