In the Odyssey, it has been made clear that disguises and deception are important components of the Greeks’ way of living. Deception was used at Troy with the Trojan horse, allowing Odysseus and the Greeks to prevail. It is used by the gods and other divine characters, such as Athena who uses disguises to help Odysseus and his family. Even Penelope used deception to keep the suitors at bay by spinning her loom during the day and unraveling it at night. Most importantly, clever Odysseus is constantly coming up with disguises in order to protect himself and to overcome the obstacles he faces.
Thus far, most of these disguises could only be seen through once the character in disguise shed tears or showed powerful emotions. For example, Odysseus reveals his true self to Alkinoos and the Phaikians by crying during the minstrel’s song about Troy. The only big exception to this rule is when Odysseus called out to the Kyklops and told him his true identity only with words. However, this method of revealing disguise only brought trouble to himself and his crewmates. Even this exception, one could argue, is not so different since Odysseus’ joy and sense of pride overcame his senses, causing him to make this mistake.
Throughout Books XIX to XXI, Odysseus behaves in an uncharacteristic manner in the way he reveals his true identity to Telemakhos, Eurykleia (the old, loyal nurse), and the swineherd and cowherd. Unlike in the previous books, Odysseus is willing to reveal himself to certain characters, even if the revelation happens by mistake.
First off, he willingly revealed himself to his son; this reunion was followed by tears so it still contained the emotional aspect of the previous revelations. From that point on, Odysseus’ methods are completely different from his normal calculating actions. The first uncharacteristic aspect is when Eurykleia sees Odysseus’ scar and instantly recognizes him. The passage, “The scar: he had forgotten that. She [Eurykleia] must not handle his scarred thigh, or the game was up. But when she bared her lord’s leg, bending near, she knew the groove at once” (XIX, 456-459), clearly shows that the great tactician Odysseus did not think of all of his choices, nor weigh them as he normally had before. He normally would not have forgotten about such a trivial thing that could give himself away. This trivial mistake is exactly what he needed though. Once being discovered by a loyal servant and seeing that she wouldn’t give him away, Odysseus suddenly took greater control of how his disguise would be shed.
He continued to slowly shed his disguise by showing his power and ability to the suitors by overcoming the challenge Penelope had set forth. As if that weren’t risky enough, Odysseus proceeded to reveal himself to his cowherd and swineherd by showing them his scar. Considering that the last time he so blatantly revealed himself, Kyklops and Poseidon almost killed him, why is it that Odysseus suddenly feels powerful enough to reveal himself so willingly? Why is it that he isn’t behaving like he did with the Phaikians, to whom he only revealed himself through tears? That slow method of revelation had proved to be successful before, so why not utilize it again?
I, myself, am not sure why Odysseus suddenly feels the urge or power to willingly drop his act. The only theory I can propose is that Odysseus feels powerful enough to do this since he is at his home, the one place in the world where he is a true master. Being at home with the gods on his side, he finally feels control of his fate after years and years of having his fate played with by the gods. At home, I believe that his disguise serves as a weapon of ambush; away from home, his disguises helped him avoid others’ traps. Depending on the situation, we can see that disguises were used for multiple purposes. Overall, what is the significance of the different reasons in which disguises were used and shed in the Odyssey? Are the disguises only significant in showing the audience when Odysseus is in control of his fate, or do they hold a deeper meaning about homecoming and power in general?