Odyssey Themes
When Homer wove the characters of The Odyssey into a story, he undoubtedly left
room for interpretation of their actions. The characters, most of whom are
dynamic, colorful, and three dimensional, are used by Homer to give a fun but
truthful commentary on the Ancient Greeks and their way of life. The actions of
one figure, the man-eating monster named Skylla, are particularly interesting
when viewed in the context of the rest of the story. Though her contribution to
the plot is minor, Skylla's actions are important in that they are
characteristic of several themes found throughout the poem. These themes include
the role of the female in Odysseus's struggle, the hunger (figuratively and
literally) of the characters in The Odyssey, and the commentary Homer makes on
the individuals who live lawlessly. In The Odyssey, Homer introduces many female
characters; some play significant roles, some are in the background. Regardless
of their importance, distinctions can be made as to their roles in the story:
that is, some put forth effort to help Odysseus and the other men--Arete,

Athena, Nausikaa, and Eurykleia are examples--and others (whom he encounters on
his voyages home) lead to the delay or destruction of them. Skylla plays the
role of the latter, as do Kalypso, Kirke, and the Seirenes. Although none of
these women actually harm Odysseus, each poses a deadly threat to him on his
voyage. Odysseus's experience with Skylla is by far the most deadly and
disturbing. Whereas the other women succeed only in enticing and delaying the
crew, the encounter with Skylla has lethal consequences. Even though he decides
to take the sea route that passes near her lair, it seeming to be the least
dangerous of the three options, he wants nothing to do with the monster. Yet,
instead of passing unscathed, six of his men are taken (XII, 294-7) as the boat
sails through the channel. Homer uses an epic simile to help the reader
visualize the macabre scene. He compares Skylla to a fisherman who "will
hook a fish and rip it from the surface / to dangle wriggling through the
air" (XII, 303-4). The crewmen are the fish, of course, and seem helpless
as Skylla whisks them from the ship. Describing the attack, Odysseus says,
"and deathly pity ran me through / at that sight--far the worst I ever
suffered, / questing the passes of the strange sea" (308-10). It seems that
he realizes that the losses were his responsibility and that he too could easily
have been a victim of Skylla's wrath. Earlier in the story (Book V) we see that

Calypso poses a similar, though not as deadly, threat to Odysseus's homecoming.

Instead of literally grabbing for him as Skylla does, Kalypso tries to retain

Odysseus by enticing him with the prospect of immortality and a life with a
beautiful goddess. We are also told she has cast "spells" (198) on him
to keep him docile and under her power. Kalypso says to Zeus, "I fed him,
loved him, sang that he should not die / nor grow old, ever, in all the days to
come" (142-4). Despite her efforts and hospitality, Odysseus still longs
for home as he sits each day by the rocky shore "with eyes wet scanning the
bare horizon of the sea" (165-6). He is quite happy when the day comes that
he is set free by Zeus's will. Without Zeus's intervention, Odysseus would have
been kept indefinitely. Book X, which contains the introduction of Kirke,
provides another example of near fatal attraction. This time it is not a
monstrous woman or an overly hospitable nymph that brings them near their
downfall, but an immortal who entrances her visitors so that they forget their
motives. Whether or not Kirke intended to eat Odysseus's men, as Skylla does,
after she turned them to swine we do not know, though it is certainly a
possibility. What is known is their flaw--they are men who fall prey to the
desires of women. This fact is admitted twice by Odysseus in lines 440 and 503
and is the reason they end up "feasting long / on roasts and wine, until a
year grew fat" (504-5). Only after Odysseus is reminded of his homeland
does he go to Kirke and plead for their release, to which she agrees. A point to
make is that in both cases, with Kalypso and Kirke, Odysseus plays the role of
the mortal lover who has little resistance; and in all three cases, the females
cause only pain or delay. As already mentioned, six of Odysseus's men were