POVERTY AS A CHALLENGE TO WEALTH IN HOMER’S ODYSSEY

R Whitaker

Abstract


This article examines the ways in which poverty, as a condition, and as represented by poor individuals, poses a challenge to wealthy, elite characters in the Odyssey. Great, almost revolutionary, changes took place in Greece in the eighth century BC, when the Odyssey was most likely composed. The audience of the epic, it is argued, comprised both wealthy, elite and poor, non-elite persons. The bases of wealth and poverty in the Odyssey were land, or the lack of it.  Reflecting the instability of the eighth century, the Odyssey repeatedly presents a fall into poverty as a very real, challenging possibility for wealthy individuals. In the epic, the presence of poverty in their midst, as represented by the ‘beggar’ (Odysseus in disguise), tests the humanity and compassion of the characters whom he meets. The suitors fail the test, reacting with cruelty and contempt to the poor man. Eumaios and Penelope rise to the challenge, showing pity and generosity of spirit. The Odyssey thus indicates that moral goodness is independent of wealth and status, and that
pity and compassion are the appropriate responses to the poor.

Keywords


Odyssey; archaic Greece; audience; wealth; poverty; pity; compassion

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7445/65-0-1019

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ISSN 2079-2883 (online); ISSN 0303-1896 (print)

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