Odysseus was the legendary king of Ithaca, the hero of Homer’s epic Odyssey and a key player in other Greek epics. He also went by the name of Ulysses, and we will in all probability come back to some of his heroic deeds when we get to the letter ‘U’ in a few days. But today, we have a story, that talks about two non heroic aspects that Odysseus was known for – reluctance and revenge.
In the Trojan War, Odysseus was an important player on the side of the Greek contingency, and many a victory was attributed to his strategy, council, cunning and bravery. It was Odysseus’s idea to create the Trojan horse, which ultimately led to the downfall of Troy.
Paris, a prince of Troy, visited Sparta. Here he was received graciously as a guest by Menelaus, the King of Sparta. But in the absence of the host, Paris wooed and absconded with his host’s wife, Helen,
Helen was the most beautiful woman on earth and many a prince and king had vied for her attention till she had chosen Menelaus as her husband. Her ex suitors were under an oath to protect Helen, if she was ever in danger.
When king Menelaus returned home and found his wife missing, he approached the many ex-suitors, to join them in his attempt to get Helen back from Troy. Some joined enthusiastically, while some were reluctant, among them was our hero Odysseus.
Odysseus, had long gotten over his infatuation for Helen. He was now a happily married man, a loving husband to his wife Penelope and a devoted father to his new born son. Moreover there had been an oracle, which had stated that if Odysseus did go to war, it would be many years before he could come back home. So naturally, when he knew that the envoys of King Menelaus were on their way to seek his support, he decided to fool them into believing that he had lost his mind, and would be of no use in the war against Troy.
He dressed himself up as a mad man, hitched a donkey and an ox to a plough and pretended to plough a sandy beach, intermittently throwing salt around as if they were seeds being sown. The envoys were aghast to see the mighty Odysseus in this pitiable state, and they would have left him alone, had it not been for the cunning of a nobleman by the name of Palamedes.
Palamedes threw Odysseus’s new born son, in front of the plough and Odysseus, immediately veered the plough away, and jumped to the rescue of his son. Thus he was caught in his pretence and had no way out from the oath taken in an earlier time. He was forced to join the Greek contingency.
Odysseus never forgave Palamedes for his cunning, and had him killed as soon as found a chance. According to one story, Odysseus planted a treasure in Palamedes quarters. He then got a letter forged, which implied that Palamedes, had turned a traitor, and had been gifted valuable treasures in appreciation for his help to the enemy, the king of Troy. Later he got Palamedes quarters searched and found the planted gold. Palamedes was tried as a traitor, found guilty and stoned to death.
Thus ends the story of Odysseus’s reluctance and revenge. That it took the poor man, twenty years before he could get back to his wife and son, is a story for another day.