The Odyssey

by: Homer

Point of View

Main ideas Point of View

The Odyssey is narrated from a third-person point of view by a narrator who has invoked the divine authority of the Muse, which allows the narrator to know everything and understand all the characters’ thoughts and feelings. The poem begins “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns…” establishing a point of view that is all-seeing, all-knowing, and close to the divine. The poem shifts between narrative passages and direct speech, sometimes quoting one character within another character’s speech, such as when Menelaus includes several direct quotes from other characters in his lengthy speech to Telemachus in Book 4. The narrator describes characters’ feelings and attitudes with brief descriptive phrases, such as “Telemachus, sitting among the suitors, heart obsessed with grief,” but more often the characters describe their own emotional states in direct speech, such as when Odysseus says “Man of misery, what next? I this the end? … I’m bone-weary, about to breathe my last…”

The point of view shifts entirely to Odysseus during books 9-12, when he tells about his adventures at sea before landing on Calypso’s island, making the poem feel like a first-person account for a lengthy stretch of narrative. In these sections the narrator interrupts Odysseus a few times to remind the audience where they are and who is talking, but mostly Odysseus’s narrative is continuous and first-person. This portion of the poem functions as a story-within-a-story as Odysseus gives a detailed and vivid description of his adventures since leaving Troy on what he hoped would be a quick journey home. As most of the action of the poem has already taken place by the time we first see Odysseus on Calypso’s island, this shift to the first person makes those events more gripping and immediate than if they were told in the third person by the narrator. The audience has the sense of experiencing Odysseus’ perilous struggles with the Cyclops, Circe, Scylla, and Charybdis as they happen, further investing us in Odysseus’s fate.

The various perspectives through which the poem is narrated provide different voices for the moral issues at the heart of The Odyssey. Odysseus encounters many “hosts” on his journeys, and most of them do not act in accordance with the customs of Greek hospitality. Because we witness much of the action through Odysseus’s point of view, we understand the contrast between his expectations of hospitality versus the reality of his experiences. The gods offer another perspective on the expectations of hospitality. Athena, for example, fights alongside Odysseus and Telemachus to slaughter the suitors as punishment for their abuse of the guest-host relationship. While the gods are rarely the main focus of scenes within the poem, we understand their point of view on the importance of Greek values through their speech.