Archetypes in The Odyssey

In this article you will learn about the archetypes in The Odyssey, the epic ancient Greek poem by Homer, which contains early examples of various archetypes commonly seen in literature throughout the ages.

What are the Archetypes in The Odyssey?

Odysseus is the archetypal hero of this story, the man who acts with honour, courage and physical strength to rescue his people from the evil of others and to complete the archetypal quest which has been set out for him.

In Athena he is assisted by the mentor, an archetypal guide who is sent to provide advice, assistance and support to the hero of the story in order that they can succeed.

In Penelope we see the archetypal damsel in distress, the women who is loyal to the man she loves but threatened by others and unable to adequately defend herself, needing the hero of the story to come to her rescue and defend her honour.

Her whole identity in the story is centred in her relationship with the hero and her need to be rescued by him from those who threaten her.

Calypso acts as the archetypal temptress of the story, determined to use all of the weapons of beauty and manipulative power at her disposal to lure Odysseus away from his wife and secure that which she desires.

Both Poseidon and Antinous, the lead suitor of Penelope, act as archetypal villains in the story, committing evil acts in order to enact revenge or achieve their evil wants.

The hero, Osysseus, must battle against these evil forces in the archetypal story of good versus evil in order to secure a peaceful future for his land and a happy future for himself and his family.

The Odyssey Book Summary

  • Ten years after Troy has fallen, Odysseus has not returned to his kingdom in Ithaca and his palace has been overrun and his land pillaged.
  • Men has courted his wife Penelope but she has remained faithful.
  • Odysseus’s son Prince Telemachus does not have the confidence to overthrow these men, who plot to kill him, unaware that Odysseus still lives.
  • Odysseus has been imprisoned by the nymph Calypso who is in love with him, but longs to return home to his family.
  • The Gods and Goddesses of Mount Olympus debate his future and Athena decides to help Prince Telemachus.
  • Disguised as his grandfather, she gets him to travel to Pylos and Sparta, where he is informed his father is alive and imprisoned by Calypso.
  • Telemachus prepares to return home while the suitors prepare to kill him.
  • Zerus sends Hermes to persuade Calypso to free Odysseus.
  • When Poseidon finds Odysseus sailing home he wrecks the ship.
  • Rescued by Athena, he lands at Scheria where the King and Queen promise safe passage home.
  • Arriving home disguised as a beggar, he reveals his identity to Telemachus and they plot to regain control of Itheca.
  • He arrives at the palace disguised as a beggar and endures insults from the suitors.
  • Penelope, suspecting who he is, organises an archery contest and promises to marry the man who can string Odysseus’s great bow and fire an arrow through a row of twelve axes, something only Odysseus has ever done.
  • All fail but Odysseus, who then kills the suitors along with Telemachus.
  • Odysseus reunites with Penelope and, with Athena sent to assist, peace is restored.

The Odyssey Archetype Examples

  • Hero
  • Mentor
  • Damsel in distress
  • Temptress
  • Villain
  • The Quest
  • Good versus Evil

Want more literary archetypes?

Go check out our extensive list of archetypes in literature to find out more about the characters seen in literature throughout the ages.

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