The declining intellect of some members of the human race never surprises me in this day and age. A Massachusetts school has actually banned The Odyssey because it teaches "sexism, racism, ableism, antisemitism, and violence." Good Gods, I don't even know where to start, but I'll try, because I'm a Hellenist of 10 years who has actually read the works of Homer and studies ancient Greek religion and civilization. The first thing these historically illiterate people need to understand is that Homer was not merely a Poet to the ancients, He was history. To them, He was simply reciting things that had happened long ago, not advocating a political or social position. It would be like accusing someone who writes a US history book of being sexist, racist, or whatever it may be.
Claim 1: The Odyssey is sexist.
False. The Odyssey holds Goddesses and mortal women to some of the highest levels of honor, power, virtue, wisdom and nobility. Without Athena, Odysseus and His son would not have been safe from the suitors. In the beginning, Athena even makes a plea for Odysseus to Zeus, showing how valuable it was to have the favor of female Divinity. If it hadn't been for Penelope's persistence and dedication, Ithaca might have been lost. Without Nausicca, Odysseus may have died before even reaching home. Or perhaps you might think the story is somehow sexist because men at times encounter female opponents or villains. But this is a huge fallacy, especially considering that there are many female Heroes, and male villains as well such as the Cyclops and the suitors who are depicted with great disgrace. At this point, you're finding sexism only because you desire to.
Claim 2: The Odyssey is racist.
Have you ever even read the first book? At the beginning of the story, Poseidon is away delighting with the Ethiopians, a race different than that of the Greeks. So let's put this into perspective. One of the greatest Gods of the caucasian Greeks leaves Greece to go feast and celebrate with the black Ethiopians, and this is supposed to signal racism. In what reality? Odysseus travels to many foreign lands of people different than the Greeks, where He often receives their aid and protection. Sometimes, people in The Odyssey even sacrifice to foreign Gods when they are in foreign lands to gain divine favor outside of their own culture.
Claim 3: The Odyssey supports ableism.
What shall we say of the idea that abled people are more favored than disabled people in The Odyssey? I would imagine it thinks disabled people can be very capable, since at the end, Odysseus, in the form of an elderly wobbling man, outdid and defeated the younger, stronger suitors in the bow contest, and then killed them all. So the allegation that The Odyssey "doesn't like disabled people," is an invention at worst, and out of context at best.
Claim 4: The Odyssey is Antisemitic.
The largest culture closest to the Jewish people in The Odyssey would be the Phoenicians, who were a semitic speaking people. While they resided in Israeli territory, they in fact had trade and influence all over the Mediterranean. Hardly something you would expect from people who were allegedly hated by the Mediterranean at the time, but there is something vastly important to consider. They were not enemies of Odysseus. They were friendly, helpful and essential to Odysseus completing His journey. In fact, in Book 8, Odysseus blesses them by saying, "The Gods shower down their grace upon these people, so that no evil dwell among them forever." Odysseus bears no ill will toward the Phoenicians, but in fact is grateful for their presence. Some might even argue that the Phoenicians would not qualify as Jewish people, since their king Alcinous prayed to a Greek God after the blessing of Odysseus was given and encouraged his people to do the same: "Herald, stir the mixing bowl and carry drink to the entire hall, that our dispatching the stranger to his land may be with prayer to Zeus the Father."
The antisemitism that's allegedly in the story was, in fact, pulled out of someone's butt in the year 2020 and placed there. If anyone can locate a section in The Odyssey that is blatantly antisemitic, please post it in the comment section and we will examine it.
Claim 5: The Odyssey is violent.
Violence is part of the nature of the universe, and part of human nature when necessary. Get over it. Sometimes violence is needed to create, build and preserve. You think the Earth came into being peacefully? You think there were no violent events? What of the United States that gives you the freedom to speak against literature you dislike? You think we maintained our way of life through campfire songs? Get real. Teaching children that there's no such thing as violence is to make them ill-prepared for the real world. It may be unfortunate, but sometimes violence is necessary. On a side note, you know other books and stories, whether fiction or non-fiction, that are violent? Harry Potter, but even with the immense violence and the clear transphobic attitude of JK Rowling, I bet they are still on the shelves of every public school library.
In conclusion, yes, it is true that in parts of ancient Greece (not all), women were not equal to men. Although they were highly revered and privileged in Sparta, a kingdom which also appears in The Odyssey. But it's also true that women were not equal to men for most of American history as well. So are you going to ban US history books? And what of the violence? You'll have to ban US history for that as well.
Disabled people in ancient Greece, unlike in other parts of the known world, could become valuable members of society, such as Seers. Some cultures, notably the Abrahamics, wouldn't even let disabled or deformed people sacrifice in their temples or at their altars because of their disabilites or deformities. The Greeks weren't that ignorant. And as said before, the Greeks routinely interacted with the many races and cultures around them. They traded with them, learned from them, and made friendships and alliances. This is not the conduct of racism or antisemitism.
There is not, nor ever will be, such a thing as a perfect history, culture or people. You're going to end up banning every book known to humankind. The point of history is to learn, but this is the blatant erasing of it.
Update - Apparently the book hasn't actually been banned, there has simply been discussion of it, but nonetheless, it was strong enough to create news headlines, and accusations that should be addressed. 1/5/2021.
In the Goodness of the Gods,
Work Cited: The Odyssey, translated by Laurence of Arabia aka T.E. Shaw.