About Odysseus’ Qualities

The Odyssey reveals six dominant traits of Odysseus that either exemplify his heroism or cause him many problems. Through his long, adventurous and ultimately successful quest back home, Odysseus’ traits of determination, righteousness, and cleverness exemplify his heroism.

First, his determination: He always did whatever it took to get back home and no matter how difficult the circumstances. He showed amazing strength and never gave up. While this was demonstrated in several ways, one of the strongest instances was on Circe’s island. Instead of staying put on Circe’s island where it was comfortable and there was plenty to eat, Odysseus resolved to tackle the treacherous monsters Charybdis and Scylla in his effort to get back home. This is important because it shows that of the two paths that were available to him, the easy and the difficult, Odysseus chose the latter because he was determined to get back to his family. Another important heroic attribute of Odysseus was his sense of righteousness. He always strived to do the right thing regardless of the consequences. This was best displayed when he accosted Penelope’s villainous suitors: “-your last hour has come. You die in blood.” (22.1260-61). He went on to slay them despite the strong possibility of their kin plotting for revenge. This shows that he did not fear the consequences of being righteous and spared no mercy for those who weren’t. The final attribute that added to Odysseus’ heroisms was his cleverness. His strategic thinking often allowed him and his men to escape obstacles and survive. For example, Odysseus cleverly created a plan to escape from the Cyclops: he got the Cyclops drunk and then branded his only eye with a hot metal spike. This shows that Odysseus could almost always find a way out of difficult situations using his wits. All of the traits described above exemplify Odysseus’ heroic qualities for which he is known and admired.

However, along with Odysseus’ heroic qualities, the Odyssey also reveals three major flaws of his. Prime amongst these are: arrogance, unfaithfulness, and stubbornness. The first flaw of Odysseus that causes several setbacks in his endeavor to get back home is hubris (excessive pride). This is because it causes him to be disrespectful. This is shown when he cursed the gods after the Trojan War and refused any sacrifices to Poseidon. He also once told Polyphemus “Kyklops, if ever mortal man inquire how you were put to shame and blinded, tell him Odysseus, raider of cities, took your eye: Laërtês’ son, whose home’s on Ithaka!”(9.526-30). This is important because these acts cause his 20 year endeavor to begin, the lives of his men to be lost, and his journey to be lengthened.

Odysseus’ second flaw that was another factor that caused his journey to be extended was his unfaithful behavior. During his stay on Circe’s island he was involved in a one year love affair with Circe. Not only did he betray his wife and son by doing this but he also got completely distracted from his objective of returning home. He decided to leave only after being reminded by his crew of the importance of getting back to Ithaca quickly. This shows the actions that caused both the betrayal of his family as well as the extension of his journey. His final flaw, stubbornness, was the cause of the deaths of many of his men. He refuses to learn from his mistakes and continues to put his men in harm’s way. This is clearly shown when Odysseus and his men continue to explore unknown lands even after their bitter experience with the Cyclops. On the island of the Laistrygonês and then on Circe’s island, he sent his men out again to find civilization not once considering the nature of the natives: whether they would be hostile or friendly. This caused many of his men to die and also sparked some rebellion when Odysseus’ kinsmen Eur´ylokhos cried out, “-Will you go to Kirkê’s hall? Swine, wolves, and lions she will make us all, beasts of her courtyard, bound by her enchantment. Remember those the Kyklops held, remember shipmates who made that visit with Odysseus! The daring man! They died for his foolishness!” (10. 467-472). This shows that his stubbornness causes him many problems, especially with his crew. All of these flaws make many people question if Odysseus was truly a hero. Overall, Odysseus is a role model for mankind because he displays characteristics that we should all strive to have while also trying to avoid the mistakes he made.

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