Heroism in the Odyssey
When you think of the word “hero”, what comes to mind? Possibly someone in bright tights, and cape that leads a double- life-fighting crime? Well, that is not how the Greeks thought of a hero. Their idea of a hero was someone with honorable characteristics who protected and defended the beliefs of the people. Their hero was someone brave, and noble, and nobody was more brave and noble than Odysseus. He defended their values and protected them.
Nevertheless, a hero is not without flaws. Odysseus certainly was not flawless. But the question remains, Is someone considered a hero if they have flaws? Odysseus showed signs of weakness in his encounter with a Cyclops, in the Land of the Dead, and with Calypso. Although, many of his adventures revealed many moments of epic heroism that lead to the overall success of Odysseus. Proving that someone can still be considered an epic hero if they have weaknesses.
One of the earliest examples of his acts of heroism in the Odyssey was in the Land of the Lotus Eaters. Odysseus and his crew had been sailing for a long time and had lost hope in returning home safely when they came across the Land of the Lotus Eaters. The Lotus Eaters were not particularly dangerous, they had no intention of harming Odysseus or his crew, but they enticed a few men to taste their flowers. The flowers were enchanted so that when you consumed one, you never wanted to leave or stop eating them. Odysseus quickly caught on to this and told his men that they could not stay.
If they had remained on the island they would forget about their homeland or any hope for return. Considering that his men were under some spell, they were reluctant, to say the least. Odysseus leaped into action and tied the hands of his men to the ship so they could not escape to the lotus and then he set sail. Odysseus showed excellent leadership and initiative by doing what was best for his crew and their return home.
Despite his recent act of heroism, it should not be forgotten that he is a mortal and made some mistakes along the way. After escaping the Lotus Eaters, Odysseus arrived on an island that was home to beasts called Cyclops’. A Cyclops was a creature that somewhat resembled a man, he was much larger, and had one eye in the middle of his forehead. This species was deadly and ruthless. They had no sense of morals or hospitality, which was an extremely important value at that time. They could not be reasoned with. Odysseus set up camp on the island in search of food and shelter from the waves. We beached there, and I told the crew to stand by and keep watch over the ship: as for myself I took my twelve best fighters and went ahead. (Book Nine, lines 134-137)
Later, he encountered a mighty Cyclops named Polyphemus. Odysseus knew that he and his men would not be able to conquer this creature by force. He would have to be clever. After using trickery and wits, He was able to trick Polyphemus into thinking that his name was Nohbdy “My name is Nohbdy: mother father and friends, everyone calls me Nohbdy.”(Book Nine, lines 394 – 399) that way, when the Cyclops tried to tell others about him, it sounded like “Nobody tricked me! Nobody hurt me!” giving the men time to avoid his wrath.
This quick thinking from Odysseus is what got him off the island alive. Odysseus and his men successfully escaped Polyphemus. However, as they were sailing away, Odysseus called out to the Cyclops and taunted him. “All but stove us in! Give him our bearing with your trumpeting he’ll get the range and lob a boulder.” (Kinsella 996). His crew begged him to just leave the beast alone, but arrogance and greed clouded his judgment. This was an important example of how Odysseus did not show heroic traits.
Along the journey, Odysseus and his crew came across a siren. A siren was a mermaid-like creature that lured men to their deaths with an irresistible song. Odysseus knew that if he listened to the song, it would lead to his destruction. The siren knew this about Odysseus and told him that the song would not have the same effect on him. “Yet she urged that I alone should listen to their song.” (Kinsella 1005) He then took pieces of beeswax and balled it up to put into his ears to block out the song. He had the rest of his crew do the same. They were not able to hear the sirens this way and were able to escape successfully.
When they were heading toward the end of their adventure, they came across Scylla and Charybdis, two element based dangers. Scylla was a monster of the sea made up of rock, and Charybdis was a deadly whirlpool. As they approached, Odysseus’ men were filled with fear and loss of hope. To which Odysseus reassured them “Friends, have we never been in danger before this? More fearsome, is it now, then when the Cyclops penned us in his cave? What power he had! Did I not keep my nerve, or use my wits to find a way out for us?”(Kinsella 1007) He was helping his men feel confidence and bravery that gave them the spirit to carry onward.
Throughout the epic journey of Odysseus, he proved his bravery and claimed the rightful title of “epic hero”. Yet, he still partook in acts of arrogance, and fear. Does this mean he is not a hero? A hero is someone that protects and defends the people and their values, he accomplished this and proved that even if you have flaws, you can be a hero.