Comparing The Odyssey and O Brother Where Art Thou

An essay that compares and contrasts the famous Epic by Homer, The Odyssey, and the modern film O Brother Where Art Thou.

The Odyssey and O Brother Where Art Thou

After reading The Odyssey by Homer one can easily see that the movie O Brother Where Art Thou is modeled after it.A myriad of characters are seen in both, and there are many striking similarities. Although both The Odyssey and O Brother Where Art Thou share the same underlying plot, there are some distinct variations on how everything is presented. This is most prominently seen in the scenes with the sirens, the Kyklops, the lotos eaters, and the main character himself.

The most pronounced similarity, is the sirens. In The Odyssey, Odysseus is warned to be careful around the sirens. Because of this, he gives cotton to his crew so they can block their ears, and then he ties himself up to a mast. Odysseus is told by Kirke, “Square in your ship’s path are Sirens, crying beauty to bewitch men coasting by…” (The Odyssey 210). As Everett and his two men are walking by in O Brother Where Art Thou, they come across three beautiful women, much like the Sirens in The Odyssey since they are also singing and bewitch the three men with their beauty. In both The Odyssey and O Brother Where Art Thou, the Sirens are supposed to ruin Odysseus and his crew. In The Odyssey, Odysseus was luckily able to avoid the Siren’s call, because he was warned, but in O Brother Where Art Thou, Everett and his men fell prey to the Sirens. In both, the Sirens were located in the water, but in O Brother Where Art Thou, the Sirens managed to coax the men, and thus Pete got captured by the police. Another similarity here is that Everett and Delmar believe that Pete is turned into a frog by the temptress Sirens. This is like in The Odyssey where some of Odysseus’s crew is turned into pigs by the temptress Kirke “Scarce had they drunk when she flew after them with her long stick and shut them in a pigsty— bodies, voices, heads, and bristles, all swinish now, though minds were still unchanged” (The Odyssey 172).

Another obvious similarity between The Odyssey and O Brother Where Art Thou is with the Kyklops. In The Odyssey, the Kyklops is described as “A prodigious man who slept in his cave alone, and took his flocks to graze afield—remote from all companions, knowing none but savage ways, a brute so huge…” (The Odyssey 150) and he captures Odysseus and his men and then wants to eat them. They manage to escape by blinding the Kyklops completely and then tying themselves to the underbellies of the sheep, since the Kyklops only checks the backs. In O Brother Where Art Thou, the Kyklops is also a giant man with only one useable eye. Instead of trying to eat Odysseus and his crew though, he lures them away from their journey to an isolated location, and then proceeds to rob them. The main difference between The Odyssey and O Brother Where Art Thou, is that the Kyklops escapes with his mission as a success in O Brother Where Art Thou, whereas the Kyklops fails to eat Odysseus and his crew in The Odyssey. Another parallel can be drawn, towards the end of O Brother Where Art Thou, when Everett and his men dress up as KKK members so they blend in more and can easily sneak through the rally and save their friend. This is a lot like when Odysseus and his crew tie themselves to the sheep’s underbellies to blend in and escape unseen from the Kyklops. In the Odyssey they are escaping from the Kyklops, whereas in O Brother Where Art Thou, they are trying to rescue their friend, but their method is the same.

Another major similarity between The Odyssey and O Brother Where Art Thou, is with the lotos eaters. In the Odyssey, the lotos eaters represent those that have given into temptation, and are now consumed by their desire. The lotos eaters have completely forgotten everything about their past and now only focus on eating lotos plants “…but those who ate this honeyed plant, the Lotos, never cared to report, nor to return: they longed to stay forever, browsing on that native bloom, forgetful of their homeland.” (The Odyssey 148). In O Brother Where Art Thou, the lotos eaters are represented by the christians being baptized. When Delmar and Pete run to get baptized and come back, they believe that they have been absolved of all of their past actions and are now free men. Everett is the only one who doesn’t believe this and doesn’t get baptized since he is not religious. Baptism is a spiritual rebirth where one is cleansed of one’s past sins. This relates to the lotos eaters since they are born anew once they eat a lotos and have completely forgotten about their past life and only want to focus on eating lotoses. The main difference in this passage is how Delmar and Pete are able to walk away from the christians and continue their “quest” with Everett. In the Odyssey, those that ate the lotos were almost completely gone, so almost no one ended up eating the lotoses.

Finally, a key similarity and difference between The Odyssey and O Brother Where Art Thou, is in the main character. Both Odysseus and Everett are very adventurous and self-reliant. They trust themselves the most, and those around them the least. Odysseus never tells his crew what is in the special bag of winds because he doesn’t trust them to use it correctly. Everett also doesn’t fully trust Pete and Delmar as is evident when he refuses to get baptized with them and doesn’t tell them the truth about there being no treasure. Odysseus and Everett are also both very selfish. Odysseus never really cares about the rest of his crew, and only uses them to help him sail the ship. He completely focuses on what he wants to do, and on getting back to his wife. Everett is also very selfish, in the sense that he also only cares about getting home to his wife, and in turn tricks Pete and Delmar by telling them about a hidden treasure, just so they would go along with him. Although there are many striking similarities between the two, there are also some key differences. Everett thinks that religion is a fools thing, and is not religious at all, whereas almost all of Odysseus’s journey revolves around Gods and Goddesses. In this sense, Everett is more of a clear thinker who doesn’t believe in the supernatural, whereas Odysseus is forced to believe in Gods and Goddesses because of his frequent encounters with them, and how much they influenced his life. Everett also has a worse relationship with his wife than Odysseus does. Odysseus’s wife waits for him until the very end, and tries to prolong he re-marriage as long as possible, while Everett’s wife re-marries almost instantly and is very reluctant to take Everett back. One also does not see if Everett’s mother kills herself like Odysseus’s mother did, which provided a greater incentive for Odysseus to hurry home.

In conclusion, throughout The Odyssey and O Brother Where Art Thou, one can see many plot points and themes that both have in common, although the specifics vary from book to movie. This is best seen in the scenes with the sirens, the Kyklops, the lotos eaters, and the main character himself, whether that be Odysseus or Everett.

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4 Comments
  1. Haley Buckman
    Posted March 18, 2012 at 1:24 am

    In the Odyssey, Odysseus cares about his crew very much. He is very loyal to them. This is one of the traits that make him an epic hero. He went back to save the men from the Lotus Eaters, did he not? He also saved the others before himself in the Island of the Cyclopes. He was forced to hold onto the underbellies of the sheep with just his strength because he had already tied his men up to the others. Everett is also very loyal to his men and cares very much for them. if he didn’t, why would they save Tommy from the KKK or go back to rescue Pete. I don’t know who wrote this. Yes, your vocabulary and your grammar are very good, but your reasoning seems quite ludicrous. I could go on and on about how wrong this is. DO NOT use this as a source if you’re writing a compare and contrast about the Odyssey and O Brother, Where Art Thou?

  2. Casey W.
    Posted October 27, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    To the person above, both the author and you are correct. Odysseus could be taken both ways. You could consider him to be someone that doesn’t care about his crew, and there are many details in the story to support that. There are also many parts that support the fact that he is very loyal to the crew. It is something that could be argued both ways.

  3. Circe
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Casey – Epic poems were used to express virtues, and one virtue extolled in The Odyssey is loyalty! Over and over it is seen from Penelope, Athena, Polites, and of course, our hero, Odysseus. To misunderstand the form of an epic as a form with \”debatable\” themes is to misunderstand the Greek\’s purpose of this oral tradition, turned literature. Haley is correct.

  4. corey
    Posted February 24, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    You completely forgot the man on the railroad who predicts the three escapees’ futures and reappears at the end of the movie.

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