Homer’s The Odyssey and Sophocles’ Antigone both depict violence as an honorable act. Heroes such as Antilokhos or Akhilleus, Odysseus, Eteocles, and Eteocles, of The Odyssey, are celebrated as great fighters, brave souls who were willing to fight in battle. The play as well the poem contain a lot of violence, but there is also a sense that almost every instance of violence is tragic and futile. Each major battle poses the question whether violence’s benefits outweigh its consequences. This question almost always comes up. Violence serves both as a tragic and even irrational alternative to violence, which is contrary to the Greek concept of honorable and great violence.
Odysseus is immediately portrayed as a victim in The Odyssey. It is his violent behavior that often causes him trouble later. Telemakhos visits Nestor in an attempt to find his father. While there, the prince among charioteers relates the price Odysseus would be forced to pay for destroying a Trojan town. The sacking and destruction of this town by Odysseus, a man who is well-known for his combat prowess and strategy, is not a strategic or necessary act. Telemakhos and his crew are thus punished and made to leave. Nestor Diomedes, Menelaos, and Menelaos, all three Akhaians, decide that they have had enough of the Trojan War’s horrors and withdraw from the fight. Zeus gives them permission to escape. This is evident in the difficult journey he, his fleet, endure over the next ten decades. He can escape Troy if he doesn’t attack the town. But if he does, Odysseus must continue his dangerous journey across the oceans. Odysseus does another terrible act while he is away from home and this prolongs his journey towards Ithaka. He blinds Poseidon’s Kyklops Polyphemos. Odysseus’ perilous and dangerous journey back to his homeland is made worse by his use of violence. One could attribute Poseidon’s punishment to Odysseus’s decision to raid Priam’s village earlier to his own indiscretion, but the truth is that Odysseus’s previous actions are what have led to his current mistakes. The reckless and unrewarding violence that he uses back at Troy is what underlies the hubris that got Odysseus into trouble in his exchanges with Polyphemos.
The Odyssey’s ineligibility of violence is again shown in the revenge circle that features both Poseidon, Odysseus and the Ithakan ruler and their suitors. Poseidon is furious at his child’s mistreatment and attempts to throw his ship around. Poseidon’s grief over Odysseus’ brutal acts feeds his anger and drive to keep Odysseus from his family and home. The cycle is unending. The cycle of violence, pain, and revenge is re-examined when Odysseus kills the suitors. Odysseus begins an attack against the suitors to restore honor to the family. Eurykleia describes him as “a leopard/ splashed in mire, blood” (XXIII.49-50). The violent struggle continues as Eupeithes rises against the evil of his son Antinoos’ murder. Odysseus retaliates by killing the man and attacking his supporters. Athena warns everyone to stop following “this bitter battle” (XXIV.593). The son of Laertes commands himself only after Zeus’s wrath has been averted. The ending of The Odyssey shows that Odysseus’ last actions are not honorable. The violence escalates and threatens Odysseus with a new set of troubles. This ending reminds viewers that violence is a destructive, powerful, harmful, and ineffective way to resolve conflict or adversity. Violence breeds violence and this is why it does not deserve the respect that Greek warriors are often given.
Antigone shows us the tragedy inherent in violence. Antigone’s play opens with the death battle between Polyneices (Eteocles) and the opening. The tragic cycle that would eventually endanger the entire family of royals, including the present and former, starts with two brothers fighting violently.
Antigone’s fate is due to her refusal to comply with Creon’s directive that Polyneices be not given proper burial rites and honors. Antigone’s older brother “must not be buried or wombed/ For hungry birds and prey to swoop/ On” (28-30). Creon decides that Antigone will execute her brother for subordination against the state. Creon will be executed for insubordination against the state.
Creon is responsible for all of the deaths and difficulties he causes: the war between Eteocles (Polyneices). Polyneices starts this war against Thebes in order to regain power and honor. It is also the beginning of a curse that will ruin Thebes’ royalty. The misfortune of Sophocles characters may be attributed to Oedipus. Oedipus rules Thebes with a destined rule, which leaves his descendants with the burden of the curse. Antigone however, is the end of the Sophoclean tragedy. This violent clash ends lives and causes disaster in Thebes.
Antigone does not have much violence. Unlike The Odyssey, there are no wars or battles. But, you can still see the disturbing link between violence and tragedy. The play’s violence is graphic and relentless in its gloom. Birds, dogs and birds tear apart Polyneices’ bodies. Antigone hangs himself in quiet anticipation to reunite with her family at hell. Haemon, “in sorrow…leaned upon his blade/ And drove it half the length into him” (1234-5). Eurydice presses a sharp-edged knife through Eurydice’s bosom, and she does the same. Creon pleads for his death, realizing that he has made a mistake. The curse is lifted once more when violence continues to produce violence. The curse of Antigone is only lifted when all violence has been consumed.
In both The Odyssey as Antigone, violence, which is an inexorable part of Greek society, is exposed. While there are instances where violence is displayed in poetry and in play, it is clear that violence is a root cause of suffering, adversity and anguish. Even when violence is done with honor, it only leads to more violence. In most cases, however, this is not the case when seen from afar. Although violence may be noble or great in certain situations, it is inherently ignoble and does not confer any honor to the perpetrators.