11th March 2019
Menelaus’ Homeward Journey: An Analysis of the Greek Gods
In The Odyssey, the gods appear to be capricious in nature, sometimes helping mortals and other times harming them. In this paper, I will discuss how Menelaus’ story of his journey home shines light on the fickle nature and unpredictable relationships of the gods in Book 4 of Homer’s Odyssey and how it lends to an understanding of this epic poem. First, I will explore the reason Menelaus was marooned on Pharos along with his subsequent escape. Then, I will consider the interaction between the sea god Proteus and Menelaus. Finally, I will examine the fate of Menelaus’ fellow warriors on their voyage back home.
As Menelaus returned from Troy, he was stranded on the island of Pharos off the Egyptian coast. The gods, unhappy that Menelaus had failed “to render them full, flawless victims,” punished him for this disrespect by stilling the winds (Odyss.IV.390-400). Consequently, he was marooned on Pharos for twenty days, his resources quickly waning (IV.400-410). This act of punishment provides insight into the covenant between the Odyssean gods and mortals. The fact that the gods were willing to doom a famed king and hero who is “dear to Zeus” because of an inadequate victim exemplifies the importance that immortals place on sacrifices from mortals (IV.630-640). It was only due to another divine intervention, this time by Eidothea, that Menelaus and his crew survived. The sea goddess, feeling “sorry” for the plight of Menelaus and his men, tells the king how to capture her father, the sea god Proteus, who could help Menelaus get back home (IV.400-410). The fact that Eidothea assisted these penalized mortals indicates that the gods are not always unanimous in their decisions – some gods deciding to punish Menelaus while another saved him. It is only when Menelaus makes the long journey back to the Nile to sacrifice a “splendid rite to the deathless gods” do they let him return home” (IV.530-540). Thus, we see that the gods have an imposing and stern nature when concerning mortals, yet they appear to have conflicting relationships with each other. These facets of the gods’ nature are important in revealing why certain characters act the way they do throughout the story. Mortals live under strict religious doctrines and as such their proceedings are affected by fear of the “wrath of the everlasting gods” (IV.650-660). Consequently, this affects our reading of the text and our understanding of the motivation behind certain characters because it calls into question the incentive behind the actions of mortals such as Menelaus’ hospitality, Helen’s betrayal, and Eumaeus’ generosity. Therefore, the stern nature of the gods changes our understanding of mortals and their actions in The Odyssey.
The interaction that ensued between Menelaus and Proteus after the latter’s capture provides further insight into the nature of the gods. Proteus’ first reaction was that of...