Gods and Monsters in the Odyssey

Gods and Monsters in the Odyssey

My students and I have been debating: of all the characters that Odysseus meets, which is the most and which the least civilised? We worked out that we could place them on a scale inspired by Aristotle:

Anyone who… does not partake of society is either a beast or a god.

Thus, in the middle of the scale are regular mortals as an average of civilised behaviour (follow xenia, achieve kudos and aidos, avoid hubris, and, well, die). At the top are gods (immortal yet anthropomorphic, so can enjoy the fun of mortals’ lives without the consequences and can ignore the rules of civilisation: no need to farm, weave, or avoid incest) and at the bottom are monsters (seemingly immortal but not entirely anthropomorphic, so no need even to consider the rules of civilisation – in fact they reverse them).

Each chapter of the the ‘supernatural’ section of the Odyssey (Odysseus’ journey, books 9, 10 and 12) has three episodes, the characters of each increasing in their ‘otherness’ from Episode 1-3. They either increase towards being like a god…or a monster…

A blog post explaining the position of each of the characters is available on Medium (Teaching Classics).