In Homer’s epic poem ‘The Odyssey’, the protagonist Odysseus goes through many trials and tribulations on his long journey back home after the Trojan War. Several Greek gods influence his adventures, both helping and hindering him along the way.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Athena was the most consistently helpful goddess to Odysseus. She guided him several times during his journey and protected him in dangerous situations.
In this comprehensive article, we will analyze Odysseus’s interactions with various gods like Athena, Poseidon and Zeus. We will explore the different ways they helped or hindered his journey and how their blessings or punishments shaped his story.
By the end, you will have a clear understanding of which god was truly the most helpful ally of the legendary Greek hero Odysseus.
Athena’s Constant Support and Guidance
As the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, and strategic warfare, Athena played an integral role in supporting Odysseus and guiding him on his epic journey back to Ithaca after the Trojan War.
She demonstrated her unwavering commitment to Odysseus in three key ways: protecting him during troubles, providing wisdom and advice, and reuniting him with his son Telemachus.
Protecting Odysseus During Troubles
Athena looked after Odysseus during several dangerous moments on his decade-long journey home after the fall of Troy. For instance, when Odysseus was trapped in the cave of Polyphemus the Cyclops, Athena came to his aid by giving him the clever idea to get the monster drunk and then poke out his eye with a wooden stake.
Her quick thinking allowed Odysseus to escape a deadly predicament. Later, when Odysseus arrived on the island of the deadly Sirens, whose alluring singing lured sailors to shipwreck, Athena made sure Odysseus avoided destruction by having his men plug their ears with wax while lashing their captain (Odysseus) to the mast so he could hear but not be drawn off course.
Providing Wisdom and Advice
In alignment with her role as the goddess of wisdom, Athena often provided Odysseus with sage counsel at critical decision points during his journey. For example, while Odysseus stayed with Circe the sorceress, Athena advised him to descend into Hades to receive a prophecy from the blind seer Tiresias about how to get safely back home.
She also gave Odysseus clarity of mind when he faced temptation and dangerously alluring situations, like passage by the island of the Sirens. By tapping him on the shoulder, Athena would remind Odysseus who he truly was and provide perspective when he lost his way.
Reuniting Odysseus with His Son
Another way Athena demonstrated her unwavering commitment to Odysseus was by arranging the reunion between father and son after 20 long years apart. According to CliffsNotes, when Odysseus finally returned to Ithaca, Athena initially hid his identity to first allow him to assess the suitors overrunning his palace.
After revealing his true identity to his son Telemachus and testing his servants’ loyalty, Athena then transformed Odysseus into an elderly beggar to observe the rowdy suitors and plan their demise. By strategically reuniting Odysseus with his heir, Athena set the stage for Odysseus’ ultimate homecoming and reclamation of his family’s estate.
Poseidon’s Wrath and Obstacles
The Grudge Behind Poseidon’s Anger
The mighty sea god Poseidon held a deep grudge against the epic hero Odysseus for blinding Poseidon’s cyclops son Polyphemus. When Odysseus and his men landed on the island where Polyphemus lived, the giant cyclops captured some of Odysseus’s men and devoured them horrifically.
Clever Odysseus then got Polyphemus drunk and blinded him with a wooden stake, enabling himself and the remaining crew to escape. Poseidon was enraged when he learned of his son’s blinding and vowed to make Odysseus suffer for this act.
Creating Storms and Shipwrecks
Poseidon severely hindered Odysseus’s journey home to Ithaca by whipping up dangerous storms and high waves that destroyed his ships and killed his men. After Odysseus blinded Polyphemus, he initially tried fleeing by ship but was blown wildly off course.
Poseidon splintered Odysseus’s fleet, sinking all his vessels and killing everyone except Odysseus, who clung to wreckage for 9 days before washing ashore on an island. Later, when Odysseus was finally nearing Ithaca, Poseidon caused his ship to be wrecked by a horrible storm, killing the rest of his crew.
According to GreekMyths-GreekMythology.com, Poseidon was responsible for destroying a staggering 14 out of 15 total ships that Odysseus used, highlighting the sea god’s fierce wrath.
Delaying Odysseus’s Journey
In addition to creating deadly sea storms, Poseidon made Odysseus’s route home circuitous and exhausting in order to prolong his suffering. What should have been a journey of a few weeks ended up taking 10 long years!
Poseidon blew him off course to distant realms and islands, forcing perilous detours. For example, the wind god Aeolus once helped Odysseus by trapping contrary winds in a bag so he could sail straight to Ithaca.
But thinking the bag held treasure, his crew opened it right as Ithaca was in sight, unleashing the winds as a delighted Poseidon whipped them back off course!
By constantly shipwrecking Odysseus and sending him on lengthy detours, the raging Poseidon succeeded in delaying his journey home by an entire decade. This only highlighted the bitter vengeance boiling inside the sea god after Odysseus harmed his beloved cyclops son.
Zeus’s Sporadic Interventions
Responding to Prayer Requests
Throughout the Odyssey, Zeus occasionally responds to prayers and requests for help. For example, when Odysseus is trapped on Calypso’s island for seven years, Zeus finally takes pity on him after he prays. Zeus persuades Calypso to let Odysseus build a raft and leave (Homer, Odyssey Book 5).
This allows Odysseus’ journey back to Ithaca to resume.
Another example is when Odysseus’ son Telemachus prays to Zeus for courage before embarking on a voyage to learn about his missing father. Zeus sends a favorable omen, flying two eagles past Telemachus’ ship as it sets sail (Homer, Odyssey Book 2).
This signifies that Zeus will watch over Telemachus’ journey.
Punishing the Suitors
Though Zeus does not directly punish the suitors who have taken over Odysseus’ palace, he ultimately enables Odysseus to return home to bring justice himself. The suitors dishonorably court Penelope while depleting Odysseus’ house of food and wine for many years.
They show no respect for guests and defiantly assume Odysseus is dead.
Zeus clearly does not approve of their behavior or doubt Odysseus will return. For example, he sends ominous signs about their fate, like a lightning bolt striking a courtship gift and killing one suitor’s oxen (Homer, Odyssey Book 20).
These signs foreshadow what will happen when Odysseus finally arrives home.
Allowing Challenges to Continue
While Zeus helps Odysseus at certain critical moments, he does not make Odysseus’ journey easy. This is partly to allow Odysseus to prove his cleverness and strength. But it also provides ongoing entertainment for the gods watching his story unfold.
For instance, when Odysseus barely escapes the Cyclops Polyphemus’ cave alive, he taunts Polyphemus and reveals his name. Zeus could strike down Polyphemus to protect Odysseus, but allows the vengeful giant to ask his father Poseidon to make Odysseus’ voyage home extremely difficult (Homer, Odyssey Book 9).
This leads to many more complications Odysseus must overcome through wit and perseverance.
So despite intervening on Odysseus’ behalf occasionally, Zeus permits him to face continued hardships. As ruler of the gods, Zeus maintains a complex balance – he helps Odysseus just enough to eventually regain his rightful place, but allows sufficient challenges along the way to prove Odysseus’ heroic mettle.
In the epic journey of Odysseus, many gods play a role in impacting his adventures. But when analyzing the level of support and consistency, goddess Athena emerges as the clear winner.
Despite facing setbacks from Poseidon’s wrath and challenges permitted by Zeus, Athena never abandons Odysseus. She directly guides, protects and reunites him with loved ones at several key moments during his decade long voyage.
So if you were wondering which god watched Odysseus’s back the most, the answer is undoubtedly his patron goddess and constant supporter – Athena.