The beginning of the Odyssey, the Olympian gods all want to allow Odysseus to return from his long exile, only Poseidōn is against that. So Zeus, as king of the gods, overrules Poseidōn on Athēnē's request.

Poseidōn hates Odysseus because he blinded the kyklōps Polyphēmos. Odysseus did this when Polyphēmos captured him and his crewmates, killed and ate some of them, and locked the rest in his cave with the intention to eat them later.

What did the Olympian gods other than Poseidōn think of Poseidōn's attitude?

  1. Did they believe Poseidōn was right to avenge Odysseus by putting him to all the hardships he had to suffer, only at that point the vengeance was going on for too long and against Odysseus's eventual fate, so Poseidōn would have to stop now?
  2. Or did they instead think that Odysseus can't be blamed at all for what he did, because he had to save his crewmates from an attack that wasn't their fault, only at this point it would be useless to argue with the stubborn Poseidōn and the best thing that could be done is to let Odysseus home and let the matter drop?

(I am not trying to restrict the question to the Odyssey, you can consider other accounts of this story too if they matter.)

  • Your question title is deceptive in suggesting the question concerns vengeance taken BY Odysseus, not ON him--and indeed the last few books of the Odyssey show him indulging in an over-the-top orgy of vengeance against both the suitors and some of his own slaves, after which only a deus ex machina ending keeps his kingdom from civil war. Sep 17, 2017 at 15:18
  • Also, Odysseus leads his men into the cave, they help themselves to the owner's food, and Polyphemus replaces the doorstone, trapping them, all before the monster even becomes aware of his visitors. Moreover, Odysseus seeks hospitality from Polyphemus not because he needs it, but out of greed for the traditional treasure-gifts from host to guest (9.229). Sep 17, 2017 at 15:26
  • @BrianDonovan argh! Yes, the title was wrong. I tried to write "Odysseus's punishment" first, and then decided "punishment" need not have been accurate, but messed up when I changed it to "Odysseus's vengeance".
    – b_jonas
    Sep 17, 2017 at 15:29

1 Answer 1


Beware a tendency to cast Homeric gods in the role of arbiters or enforcers of human morality (or Cyclopian morality, if there were such a thing). Plato might wish Homer to go there (and Solon and Hesiod do), but Homer does not generally oblige. Not even Zeus Xenios, Zeus of the Guests, seems consistently to punish the many crimes against hospitality that pepper the Odyssey—not even if we count punishment inflicted by human agents. What harm befalls the Laestrygonians, for example?

Lines 1.16–18 appear to be crucial: οἱ θεοί (the gods) are said to have spun (ἐπεκλώσαντο, lemma ἐπικλώθω) the year of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca; and that choice of verb, with Clotho’s very name built into it, suggests that the gods here referred to are the Fates (as LSJ puts it, “prop. of the Fates who spun the thread of destiny”). Iliad 16.439–49 suggests that Zeus and other Olympians may have the power to overrule what the Fates have spun, but that such overruling is felt among the Olympians to be the opposite of praiseworthy (expressed litotically: ἀτὰρ οὔ τοι πάντες ἐπαινέομεν θεοὶ ἄλλοι, but all we other gods shall not praise).

This scruple may be a matter of mere divine decorum, or it may be essential to avoiding some kind of cosmic anarchy or destruction; but it is not a matter (or judgment) of ordinary human morality.

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