When one ponders the Greek mythology and literature, powerful images invariably
come to mind. One relives the heroes’ struggles against innumerable odds,
their battles against magical monsters, and the gods’ periodic intervention in
mortal affairs. Yet, a common and often essential portion of a heroic epic is
the hero’s consultation with an oracle or divinity. This prophecy is usually
critical to the plot line, and also to the well being of the main characters.

Could Priam have survived in the Achaean camp if not at the gods’ instruction
(200-201)? Could the Argos have run the gauntlet of the Prowling Rocks if not
for the gods’ advice of using a sacrificial bird (349). Moreover, prophecy can
be negative as well as positive. Achilles was prophesied to die gloriously in
battle if he chose his life’s way as a warrior. Oedipus was exiled and
condemned by his own words, after he slew his sire and wed his mother. This type
of prophesy can blind even the gods themselves; Chronos was fated to be defeated
and his throne stolen by his son. Demeter loses Persephone periodically every
year because her daughter ate Hades’ pomegranates. Prophecy plays an important
role in the whole of Greek folklore. Something this ever-present bears further
examination. In The Odyssey, prophecy in its myriad forms affects nearly every
aspect of the epic. Prophecies are seen in the forms of omens, signs, strict
prediction of the future, divine condemnation, and divine instruction. Though
conceptually these forms are hard to distinguish, they are clearly separate in
the Odyssey. Moreover, prophecies can be interpreted not only on the "plot
device" level, but also on the level of characterization. Whether a
character accepts or denies the gods’ prophecies tells the reader something
about the character himself. Omens are brief prophecies intimately connected to
the action at hand, which must be interpreted in terms of that action.

Halitherses comments on the eagle attack after Telemakhos condemns the suitors
(463-464); he correctly interests it to mean that if the suitors keep feeding
off Odysseus’s possessions they will be destroyed. Yet the suitors ignore the
omen, inviting their eventual destruction. This haughty treatment of a divine
omen is a justification for their deaths. When Penelope says if Odysseus had
returned he would, with his son, surely slay the suitors, Telemakhos let loose a
great sneeze (429). This omen reinforces the previous one, and simultaneously
prepares the reader for the carnage to follow. However, not all omens are
effective. In the case of Telemakhos we see many bird omens signaling for him to
do something about the suitors. Whether it was his immaturity to interpret the
bird omens or blind arrogance Telemakhos does not act on them. In fact, it’s
not until Athena comes to him that he thinks to take action against the suitors
in his house. Signs are similar to omens, but differ in one crucial aspect; the
prophesee is looking for a specific omen in order to decide whether he should or
should not take some action. There is only one good example of a sign in the

Odyssey; on page 460, Odysseus asks Zeus for two divine signs to decide if it is
time to slay the suitors. Zeus answers with a thunderclap from a cloudless sky
and allows Odysseus to overhear a maid’s prayer for vengeance. Because of
these signs, Odysseus begins his plan to slay the suitors. Later on, with a
thunderclap Zeus actually signals for the precise time to strike. Signs are
helpful devices; they allow not only a rationalization for when an event occurs
but also shows the approval of the gods on such an action. Not only are signs
and omens plentiful in the Odyssey, but also the type one usually associates
with prophesying, strict prediction of the future, abounds as well. Penelope
states that she will marry the man who can string Odysseus’s bow and perform
his famous feat (469). Since Odysseus is the only one to do so, the prophecy is
fulfilled. This "prophesy" is just a statement of the future; it
contains no judgmental quality whatsoever. Theoklymenos’s prophesies to

Penelope that Odysseus is at hand on the island and plotting vengeance on the
suitors (417) This, of course, is already true, so the prophecy is technically
true as well. However, it makes no judgement on the rightness or wrongness of
either Odysseus’s or the suitors’ position. Teiresias shade’s speech to

Odysseus (333) is a strictly objective foretelling, but nevertheless crucial to
the plot and character development. He states that Odysseus will land on

Thrinakia; that if his shopmates eat Helios’s cattle they will be destroyed;
that Odysseus will