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  1. 1. Joey Lam 5/13/10 CMLIT101W Professor Ciaccio Paper #3, Topic #3 The Odyssey: The Social Class Issues Between Deities, Humans, and Beasts Homer, who wrote the poem “The Odyssey,” discusses the social class issues with the deities, humans, and beasts that are portrayed. Each category consists of a cultural social class structure. Then each category is subject to social class as a whole. Therefore, the social class structure of the three categories goes from the highest, which are the deities, then humans, and finally at the lowest, beasts. The social class concept helps understand the relationship between each of the categories. Social class is an important concept because it keeps law and order in place, preventing chaos from occurring in society. Beginning with deities, the social class in this category is similar to the social class of humans. According to the Greek myths, Zeus is the king and father of all gods. Therefore, there is a hierarchy with the deities. This hierarchy helps keep a peaceful relationship between all of the deities. Any action taken by a deity will be allowed or denied by Zeus because he is in the highest social class. In “The Odyssey,” the goddess Athena helps assist Odysseus and Telemachus with their decisions and events that occur. This provides a sense of social class between humans and deities. The gods are greater than humans in wisdom, power, and all events can be altered by them. Ultimately, the gods are above humans in the social class order because of this power they hold. There are multiple scenarios in “The Odyssey” where gods and humans encounter each other. Odysseus himself encounters the deities Hermes, Calypso, Circe, Ino, and Athena. All of these deities are greater than Odysseus is in the categorical social class, even though Odysseus is 1
  2. 2. a king, because gods are above humans in the social class order. In each encounter with each of these deities, Odysseus receives some sort of guidance or help. However, of all of the deities, Athena is the goddess who helps both Odysseus, and his son, Telemachus, throughout the poem. Athena helps the two men survive their journeys and tells them what to do. Through respect for the gods, humans obey deities, thus further proving the hierarchy of deities over humans. In the other scenarios where Odysseus encounters the deities, help or misfortune is given to Odysseus. The god Hermes has a message for Odysseus whenever Hermes shows up. The message helps Odysseus with a possible upcoming threat. A couple of these situations are when Calypso traps Odysseus on an island and when Odysseus is about to encounter Circe. Both Calypso and Circe are goddesses, and have greater power over Odysseus. Also, upon the first encounter, both of these goddesses propose a threat towards Odysseus because of their magical powers. Hermes helps Odysseus escape the danger in both situations. It should also be mentioned that Ino is another deity who helps Odysseus escape danger when Odysseus is alone at sea. In all of these situations, it is the human who receives assistance from the deities because of their magical powers. Hence the social class order is further proven to be gods above humans. Due to the fact that the gods are influential on behalf of the events, the plot of “The Odyssey” is caused by the god Poseidon. Odysseus encounters a Cyclops that goes by the name Polyphemus, and ends up stabbing the Cyclops in the eye. Once Odysseus tells the Cyclops his real identity, Polyphemus prays to his father, the god Poseidon, to curse Odysseus. This scenario depicts all three categories of beings and shows the social class concept. Odysseus defeats the beast, the Cyclops, resembling the human superiority over beasts. The deity(s), however, has the power to control what will happen to either the humans’ or the beasts’ lives. Thus the social class 2
  3. 3. order adds a new category, but remains with gods above humans, but now humans are above beasts. Within each category, there is also a social class. Recall that Zeus is the father and king of all gods. This is different from any other king that exists in “The Odyssey” because amongst the gods, there is only one king of gods. Compared to this, there can be thousands of kings amongst men which would then create a new level of class. During this time period, the social paradigm would define the class amongst human kings. However, relating back to Zeus, there is only one social class paradigm amongst the gods, and Zeus is at the top. All of the gods and goddesses respect Zeus and his decisions, and they also ask Zeus for permission to interfere the events that occur with humans. As said before, the social class order in “The Odyssey” goes by the order of gods, then humans, then beasts. Zeus is the highest of all gods, which means that Zeus is the most powerful, most wise, and most respected being of all beings. The human category provides a social class paradigm that is more familiar with our contemporary human social class paradigm and the paradigm that deities follow. In “The Odyssey,” kings of each native land are the most powerful, most respected, and most wise. The people that live under the king’s rule are all subject to the king’s decision. This is analogous to the social class paradigm with the deities. All deities are subject to Zeus’ decision just as all servants are subject to the king’s decision. There are also mid-level classes, but these levels are also applicable to the paradigm in the same manner as kings and servants. Masters will serve the king, and servants will serve the masters. This social class paradigm provides a law and order for a society to remain intact and peaceful. According to the plot, there are men who are wasting Odysseus’ fortune while he was trying to return to his home. Among these men whom are called Suitors, “there is not one that 3
  4. 4. isn’t courting my mother and wasting my property” (Odyssey 1, page 31). This example assists the idea that a social class must exist in order to have peace. Without the king, chaos and madness corrupts society. This statement also applies to contemporary life. Without a leader or authority, every person would think for him/herself, thus resulting in chaos. A social class paradigm must be established in order to have peace in a society. The beasts of “The Odyssey” are the lowest class of the three categories. The most powerful beasts that Odysseus encounters all eat humans, providing a threat to humans. However, humans are higher in social class than beasts because humans have greater wisdom than beasts. An example of human wisdom being greater than that of a beast is portrayed when Odysseus encounters the Cyclops Polyphemus. Odysseus tells the Cyclops that his name is “Nobody.” After Odysseus attacks the Cyclops, the other Cyclopes ask Polyphemus what happened. Polyphemus says, “it’s Nobody’s treachery, no violence, that is doing me to death” (Odyssey 9, page 150). Odysseus’ wisdom is greater than the Cyclopes’ wisdom hence ordering humans above beasts in the social class paradigm. There are other beasts in “The Odyssey” such as Charybdis and Scylla. Both of these beasts are not fully established as characters like the Cyclopes are established. Instead, these beasts are known to eat humans who cross their path, and that is all. This is also an example where beasts are lower than humans in the social class paradigm because these beasts do not display a level of intelligence where as humans and gods do. In a social class paradigm, it is wisdom and power that determines which category will be highest amongst the classes. Deities have the greatest wisdom as well as the greatest powers which make them the highest amongst all classes, followed by humans who have greater wisdom than the lowest class, beasts. With this social paradigm intact, the highest class helps create an 4
  5. 5. environment in the world that is peaceful. If there is chaos in the world, then the deities have the power to make the world peaceful. Social class is the solution to a chaotic world. 5
  6. 6. Works Cited Page Homer, The Odyssey. Aylesbury: Penguin Classics, 1946. 6