Throughout the world of literature, of Homer’s The Odyssey and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, revenge has been a common theme. Revenge can come in the form of many faces. It can manifest itself through pride, greed, carelessness, and murder. Revenge can provoke deep dark feelings towards others. These feelings lead to one not thinking about what’s moral but instead to just act instinctually. Revenge is expressed on behalf of a fatal occurrence.
An incidence such as an unfavorable event involving an object or a loved one can ignite a fire in one’s inner being, and lead them to unconscious actions. There are those who go about revenge differently. Instead of acting instinctually they use their God-like reason to meticulously carry out their revenge. These are the ways in which the authors portray their characters throughout their epics. To the Greeks, life was all about striving to be the best you can be.
They tried looking upon their actions and that of their neighbors to decide what was right and what was wrong. Greeks believed that there were superior deities to petition to. Although they were superior, they were not exactly good examples to look upon. These gods were merciless and unjust with their decisions and actions. For example: the story of Zeus and Sisyphus. Sisyphus helped the god of rivers to find his daughter and rescue her from being seduced by Zeus therefore Zeus punished Sisyphus in the afterlife.
His punishment was to push a rock up a hill, and just as the top was almost reached, the rock would slip out of his hands and fall back down leading him to repeat the process all over. This punishment was unjust because Sisyphus did an action that to others would seem like a good cause, but to Zeus it was hybris. Hybris is a general insult to a god. Greeks revered their gods, but even though they had a higher power they would not follow their examples which made them to be more self-reliant and almost independent from their gods.
These gods were very vengeful people as well as the Greeks themselves. In order for the Greeks to look upon themselves for right and wrong, they would have to be Polytropos; skilled in all things, as well as achieve arete; strive to be the best one can be. A great example of both of these qualities is that of Odysseus in The Odyssey written by Homer. Homer approaches revenge in such a way that he explains the characters in detail and places them in situations where they carry out revenge either purposely or forcedly.
Homer describes revenge through Odysseus’ adventures after the victory of the Trojan War in the book The Odyssey. At the very beginning of the book, Homer starts by invocating the muse: “TELL ME, O MUSE, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy… Moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home; but do what he might he could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer folly in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Apollo; so the god prevented them from ever reaching home. ”
Homer, through this quote, summarizes the consequences that Odysseus’ men and Odysseus himself went through for either committing hybris, the act of gloating, or disobeying commands. These actions brought upon them shipwreck by Poseidon, and lastly the privilege of Nostos, or Homecoming, for everyone but Odysseus from the Sun-goddess. A chain-like revenge mentioned in The Book was that of the Cyclops and Odysseus. By chain-like I mean that it started as a simple revenge and led to another. When Odysseus landed with his men on the land of the Cyclops, he was trapped with a man-eating creature that was not hospitable in any way.
His savage character was frightening and despicable to Odysseus and his men. “The cruel wretch vouchsafed me not one word of answer, but with a sudden clutch he gripped up two of my men at once and dashed them down upon the ground as though they had been puppies. Their brains were shed upon the ground, and the earth was wet with their blood. Then he tore them limb from limb and supped upon them. He gobbled them up like a lion in the wilderness, flesh, bones, marrow, and entrails, without leaving anything uneaten.
As for us, we wept and lifted up our hands to heaven on seeing such a horrid sight, for we did not know what else to do; but when the Cyclops had filled his huge paunch, and had washed down his meal of human flesh with a drink of neat milk, he stretched himself full length upon the ground among his sheep, and went to sleep. I was at first inclined to seize my sword, draw it, and drive it into his vitals, but I reflected that if I did we should all certainly be lost, for we should never be able to shift the stone which the monster had put in front of the door.
So we stayed sobbing and sighing where we were till morning came. ” Odysseus and his men were overwhelmed by this action Regardless of this occurrence, Odysseus used his wits: “… So I was left to scheme some way of taking my revenge and covering myself with glory. ”Once Odysseus embraced his plan to take his revenge and flee, his pride caught up to him and he started to shout about whom he is and how great and intelligent he is because he escaped the Cyclops cave. This act of hubris led the Cyclops go to his father, Poseidon, to tell about his blindness caused by Odysseus.
This directed Poseidon to avenge his son’s blindness. During Odysseus’ journey to the underworld, he meets with Tiresias who is prophet who inhabits the underworld. He shows Odysseus how to get back to Ithaca and shows Odysseus how to communicate with other souls in Hades. Tiresias also prophesizes to Odysseus about the vengeance still to come from his act of hubris. Moreover Tiresias explains how swift and pleasant his journey will be if he and his men follow exact orders, and warn that if these orders are not followed then his journey will be difficult and end in tragedy for his crew.
He also tells Odysseus of the things happening in his house with the suitors, his wife, and his son. Tiresias’ prophecy said: “‘You want to know,’ said he, ‘about your return home, but heaven will make this hard for you. I do not think that you will escape the eye of Poseidon, who still nurses his bitter grudge against you for having blinded his son. Still, after much suffering you may get home if you can restrain yourself and your companions when your ship reaches the Thrinacian island, where you will find the sheep and cattle belonging to the sun, who sees and gives ear to everything.
If you leave these flocks unharmed and think of nothing but of getting home, you may yet after much hardship reach Ithaca; but if you harm them, then I forewarn you of the destruction both of your ship and of your men. Even though you may yourself escape, you will return in bad plight after losing all your men, in another man’s ship, and you will find trouble in your house, which will be overrun by high-handed people, who are devouring your substance under the pretext of paying court and making presents to your wife. ”
In homer’s time revenge could be said to be permitted if there was a reasonable cause or if a god ordered a mortal to do so. In the case of the suitors who inhabited Odysseus house and abused of their power, Odysseus was told by Athena he had to kill every single one of them no matter how good or bad they were to fulfill his revenge. When he is home and still disguised as a beggar, he confronts the suitors’ actions: “Dogs, did you think that I should not come back from Troy? You have wasted my substance, have forced my women servants to lie with you, and have wooed my wife while I was still living.
You have feared neither God nor man, and now you shall die. ”Odysseus fulfilled his revenge just as told by Athena to do and murdered every suitor. Revenge manifested itself mostly through pride, carelessness, and murder. Both Odysseus and the gods used their instincts to go about their revenge and didn’t exactly use reason for it. To the Greek society, Odysseus was a great hero despite his vengeful life and his wrongdoings. Revenge serves as a purpose to both the character and the society. There are those that act before thinking and those that think before acting.
Hamlet was one who thought before acting. Shakespeare approaches revenge differently than Homer. During Hamlet’s time, people believed in one higher power; God. This higher power was believed to be a great example to humans on what’s right and wrong since he was perfect and almighty. They believed that God had given them reason to use throughout every decision making that will come to their lives. Hamlet had quite a decision to make. A ghost appeared to him claiming that he was his deceased father’s spirit and asking him to avenge his murder. “I find thee apt; And duller shouldst thou be than the fat weed
That roots itself in ease on Lethe wharf, Wouldst thou not stir in this. Now, Hamlet, hear. ’tis given out that, sleeping in mine orchard, A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark Is by a forged process of my death Rankly abused. But know, thou noble youth, The serpent that did sting thy father’s life Now wears his crown. ” In this quote the ghost informs hamlet that his murderer was Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle. He insists that Hamlet avenge his death since Claudius only killed him to gain his throne and crown. Hamlet, after the ghost’s manifestation, questions everything.
He wants to see if it is reasonable to kill or not to kill his uncle for murdering his father. He postpones the vengeance quite a few times and uses his God-like reason to make his final decision. Hamlet wants to prove that Claudius did kill his father in order to go through with it. Revenge is still expressed on behalf of a fatal occurrence in this book written by Shakespeare. This quote relates to the writers world in that in Shakespeare’s time there was a man named Amleth who was going through something similar to what happens in the story of Hamlet.
Because Shakespeare was living in a God based society, the fact that everyone had God-like reason was very important since it was the one thing that connected humanity to God unlike the animals who had no reason at all. This helped them make the right decision at the end which Shakespeare portrays throughout Hamlet. During the course of the story, Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius, Laertes father. Claudius convinces Laertes to seek revenge towards Hamlet for killing his father. After Claudius’ convincing speech, Laertes prepares to battle with Hamlet.
The king decides to make plans so that Hamlet dies for sure. He poisons the swords and the Hamlet’s drink. Through this Claudius gets poisoned from his own sword trap and Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, dies from the poisoned drink. Claudius’ revenge went against himself and Hamlet dies at the end. Homer and Shakespeare could be said to relate in that they both explore the same theme and portray it throughout their stories. Although revenge manifested itself mostly through murder and pride in the Odyssey, Hamlet manifests it more in the areas of carelessness and greed.
The dark feelings that revenged provoked in both of these stories were well thought out before reaction by Hamlet but not so much by Odysseus. Odysseus acted more instinctually while Hamlet used reason before making a decision and acting upon it. Revenge played out a huge part on both of these stories, but how the characters went about their revengeful actions was the most important part. Ironically the one who thought out his decisions ended up dying unlike the one that acted instinctually.