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Throughout the text of the Odyssey, Odysseus finds recourse to rely on his inner resource to surmount incredible odds in order to finish his journey home. Indeed, often we think of epic heroes using their enormous physical strength to solve a problem, and certainly, Odysseus does have recourse to physical means on more than one occasion. Nonetheless, it is more often that he uses his cleverness and mental agility to defeat opponents who often have greater or strength or significant enough numbers to overcome whatever strength he has. Indeed, this makes sense in the case of Odysseus, because as we know from the Iliad, it was his suggestion to overcome the Trojans by the use of the Trojan Horse. Here, too, Odysseus proved that he was able to solve a difficult conflict that violence could not solve through the power of his cleverness and vision. Indeed, in The Odyssey, too, he does this, especially when, near the end of theepic poem, he disguises himself to evade detection from Penelope, Eumaeus, and Laertes. In doing so, Odysseus creates a fake story about his own imaginary history, but he often paints it with shades of truth derived from his own history. In so doing, Odysseus reveals many truths about his own journey through the imaginary tales he tells about himself. Though the details are wrong on a factual level they are often "true" on a deeper level. In so doing, Odysseus effectively creates a sort of "alternate version" of the Odyssey, and this alternate version actually serves as a sort of metatexts that reflects back on the process of story telling involved in the Odyssey itself and offers some exciting clues as to how we, as readers, should approach it.
One of the first such tales that Odysseus tells in which he lies about the provenance of his current arrival and identity, is when he is confronted by Eumaeus. At this point, Odysseus has disguised himself, and, following the course of action that has been recommended to him by Athena when she took the form of an old woman, he has disguised himself and is not supposed to tell anyone who he, in fact, actually is. In doing so, he hopes both to get restored to his former place, ascertain that Penelope has been faithful, and to, most hopefully of all, get revenge on the suitors that have been trying to gain possession of his wife and generally freeloading off of Penelope's hospitality. Indeed, Odysseus, according to this plan of disguising his own identity is forced to lie to Eumaeus about his identity and gives a false history of his life. This is, of course, difficult for both of them, as Eumaeus is a dear and loyal friend who greatly misses Odysseus. Nonetheless, Odysseus tells him a lie, in which he claims that he was born and grew up on Crete before he went to fight in the Trojan War and that, shortly thereafter, he emigrated to Egypt and tried to make his fortune there, before, eventually, he was enslaved and reduced to the condition and position in which Eumeaus has currently found him. Indeed, there are many "truths" ironically contained within Odysseus' lie; indeed, not only did he indeed go to the Trojan War (and largely win it), but, in a manner of speaking, he also made his fortunes abroad thereafter; indeed, he proved his meddle in his twenty years of wandering as much as he ever did in battle. Moreover, the enslavement that he discusses could be said to be true on multiple levels -- on the one hand he has absolutely been a slave to the will of the antagonistic gods for almost 20 years now, and on the other hand, he is facing the possibility of enslavement by the suitors that are plotting to kill his son and claim Odysseus' property and kingdom for his own. Also, in his lie, Odysseus speaks about how greedy and backbiting his crew was during enslavement, and, indeed, this is a theme that we have seen during the Odyssey as well, such as in the sacrificing of the Oxen, for example, and thus the lie in Odysseus tale is not a total fabrication, but also rings true with a certain conspicuous element of truth as well. Indeed, part of this probably simply stems from the fact that all good lies are those which contain a basic kernel of truth in them -- in holding very closely to the truth they seem more realistic, reasonable, and thus probable. So, in a sense, Odysseus inclusion of several "truthful" elements in his lying only adds to the success of his lie, and partially, this is due to the fact that he is basically a good and successful liar. On the other hand, however, part of the "truthful" elements of the lie suggest that it is almost an alternate version of Odysseus own tale and that, while the particulars have changed, the basic elements remain the same. This suggests that, globally, while the story of Odysseus as it is recounted in the Odyssey is his particular story, elements of it pertain also to the voyage that all of us undertake daily in our own lives, as well.
The second such instance of Odysseus lying occurs in Book 19, when he is brought in to speak to Penelope and eventually interprets her dream about the gees and the eagle as well. In this particular lie, he again repeats the basics of the story, claiming that he was born in Crete and then went to the Trojan war, before setting out for abroad and finding terror and misfortune. Indeed, there is again much in this tale that rings exceptionally true, and, indeed, even offers descriptions of many events that are quite clearly little more than descriptions of events of the Odyssey themselves. The one embellishment that he adds this time, however, involves his claim to have seen Odysseus himself in the flesh. He now adds a time and place to this claim, saying that he Odysseus had been his guest while they were both at Knossos for a period of twelve days or so. Understandably, Penelope is skeptical of this particular claim and seeks some sort of proof or piece of evidence from the disguised Odysseus to validate his story. To this end, he offers a description of Odysseus' clothing, which, as he plans, are articles of clothing that Penelope had given to him and which, therefore, are ones she recognizes in description and helps to validate Odysseus' story, even if Penelope still seems very hesitant to believe him.
Indeed, in this second telling, too, we continue to see the idea developed that, while Odysseus' story about his imagined upbringing is in one sense "a lie," in another sense it is also an alternate version of the Odyssey, which, although it differs in many of the specifics, also shares a great deal of connections to the overall whole. Perhaps, aside from merely telling us more about some of the essential characteristics of what makes Odysseus tick, it also reveals something about the Odyssey, itself. Since the construction of the Odyssey was not done by one person (although tradition claims the text was written by Homer, linguistic analysis shows that the text had multiple authors and embellishers), this idea of Odysseus' alternate version of his own story suggests that there is a fluidity to the story itself and that new and multiple embellishments, while they might change the emphasis and effect of some specific details, only serve to round out the story, and, in fact, give us a better picture of the principles characters, specifically Odysseus, and his subjective experience of his journey as well. Thus, these lies serve as a sort of signpost and guide for how…[continue]
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