Property Rights in The Odyssey

I finished Homer’s Odyssey a few weeks ago, and something that impressed me in its second, domestic half is just how consistent the politics are.

Everyone knows the story: Odysseus returns home but must hide from the army of suitors that’s been leeching off of his fortune and abusing his family.  He must use his wits to trap and slay them all.

I was discouraged at first upon seeing just how many pages there were between the famous journey with its monsters and the final slaughter at the end.  It’s several sections long.

But as a middle-aged, middle class husband and father, those sections spoke to me most of all.

That kingdom, with its wealth and people, belonged to Odysseus.  The suitors had no right to encroach upon it, but not only did they do so, they did so with horrifying arrogance.  When Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, asks for the basic care that custom required for a stranger, they react with shock that anyone would dare to ask for some of “their” riches.  They sounded like trust fund babies.

Odysseus, on the other hand, when assailed by another beggar who doesn’t want Odysseus moving in on his handout racket, says that they’re both welcome to prosper as their luck and effort dictate, and berates him with this: “You’ve got no call to grudge me what’s not yours!” (Book 18, line 22).  The beggar has a scarcity mentality; Odysseus’ worldview saw agency and abundance.  The beggar resented and feared the success of others, and violently demanded his “fair share,” while Odysseus was content to live and let live.

And when the hour of reckoning came, and Odysseus was beginning to slaughter the suitors in the locked room, their leader’s plea is typical:

“So spare your own people! Later we’ll recoup

your costs with a tax laid down on the land,

covering all we ate and drank in your halls…” (Book 22, lines 57-59)

…only then suggesting that they themselves also offer something for that collection.

They expected the productive class to bail them out with a reactionary tax hike!

I think the political implications of The Odyssey are clear.  “Suitors.”  Ayn Rand would have called them by a better name: looters.

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