English 1, Part 1 College Prep 3 March 3, 2019
The Responsibilities of Power
People with power to do whatever they want also have a responsibility to use that power
wisely. The question is: how do you balance power and responsibility? This question is answered differently by
Homer in The Odyssey Book XII and George Orwell in the excerpt
from 1984. Orwell’s novel is set in a futuristic society, and he portrays a world in which a totalitarian
government tells people everything they should do. He presents a model of what leadership should not be.
Homer, on the other hand, sets his story in times that even then were the distant past, drawing upon history,
myth and legend. He shows how a good leader can tell right from wrong but still allow his people to make
decisions for themselves. Homer presents a model of what leadership, however imperfect, can be. Each book
presents its ideas about the degree of control leaders can exert over their people’s freedom, and how leaders
should communicate with their people. However, The Odyssey’s message, and the ways that Homer
communicates his ideas, are more compelling than the vision Orwell presents in the excerpt
Although control is an essential part of power, Homer shows readers in The Odyssey
Book XII that Odysseus does not try to exercise complete control over his men. Instead, Odysseus asks them
to swear an oath not to kill the cattle on the island. For a while, as long “as corn and wine held out,” they obey
him (Homer). But even when the men are hungry and tempted to eat, Odysseus does not intervene directly. He
prays to the gods for help. Afterwards,
he is obviously upset by what the men do in his absence, but he seems resigned to their bad choices. In fact,
after he sees what has happened, he says, “we could see no way out of it, for the cows were dead already”
(Homer). Homer seems to be saying that Odysseus did his job by telling the men not to kill the cows, and that it
was the crew’s job to practice some self-control. Perhaps Odysseus did not make a good decision in allowing
the men to continue “driving in the best cows and feasting upon them” (Homer). Still, Homer shows that, like
leaders in real life, Odysseus has his weaknesses as well as strengths.
In 1984, the situation is very different. The government controls what everyone does. The narrator says
“nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws” (Orwell), but it is clear that people are not allowed to
think for themselves. “Big Brother” spies on people everywhere. The police patrol goes “snooping into people’s
windows” (Orwell) and there’s even a “Thought Police” that monitors people’s thoughts. Though Orwell creates
this society as a warning against totalitarian governments, he doesn’t show the reader what a good leader
Having control over people depends a lot on how a leader communicates with them. Homer’s version of good
communication is more convincing than Orwell’s because in The Odyssey Book XII Odysseus communicates
personally and individually with the men he leads. After his men killed the cattle, he “rebuked each one of the
men separately” (Homer). Odysseus speaks honestly and directly. This is a great way to communicate with
people because it makes them feel like individuals and feel respected.
Conversely, the communication of the government in 1984 is generic and bends the truth. The government
communicates with people by constantly telling them things through their “telescreens.” The government also
uses the same Doublespeak and oxymorons for talking to everyone: “WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS
SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH”
(Orwell). The communication in 1984 is designed to be generalized and to manipulate people. There is no truth
in it. Though Orwell is exaggerating what propaganda looks like here, he doesn’t give any good ideas in this
excerpt from 1984 for how to improve the situation.
In the end, both Homer and Orwell seem to suggest that leaders need to let people make their own decisions.
Orwell makes this point through a negative example of what happens when leadership controls all thought and
speech. However, this excerpt from Orwell’s 1984 only shows people what not to do, not how to do it right.
Homer, on the other hand, presents ideas about how leaders should behave. True, bad things can happen, and
Odysseus isn’t perfect, but Homer seems to suggest that the job of a leader is to have a clear moral compass
and to do his best to give advice and guidance to his people. Homer’s message is more compelling than
Orwell’s because The Odyssey’s author not only tells his readers what leaders should not do, he also presents
ideas about how they should behave.
As long as corn and wine held out the men did not touch the cattle when they were hungry; when, however,
they had eaten all there was in the ship, they were forced to go further afield, with hook and line, catching
birds, and taking whatever they could lay their hands on; for they were starving. One day, therefore, I went up
inland that I might pray heaven to show me some means of getting away. When I had gone far enough to be
clear of all my men, and had found a place that was well sheltered from the wind, I washed my hands and
prayed to all the gods in Olympus till by and by they sent me off into a sweet sleep.
2″Meanwhile Eurylochus had been giving evil counsel to the men. ‘Listen to me,’ said he, ‘my poor comrades.
All deaths are bad enough but there is none so bad as famine. Why should not we drive in the best of these
cows and offer them in sacrifice to the immortal gods? If we ever get back to Ithaca, we can build a fine temple
to the sun-god and enrich it with every kind of ornament; if, however, he is determined to sink our ship out of
revenge for these homed cattle, and the other gods are of the same mind, I for one would rather drink salt
water once for all and have done with it, than be starved to death by inches in such a desert island as this is.’
3″Thus spoke Eurylochus, and the men approved his words. Now the cattle, so fair and goodly, were feeding
not far from the ship; the men, therefore, drove in the best of them, and they all stood round them saying their
prayers, and using young oak-shoots instead of barley-meal, for there was no barley left. When they had done
praying they killed the cows and dressed their carcasses; they cut out the thigh bones, wrapped them round in
two layers of fat, and set some pieces of raw meat on top of them. They had no wine with which to make drinkofferings over the sacrifice while it was cooking, so they kept pouring on a little water from time to time while
the inward meats were being grilled; then, when the thigh bones were burned and they had tasted the inward
meats, they cut the rest up small and put the pieces upon the spits.
4″By this time my deep sleep had left me, and I turned back to the ship and to the sea shore. As I drew near I
began to smell hot roast meat, so I groaned out a prayer to the immortal gods. ‘Father Jove,’ I exclaimed, ‘and
all you other gods who live in everlasting bliss, you have done me a cruel mischief by the sleep into which you
have sent me; see what fine work these men of mine have been making in my absence.’
5″Meanwhile Lampetie went straight off to the sun and told him we had been killing his cows, whereon he flew
into a great rage, and said to the immortals, ‘Father Jove, and all you other gods who live in everlasting bliss, I
must have vengeance on the crew of Ulysses’ ship: they have had the insolence to kill my cows, which were
the one thing I loved to look upon, whether I was going up heaven or down again. If they do not square
accounts with me about my cows, I will go down to Hades and shine there among the dead.’
6″‘Sun,’ said Jove, ‘go on shining upon us gods and upon mankind over the fruitful earth. I will shiver their ship
into little pieces with a bolt of white lightning as soon as they get out to sea.’
7″I was told all this by Calypso, who said she had heard it from the mouth of Mercury.
8″As soon as I got down to my ship and to the sea shore I rebuked each one of the men separately, but we
could see no way out of it, for the cows were dead already. And indeed the gods began at once to show signs
and wonders among us, for the hides of the cattle crawled about, and the joints upon the spits began to low like
cows, and the meat, whether cooked or raw, kept on making a noise just as cows do.
9″For six days my men kept driving in the best cows and feasting upon them, but when Jove the son of Saturn
had added a seventh day, the fury of the gale abated; we therefore went on board, raised our masts, spread
sail, and put out to sea. As soon as we were well away from the island, and could see nothing but sky and sea,
the son of Saturn raised a black cloud over our ship, and the sea grew dark beneath it. We did not get on much
further, for in another moment we were caught by a terrific squall from the West that snapped the forestays of
the mast so that it fell aft, while all the ship’s gear tumbled about at the bottom of the vessel. The mast fell upon
the head of the helmsman in the ship’s stern, so that the bones of his head were crushed to pieces, and he fell
overboard as though he were diving, with no more life left in him.
10″Then Jove let fly with his thunderbolts, and the ship went round and round, and was filled with fire and
brimstone as the lightning struck it. The men all fell into the sea; they were carried about in the water round the
ship, looking like so many sea-gulls, but the god presently deprived them of all chance of getting home again.
11″I stuck to the ship till the sea knocked her sides from her keel (which drifted about by itself) and struck the
mast out of her in the direction of the keel; but there was a backstay of stout ox-thong still hanging about it, and
with this I lashed the mast and keel together, and getting astride of them was carried wherever the winds chose
to take me.
12″The gale from the West had now spent its force, and the wind got into the South again, which frightened me
lest I should be taken back to the terrible whirlpool of Charybdis. This indeed was what actually happened, for I
was borne along by the waves all night, and by sunrise had reached the rock of Scylla, and the whirlpool. She
was then sucking down the salt sea water, but I was carried aloft toward the fig tree, which I caught hold of and
clung on to like a bat. I could not plant my feet anywhere so as to stand securely, for the roots were a long way
off and the boughs that overshadowed the whole pool were too high, too vast, and too far apart for me to reach
them; so I hung patiently on, waiting till the pool should discharge my mast and raft again—and a very long
while it seemed. A jury-man is not more glad to get home to supper, after having been long detained in court by
troublesome cases, than I was to see my raft beginning to work its way out of the whirlpool again. At last I let
go with my hands and feet, and fell heavily into the sea, hard by my raft on to which I then got, and began to
row with my hands. As for Scylla, the father of gods and men would not let her get further sight of me—
otherwise I should have certainly been lost.
13″Hence I was carried along for nine days till on the tenth night the gods stranded me on the Ogygian island,
where dwells the great and powerful goddess Calypso. She took me in and was kind to me, but I need say no
more about this, for I told you and your noble wife all about it yesterday, and I hate saying the same thing over
and over again.”
What role should a leader play? What are the responsibilities of leadership? In this unit, you have been reading
texts by or about political leaders and others who hold power in a society. Write a literary analysis of two
selections from this unit in which you examine the theme of leadership and the ways in which each author
conveys his or her message about the role and responsibilities of a good leader. What do the authors of these
texts have to say about leadership, and how well do they say it? How does each author present and support
his or her claims? Do the authors you have selected agree or disagree about the role and responsibilities of a
leader? Analyze how effectively each text communicates its author’s message.