Nationalism in “The Odyssey”

In Book II of Homer’s [amazon_link id=”B000OCXGRS” target=”_blank” ]The Odyssey[/amazon_link], Odysseus’ son, Telemachus leaves his home; he then travels from place to place in search of his father. He visits an old friend of his father’s, Menelaus. In Book IV, Menelaus tells Telemachus, “I should have founded a city for him [Odysseus] in Argos, and built him a house. I should have made him leave Ithaca with his goods, his son, and all his people, and should have sacked for them some one of the neighboring cities that are subject to me.”

Menelaus does not understand how a person’s home is fundamental to their identity.  Today, we call this concept [amazon_link id=”0801475007″ target=”_blank” ]nationalism[/amazon_link]: the advocacy of or support for the interests of one’s own nation (home/school/family,) especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations. For example, people born in the United States, identify themselves as Americans but perhaps also by their ancestry, religion, state, hometown, or school.

These areas all have rivalries with each other: think of sports teams in a league. Pride, honor, and bragging rights are all a part of nationalism which is how most people categorize themselves when asked, “Where are you from?” For example, I would answer, “[amazon_link id=”0762750456″ target=”_blank” ]Michigan[/amazon_link]” as I was born there; however, I also identify myself as English because my lineage has been traced back to 1510 in England. Nationalism plays a very important role in world politics today just as it did in [amazon_link id=”0192801376″ target=”_blank” ]Ancient Greece[/amazon_link].

Odysseus angers several groups as he is on his journey or “odyssey.” When reading The Odyssey carefully make note of the different family groups (such as the house of Menelaus) and look for a connection between their geographic location and their family surname (last name.) A good example of this is seen in [amazon_link id=”1162709340″ target=”_blank” ]Ireland[/amazon_link] that has “place names” (geographic locations) that correspond to surnames. From the Medieval times, towns were named after the clan (family) that lived there.

For Menelaus to have told Odysseus to leave his homeland of Ithaca and all that he has ever known and journey to a “new” home probably would not have been welcomed even back during the time of Ancient Greece. After all, Odysseus tries very hard to return home; hence, the basis for the epic poem, The Odyssey.


Attention Students: to cite this web article in the current MLA-style, please use the example below.

Dixon, Catherine Jo. “Nationalism in “The Odyssey”.” Feast Of Languages. Catherine Jo Dixon, 30 March 2011. Web. [today’s date].

Note: The citation entry on the “Works Cited” or “Bibliography” page must have a “hanging indent.” The second line should be indented 5 spaces.

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English literature students most commonly use the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) style to write their papers. This citation reflects the [amazon_link id=”1603290249″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition[/amazon_link] and/or the [amazon_link id=”0873522974″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd edition[/amazon_link]. For additional information, I recommend a free online writing lab from Purdue University: “The Purdue OWL” which has current, credible information and reliable examples.


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