Quora answer: Why was Athena angry at Odysseus, and his men on their return from Troy?

May 22 2014

There is a wonderful book on exactly this point. It is The Wrath of Athena: Gods and Men in the Odyssey by Jenny Strauss Clay. If you read this book along with the book Oedipus, Philosopher by Jean-Joseph Goux and Catherine Porter you can get a lot of insight into what drives the epic. The epic begins when Athena stops being angry at Odysseus for the violation of her shrine during sack of Troy. In the violation the three taboos are broken which with sexual, intellectual and sacred violations of the dignity of Athena due to the Hubris of the Greeks. Goux specifies these rituals of initiation and how Oedipus fails these tests, while the hero succeeds in them. But the “sin” which angers Athena gives Odysseus signals responsibility for violating the honor of the gods at Troy by the hubris of the Acheans when they sack the city. This causes Menelaus to flee but Agamemnon stays to make sacrifices on the beach before leaving. Odysseus first decides to flee with Menelaus but then returns to do the Sacrifice with Agamemnon but misses it. Odysseus gets lost between the two brothers who are both kings. The one who stays back to sacrifice gets home first. The one who leaves first without sacrificing has his journey delayed. The one who gets lost between these alternate reactions gets the most lost and is delayed the longest, which is Odysseus. It must be understood that these epics are continually giving us nihilistic opposites and showing how the hero both charts his own course between them, but also may bet lost between the opposite reactions as Odysseus does. Odysseus is always by implication being compared to Achilles. Achilles withdraws from battle and then goes berserk when Petroclous is killed He overreacts by withdrawing from the battle and then overreacts by plunging into it in a berserker mode. Thus Achilles reaction to a nihilistic situation (both Trojans and Acheans take women who are not theirs) is itself nihilistic (withdrawal and overreaction). But both of these reactions are decisive when taken. Odysseus is instead indecisive first deciding to leave with Menelaus and then abandoning that at then returning to be with Agamemnon but missing the sacrifice. So Odysseus is literally lost in the nowhere between these two decisive courses of actions and from there things only get worse as he gets more and more lost until he is on a island in the middle of the sea resigned to being lost in oblivion hidden as a prisoner with Calypso.


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