In book twelve of The Odyssey, the main character, Odysseus, is confronted with three obstacles that he and his crew must conquer in order to get home to Ithaca. The first of the three obstacles that Odysseus and his crew must face are the sirens and their enchanting melody. This obstacle is the easiest one for the war heroes to conquer, all they have to do is plug their ears and sail past the siren’s island. Odysseus adds a twist by having himself tied to the mast of his ship where he can here the song, but cannot be drawn to his death. After the sirens Odysseus and his men only have to face one of the two following obstacles: the monster Scylla, or the natural phenomenon Kharybdis. Before Odysseus and his men made their journey through these obstacles Odysseus was forewarned of the dangers ahead. Instead of informing his men of their possible death, he kept his knowledge to himself. In the moral standards that people use in the late twentieth century, Odysseus’ decision not to tell his crew about the dangers that lay ahead of them was unethical. However, in the standards of Greece in Odysseus’ time period it more than likely was a moral action. Knowing both of these facts, how should we, as readers, interpret Odysseus’ decision?
Odysseus made his decision because he believed that his crew would not go through the cliffs that house Scylla and Kharybdis. Odysseus was probably correct in his judgment of his men’s willingness to face death. As the commander he has the right to make decisions of this caliber.
The idea of a commander having the ability to decide whether or not the crew lives is another moral issue. Personally, I’m not sure what the rules regarding this are in the United States’ armed forces today. Besides what our armed forces think, I don’t think that the idea of a commander having the kind of authority to decide whom dies and who lives is moral.
Besides the idea that Odysseus, as a commander, has the authority to decide the fate of his crew, there is the issue of the reasons behind his decision. I believe that he based his decision to put his crew’s lives at risk on his own need to get home to Ithaca. Therefore, according to Odysseus’ logic, he wants to go home much more than his men because he thought that his crew would abandon the ship if he told them of their fate. Whereas he is willing to face the dangers of the obstacles ahead in order to get home. To me this is a selfish decision on the part of Odysseus, to sacrifice his crew, or some of it, so that he can get home.
In conclusion, Odysseus made a decision not to tell his crew about the dangers that lay ahead of them based on several things. He thought that they would refuse to face death because they didn’t think that getting home was worth the risk. He had the right to do this because he was their commander. Still, no matter which moral system you look through, past or present, Odysseus did not tell his crew about the dangers they would face due to personal reasons. He didn’t tell his crew that six, maybe even more of them, would die all because he wanted to go home to Ithaca.