“Great War Hero” in the Odyssey by Homer
Being too prideful will only incite consequences for oneself. The Odyssey, by Homer, tells of the “great war hero” Odysseus and his quest to return home from Troy. On his journey, he encounters countless hardships and makes many mistakes. When he is finally able to return home to Ithaka, he has become a new man with different morals and perceptions. Throughout Odysseus’ journey, the trials and temptations he faces teaches him the importance of piety and the ramifications of being too prideful.
In the beginning of the epic, Odysseus suffers after the gods curse him for not burning sacrifices for them. Odysseus, when recounting his days after the Trojan war as he and his crew were set to sail home, says; “‘What of those years / of rough adventure, weathered under Zeus? … on the spot I told them: “Back and quickly! / Out to sea again!’” (9.42-51). He explains that he and his crew leave Kikones “quickly,” without fulfilling his sacred duty to burn sacrifices towards the gods. Odysseus is too prideful and did not believe he needed the help of the gods for a safe travel home. Moreover, he did not believe the gods contributed in the Trojan war or the fighting on Kikones, and thus he did not owe any debt or worship towards them. In addition, because of his lack of worship, Odysseus seemingly believes himself to be godlike, and therefore in control of his own fate and destiny. Consequentially, Zeus curses Odysseus and his crew to “years of rough adventure,” for disrespecting the gods. Soon later, Odysseus offends Zeus once again, when he is still on the island of Kikones. Upon arrival, “‘[s]heep after sheep / they butchered by the surf…[s]o doom appeared to [them], / dark word of Zeus for [them], [their] evil days’” (9.52-60). Zeus dooms Odysseus, for his crew had killed the sheep on Kikones, an ally of Troy. After his crew kills the sheep and Zeus curses them, Odysseus and his men are forced to retreat and suffer huge losses. Even though Odysseus was not the one who carries out these acts, he is still able to realize the consequences of his crewmates’ actions and how powerful Zeus is.
How it works
Not only does Odysseus anger Zeus, he also offends Poseidon, the god of sea. After Odysseus blinds Polyphemus, Poseidon’s son, he tells him; “‘Kyklops, / if ever mortal man inquire / how you were put to shame and blinded, tell him / Odysseus, raider of cities, took your eye: / Laertes’ son, whose home’s on Ithaka!’” (9.548-554). If Odysseus had not blurted his name out after successfully escaping the Kyklop, he would have been able to escape scot-free. In contrast, Odysseus taunts Polyphemus and reveals his name, which allowed Polyphemus to call upon his father to curse Odysseus. Odysseus is too prideful about his victory, and this pride results in him revealing information that would eventually lead to his and his crewmates’ doom. He decides that the safety of his men is secondary to the pride gained from Polyphemus knowing who defeated him. Therefore, through his many trials and temptations, Odysseus realizes that his excessive pride causes him to be disrespectful towards the gods and induces many setbacks for his journey home.
After Odysseus is humbled by the consequences of his arrogance, he presents clear signs of piety and worship towards the gods. When him and his crew arrive on Helios’ island and food runs out, he “withdrew to the interior / to pray the gods in solitude, for hope / that one might show [him] some way of salvation’” (12.426-428). Odysseus finally “withdr[aws]” to the interior, just as if he was withdrawing his pride. He prays to the gods for salvation and that his crew would not kill the holy cattle. By doing this, Odysseus realizes the importance of the gods and how they can assist him on his journey. After Odysseus reveals piety towards the gods, Zeus “thundered / overhead, one loud crack for a sign” (21. 471-472). This “sign” from Zeus is a sense of forgiveness, that he does not feel Odysseus owes debt towards the gods or has a bad reputation anymore. Zeus also displays his approval of Odysseus, which causes Odysseus to note that showing piety rewards him. Towards the end of the epic, Odysseus tells Penelope of his future plans, saying; “‘There I must plant my oar, on the very spot, / with burnt offerings to Poseidon of the Waters: / a ram, a bull, a great buck boar’” (23.308-310). His final confrontation circles back to when he had first offended Poseidon. By burning his offerings to Poseidon, Odysseus is apologizing for his wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness. Odysseus has finally put down the pride that he once had, and his sacrifice displays that both his nature and his perspective of piety has changed as well. As someone who had once believed nothing of the importance of the gods, Odysseus has now transformed into a new man–one that has realized the fault in his doings and the actions he must take to repair them.
Odysseus’ hero’s journey teaches readers an important lesson on self-control. Despite his mastery in war, he is unable to be the master of his own ego. Odysseus is blinded by his ego, and it is only until he experiences the consequences of his offenses towards the gods, that he begins to let down his pride and realize the superiority the gods have over him. His newfound humility allows him to return home and earn good favors from the gods. The Odyssey teaches readers that while pride brings disaster, modesty brings plentiful of rewards.