What’s the Role of Phemius in the Odyssey?

Phemius is a bard residing in Ithaka, an island in the Ionian Sea. He is introduced in Book 1 of Homer’s Odyssey, where he is forced to sing a song about the Trojan War to Penelope’s suitors against his will. The song is painful for Penelope, who is grieving the long absence of her husband, Odysseus. However, Telemachus, Penelope’s son, orders Phemius to continue singing.

Phemius appears again in Book 22, where he pleads for his life when Odysseus returns to Ithaka to kill the suitors. The bard explains that he did not want to sing for the suitors, and Telemachus supports his statement. As a result, Odysseus spares Phemius’s life but orders him to perform a wedding song to drown out the sounds of the dying suitors.

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In the Odyssey, Phemius is one of the two bards presented, the other being Demodocus. Both bards’ roles are to demonstrate the importance of oral storytelling and the craft of bards in Ancient Greek society. Homer shows how the narratives of the bards resonate with the thoughts and emotions of their audience. Additionally, the bards’ stories are intertwined with the larger narrative of the poem, making them an integral part of the plot.

In essence, Phemius’s character serves as an example of the vital role that oral storytelling and bards played in Ancient Greek society. The bard’s unwillingness to sing to the suitors and his subsequent survival at the hands of Odysseus underscore the importance of storytelling as a means of communicating values and shaping cultural norms.


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