Odysseus is depicted as a constant and reluctant traveler who must continually encounter different cultures. Although on his initial arrival to the Island of the Phaiakians he makes no physical contact with another culture, his inner desire to preserve his own culture becomes apparent. He has been stripped of his clothes, his oikos, and his direction. The only untouched possession that he retains is his culture. The new culture that he encounters must conceive an opinion of the culture of his native Ithaka, and because Odysseus is the only foreigner from there, what they decide is based entirely on the impression that he makes. As a hero, he must be an ideal representation of his culture, and this is expressed through his apparent persona. A heroic identity is an accurate representation of a culture through one person. In order to generate a more accurate impression of his people, Odysseusmust mold himself to be an exact representation of them. The technological skills that Odysseus portrays in this passage are actually a representation of the identity of his people. Adopting their identity as his own, Odysseus makes it possible for outsiders to perceive his culture. Homer's meticulous choice of words portrays the importance of technological heritage in Odysseus 'heroic identity.'
His identity is important to Odysseus because as he makes contact with other cultures, his identity is the means by which they perceive his own culture. Homer implies that Odysseus is in a strange land "where none live near as neighbors"(489). Homer's original Greek word for neighbors, geitones, has a meaning different than the modern accepted meaning of 'neighbor.' The Greek word geitones is defined more specifically as not only those who are near, but those who are of the same land and culture as well*. He is not suggesting that Odysseus is physically alone, but rather that he is alone in a cultural manner. Homer did not use the word anchitermon, the more literal and geographical aspect of neighbor, because he wants to accentuate the importance of Odysseus' heroic identity. To an ignorant people, his identity would be the sole representation of his culture. Since he is the onlyone of his kind in this new land, the process by which he develops his heroic identity will be crucial to any contact he makes with outside cultures.
Odysseus views shelter as the most important technological concept in his culture and by acknowledging this, he is articulating his identity. Landing on the Island, he immediately commences to seek shelter. Soon after, he "stopped underneath two bushes," without delaying to find other ways as he commonly does (476). The original Greek version of the text uses the word hupeluthe, meaning to come under, instead of "stopped" as is used in Lattimore's translation. This small detail is one of great importance because it shows an indecisive hero's immediate choice to seek shelter. He did not stop in front of the bushes by coincidence, nor did he stop in front of them to ponder his possibilities, rather he approached them specifically with the thoughtof using them as a form of shelter. Going back to his basic instincts, shelter is a concept that needs no further thought because it is a bare necessity. His knowledge of its importance was learned, or inherited, from his past ancestors. By taking cover immediately, he is automatically remembering his culture, and expressing his identity.
Through the complexity of his techniques (for the construction of shelter), Odysseus develops a valid heroic identity for the presentation of his culture. He begins to construct a habitat, not with tools, but with his own identity. He "heaped [himself] a bed tosleep on," made primitively with his own bare hands (482). In the translation, Odysseus gathers dead leaves to make himself a cushion to sleep on. It is interesting, however, that Homer chose the word eunen, a bed, rather than the Greek word stibas,meaning a makeshift bed of straw or leaves. It seems to be that stibas would be the more fitting choice of words, however, Homer chooses to keep his depiction of the bed vague and simple. In doing so, Homer is allowing the possibility that the bed Odysseus made is much more complicated than a simple pile of leaves. Such an uncivilized and primitive bed does not show much about individuality, whereas Odysseus' complicated design is yet another expression of his identity. Homer uses the same word, eunen,when speaking of Telemachus' bed, a bedof great importance and honor (I.427). The word is used again by Circe as she speaks to Odysseus about going to her bed (X.297). Here, eunen refers to a divine bed worthy enough to belong to a goddess. Homer uses this word to describe beds that are honorable and important. Unlike his bed at Ithaka that is described as lechos, or a marriagebed, this bed that he makes out of leaves has no sexual value; it is purely one of honor. These references suggest that the bed that Odysseus makes for himself in the leaves is one of complexity and prestige. Assuming that Lattimore's translation underestimated this detail, it is safe to assume that Odysseus uses his technological knowledge and culture to build his bed. On this Island wherehe has been stripped of everything, the only hope that he has for his survival and sanity, is his individual view on his culture. With this culture, he is not only given the will to survive, but the will to preserve his identity as well.
Homer furthers his idea of heroic identity by transforming Odysseus' technology into a metaphor. He compares Odysseus' desire for identity to the warmth of a burning log. Like the log that is buried to preserve its fire, Odysseus"[buries] himself in theleaves," with the desire to preserve his identity (491). Because he is alone on this strange Island, he must maintain his culture byany means necessary. In this passage, he maintains his culture, his heroic identity, by the use of technological techniques.T hrough these techniques of shelter, he will keep his culture alive; much like the log keeps the fire alive, preventing its need to be re-lighted. If at any time the fire doesgo out, there is "no other place to get a light from," and the risk of total loss is inevitable (490). Homer uses this metaphor to portray the importance of shelter to Odysseus. If he loses this shelter, he runs the risk of a total lossof culture. It is only with his sheltering that Odysseus is given the chance to survive. The only way that he can preserve his previously established identity is by burying it under coverings of protection. Referring back to the original Greek, Homer uses a play on words. He uses kalupto to depict Odysseus burying himself. Kalupto has two meanings: the first is to cover,and the second is to veil oneself. As Odysseus covers himself with the leaves, he also veils his culture and identity from the possibility of outside harm. By imitating a burning log, Odysseus conserves his heroic identity and ensures the success of his cultural presentation.
Practicing careful rhetoric, Homer makes it apparent that certain technological concepts are essential to constructing a heroic identity. Shelter is an inherited trait of Odysseus' ancestral past, and so when he consciously acknowledges this, he is acting on his culture. Odysseus establishes his heroic identity by accepting the importance of shelter, as well as by practicing technological methods for its construction. The assimilation of these two concepts provides Odysseus with a valid heroic identity, and thus avalid expression of his culture. For theconservation of his identity, Odysseus uses the technological aspect of shelter to protect himself and his portrayal of his culture. Each time that he encounters a new culture, he is faced with a different people that are curious to learn more about him and hisculture. Odysseus chooses to deal with this form of contact by maintaining an accurate presentation of his culture. Referring to the original Greek text indicates that Homer had specific reasons for his choice of words as he portrays the elaboration of Odysseus 'heroic identity.' Focusing on Homer's language, the development of Odysseus through this passage shows the maturing of a convincing cultural presentation.