The Odyssey is one of the most impactful pieces of literature in history. It illustrates a voyage epic of an ancient Greek hero who shows perseverance to return home to his family despite many trials. So impactful, O Brother Where Art Thou? was made to put this tale into modern terms so that society could better understand and learn from it. O Brother Where Art Thou? was nominated for best picture and won best actor at the Golden Globe Awards in 2001 because of how well it described The Odyssey. O Brother Where Art Thou? is an accurate description of The Odyssey because of the connections on the events of the Cyclops, the Sirens, and the Suitors.
The Cyclops is one of the most important trials Odysseus and his crew face. The Odyssey illustrates this event where Odysseus lands on an almost abandoned island with no traces of inhabitants. They scout the land and find a giant’s cave with flocks of sheep and many assorted cheeses within it. Odysseus and his finest men enter and begin to dine on this abundance. Not long after, Polyphemus, the Cyclops enters with his giant club and sees men eating his rations. He engages with a conversation with Odysseus at first. Suddenly, Polyphemus grabs two of Odysseus’ men and eats them! This event is very similar to what happens in O Brother Where Art Thou? Everett, Pete and Delmar are eating at a fine restaurant for lunch.
A man with an eye patch approaches them, called “Big Dan Teague” and claims to be a bible salesman, offering to take them out to a picnic to discuss business. When Big Dan is finished eating, he stands up, breaks a branch off of a tree and beats them with it as well as robs them of their money. This is very similar to the events with Polyphemus. Physically, they are both large beings and use that to their ability in slaughtering their opponents. Secondly, they both have one eye. Big Dan Teague wears an eye patch hiding one of his eyes, while Polyphemus is a Cyclops. Finally, they both use clubs as their weapons of choice in their slaughters.
In what happens, each character seems harmless and humane at first. Shortly after, they beat their prey easily and without effort. In the cave, Polyphemus shows his power and strength: “he lunged out with his hand toward my men and snatching two at once, rapping them on the ground he knocked them dead like pups” (Homer 220). Dan Teague swings once at Everett and twice at Delmar, steals the money, kills the frog they have similar to Polyphemus killing the men, and leaves at once showing similar size and strength.
The second event similarity is the run-in with the Sirens. In The Odyssey, Odysseus has heard of these beautiful mermaids called Sirens that will entice someone with their beautiful song and kill them when they enter the water. Odysseus wants to hear the song, so he orders the crew to tie him to the mast so he cannot free himself while the other crewmates have beeswax in their ears, deaf to the song. In O Brother Art Thou?, Everett, Pete, and Delmar hear a song coming from the river. They stop the car and follow it, and come across three beautiful women singing and washing clothes. They are seduced by them and wake up the next morning without Pete. Physically, these characters are very similar. The Sirens are known for their beauty and skills in attraction and seduction all throughout Greek Mythology and when ships come across these creatures, may the gods help them.
In The Odyssey, Odysseus experiences this song when “they sent their ravishing voices out across the air and the heart inside me throbbed to listen longer” (Homer 277). Just like The Odyssey, the songs of the women are what really attract the main characters to the river. Also, both groups of women were known for their beauty and skills in enticement. In the book, Odysseus is attracted and wants to be with the Sirens, eventually leading to his death, but the crew rows faster and escapes. Everett, Delmar, and Pete are also enticed by the song and beauty of the women as well and fall asleep all night on the river bank, but eventually escape without Pete in the morning. The three women in O Brother Where Art Thou? play the same Role as the Sirens do in The Odyssey.
Finally, the most difficult trial Odysseus had to overcome was when the Suitors courted his wife Penelope when he returned home. When Odysseus returned, he found that the other princes in the land called suitors had been feasting in the halls of Odysseus and courting Penelope his wife. Feasting from Odysseus flocks and herds was what they were famously known for when Prince Telemachus said, “Look at them over there just lyres and tunes! It’s easy for them, all right, they feed off another’s goods and go scot-free” (Homer 82). She is about to pick one of the many suitors to marry her when Odysseus returns to his palace. Similarly in O Brother Where Art Thou?, the day that Everett returns to his hometown, he finds his daughters with a man that they scribe as a “fine suitor.” This man is the fiancé of his wife, who has been living in Everett’s house since he went to prison and became his wife’s new boyfriend.
Physically, they are both well-dressed and well-fed from lavishing from the spoils of both households. The Odyssey describes them as “they trooped in [the dining hall] with all their swagger” (Homer 82). This is due to the clothes that they wear and the many luxuries in benefitting one’s appearance that come in being a king. In the next scene, the day of the marriage for Everett’s wife comes, and he wins her over by playing at the concert as the “Soggy Bottom Boys” with his friends, humiliating his wife’s suitor and Homer Stokes. In the end, Everett and his wife are re-married and united with his family, just like he wanted all along. Similarly in The Odyssey, Odysseus returns to the palace the day Penelope is supposed to choose which suitor to marry. He and Prince Telemachus trap the suitors in the main hall and slaughter them, restoring his place on the throne and as the husband of Penelope, just like he wanted all along. Each suitor was so close to marrying the hero’s wife but fell just short due to the hero saving the day.
The connections between The Odyssey and O Brother Where Art Thou? unite two different cultures; from ancient Greece to modern American culture. Thanks to the creators of O Brother Where Art Thou?, people are now able to see the impactful piece of literature that was passed on by tongue in ancient times, and now displayed on a film screen. People now understand the Odyssey because of its accuracy in the main events of the Cyclops, the Sirens, and the Suitors, and because of this accuracy we can learn to be better human beings by following the examples of Odysseus and Everett, masters of craft and perseverance.
Homer, Robert Fagles, and Bernard Knox. The Odyssey. New York: Viking, 1996. Print.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? Dir. Joel Coen. Perf. George Clooney. Touchstone, 2000. DVD