“Sleep, the sea. Odysseus’s ship is the only to

“Sleep, delicious and profound, the very counterfeit of death”(110). Homer uses the idea of sleep to represent the idea of death, which makes the struggle to stay awake and the struggle to survive the same. Great Warrior Odysseus is constantly wrestling to remain alert to avoid revealing weakness. Sleep in The Odyssey displays a negative connotation that exhibits vulnerability, yet this never-ending insomnia eventually aids an exhausted Odysseus in his return to his native land. Sleep is portrayed as a negative concept in the epic, as bad things come to Odysseus and his men whenever they sleep. In Book 10, Odysseus and his men sail from the land of the Cyclopes to the home of the ruler of the winds, Aelous. Aelous gifts Odysseus a bag of winds, and creates wind to guide Odysseus and his crew home. Within ten days, they are in sight of Ithaca, but while Odysseus sleeps he is vulnerable to his shipmates actions. His crew, who believe that the God has gifted Odysseus a fortune, rip open the bag. The winds escape and create a storm that sends Odysseus and his men back to the home of the Aelous. This time, however, the God denies the crew help, as he is certain that the Gods hate Odysseus and wish to punish him. Without the wind, Odysseus and his crew must row the ship to the land of powerful giants whose king and queen turn Odysseus’s crew into dinner. Odysseus and his remaining men flee toward their ships, but the ships are showered with boulders and sink as they sit in the sea. Odysseus’s ship is the only to escape. Another example of sleep having a negative impact on Odysseus is in Book 12, when Odysseus and his men reach the island of the Sun. Odysseus wants to avoid the island altogether, but Eurylochus insists that the crew needs rest. Odysseus makes the men take an oath to not eat any of Helios’s cattle. The crew is trapped on the island for a month, and eventually their supplies run out and the men begin to starve. One day Odysseus falls asleep and during his slumber, Eurylochus convinces the men to eat the animals. Odysseus wakes up to find that the men had broken their oaths and killed and eaten some cattle. The sun god, Helios, angrily requests that Zeus and the other gods punish Odysseus’s crew for killing his cattle, and Zeus complies. Odysseus’s men continue to feast for six more days before sailing away. As soon as they were out at sea Zeus sends down a terrible storm that destroys the ship and kills everyone aboard except Odysseus, who survives by clinging on to some pieces of wood. In the epic, sleep is used in many situations involving Odysseus as a transition between one event of the story and another. Sleep is linked with inattentiveness and yields negative consequences although it cannot be avoided. Sleep and dreams are also important in the understanding of Penelope, Odysseus’s wife. Penelope describes sleep as “the oblivion of all things, both good and evil.” This illustrates that Odysseus’s wife sees sleep as a way to become unconscious of all things. A good dream that Penelope illustrates is one when she rejoices at the sight of a man who she believes to be Odysseus. “This very night beside me lay a man who wore the likeness of Odysseus when he sailed away with the Achaean ranks,” she states, “my heart was glad; mistaking it as fact. I thought it was no dream.” Penelope, through this dream, displays how happy she would be if her husband returned. She believed this dream to be real and the example of an Odysseus-like man shows how Penelope’s subconscious knows that Odysseus will eventually come home. During the final voyage to Ithaca, Odysseus falls into a deep sleep, and remains there until he reaches home. At an early point King Alkinoos takes measures to ensure that the gifts given to Odysseus will not be harmed when he sleeps on his return. Sleep here symbolizes a transition from a world of Gods and Goddesses to a life with his family in Ithaca.  This begins the transition of sleep from a negative to a positive symbol. The symbol of sleep is also improved through the description of Odysseus and Penelope’s bed.”There was the bole of an olive tree with long leaves growing strongly in the courtyard, and it was thick, like a column. I laid down my chamber around this … Then, I cut away the foliage of the long-leaved olive, and trimmed the trunk from the roots up…”(Book 23). The bed symbolizes the complex foundation of the couple’s marriage but also connects to sleep. Throughout the novel, Odysseus has negative experiences because of sleep, but once finally reunited, Penelope does not have to cater to the suitors in her home and Odysseus can succumb to his exhaustion. The symbolism is also intensified by the trick that Penelope uses to test Odysseus, which revolves around the immovability of their bed – a metaphor for the strong and committed structure of their love. Only a single maidservant has ever seen the bed, and it is where the reunited couple spends their first night in each other’s arms since Odysseus’s departure for Troy twenty years prior. The symbol of sleep in the Odyssey changes throughout the epic from one with a negative to a positive connotation through the journey of Odysseus and his men. Despite the trauma brought on by his crew’s actions during his slumber, Odysseus eventually returns home and Penelope and Odysseus are reunited. Penelope’s dreams of Odysseus’ return home has become a reality and the couple is finally able to sleep with one another in the bed that exemplifies the strength of their marriage.

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