Odysseus’ failed plan

This is a post for my March book challenge, #marchmonthofmythology.

Odysseus is one of my favourite characters of all time and my favourite Greek hero. He has been since I was a child; with his charm, wit and cunning he got himself out of (almost) anything, and into my heart. Naturally, I’m now going to tell you of one of the few times he failed at get himself out of trouble.

Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep

This story starts when Helen, the most beautiful mortal woman in the world, was about to be married. Suitors from all over the Mediterranean had come to Sparta to win her hand. This made her (step-)father very anxious: the most powerful Greek leaders all wanted to marry his daughter, which meant that every single one of them except one was bound to be very, very pissed off. He had no idea who to pick. Luckily for him, Odysseus came up with an idea. He was probably the only one who didn’t want to marry Helen; he’d set his eyes on her cousin, Penelope. So he offered his advice to the king of Sparta, in return for Penelope’s hand in marriage. His advice was this: let all the men in the room swear a vow to protect Helen and her husband, whoever he was. Then, let Helen pick her husband herself right away. This way, there would be no danger of war between the Greek cities, because whoever married Helen would be protected by a powerful alliance.

Everyone agreed and swore the oath, Helen chose the wealthy Menelaos as her husband, and Odysseus went home happily with his own wife, Penelope. He had not expected that some years later, Helen would be taken from Sparta by a certain Paris of Troy…

As soon as the news came out that Helen had been stolen, Agamemnon, Menelaos’s older brother, rallied the Greek leaders and their armies. They were all slowly collected from their cities and islands and most of them came along without any trouble. Odysseus, however, wasn’t very excited at the prospect of a war against Troy. According to a prophecy, he would take a very long time to get home, and he and Penelope had just gotten a baby; all Odysseus wanted was to stay home with his family. He needed a way out.

So Odysseus pretended he had lost his mind. Soon word got out: Odysseus, the cunning, resourceful king of Ithaca, had gone insane – every day he went out with a plow drawn by a donkey and an ox and started plowing the beach. Agamemnon didn’t trust this message one bit and sent one of the Greek leaders, Palamedes, to disprove it. When Palamedes reached Ithaca, Odysseus was on the beach, plowing away. He couldn’t fool Palamedes, however, who fetched Odysseus’s infant son Telemachos and laid him down directly in the path of the plow. At this, Odysseus had to concede defeat and stop plowing. There was no way he was not going to Troy, and he would be away from home for a very, very long time.

Odysseus – a character who can talk themselves out of anything

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Today is World Storytelling Day, which is very fitting for Odysseus. In the Odyssey he even tells his own story in one of the earliest frame narratives – which also makes him one of the earliest unreliable narrators! Most of his tricks worked out a lot better than the one above. Odysseus is such a clever and charming character that everyone he meets believes anything he says without question.

For this prompt I went with Bilbo from The Hobbit. Turning invisible is not the only way he escapes deadly situations; think of his riddle contest with Gollum or the way he tries to charm Smaug!

 

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