In what Way is the Odyssey an Epic: Heroic Tensions between Mortals and Gods

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The Odyssey as an Epic: The Essence of Greek Culture

One of the most well-known aspects of the golden Greek culture is the plays and poetry that express the values or norms of the ancient population. However, they are commonly referred to as Greek Epics or Greek Tragedies. Common examples of such pieces of literature could be Odysseus, Gilgamesh, and King Oedipus. Oedipus was an epic Tragedy centered around his mortality and his inevitable destiny. Trying to avoid killing his father and marrying his mother, to not allow the prophecy to be true.

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However, he has already done so in his early years, proving the point and dealing with the destiny that the great Gods have laid out in front of one’s path. Although he was simply a mortal hated by the Gods, certain aspects of King Oedipus can correlate to characteristics of a Greek epic. Although he may not have slain a Cyclops like Odysseus or slain an enemy as Gilgamesh did, the King can also constitute a Greek Epic in certain aspects.

The Odyssey as a Greek Epic: Battle Between Mortals and Gods

Major aspects of a Greek epic revolve around the battle or some sort of tension between a human figure and a God. In the Odyssey, for example, Odysseus, in an attempt to save his men from the disaster of the son of Poseidon, a Cyclops, was able to pierce his eye and blind him. “Cyclops, if anyone asks you who it was that put your eye out and spoiled your beauty, say it was the valiant warrior Ulysses, son of Laertes, who lives in Ithaca.” (Homer). Odysseus had a major conflict with the son of a God, the son of the great Poseidon, who rules the seas.

King Oedipus: A Hero Fighting Against God’s Destiny

In the case of Oedipus, he faces tragedy with the God Apollo, as to why his life is full of misery.” Apollo, friend, Apollo, he it was That brought these ills to pass; But the right hand that dealt the blow.” (Sophocles). Since one major aspect of being a Greek epic is to have tension with a Greek Godly figure, Oedipus the King can constitute a hero. Odysseus was faced against the son of Poseidon, a brawl between a mortal and a Cyclops. Although Oedipus isn’t fighting against a Godly creature, he’s fighting against the wrath of the Gods within himself. Not a fight with a God, but a fight against God’s chosen destiny for him. With tensions between a mortal and a God, in this case, Apollo, King Oedipus is seen as a Hero.

Bravery in the Odyssey and King Oedipus: Physical and Mental Heroism

In addition to the characteristics of a Greek hero, the hero usually also shows some sort of aspect of bravery to their persona. For instance, Odysseus showed many aspects of bravery throughout his journey. Whether it included saving himself or acting selfless to save another individual near and dear to his heart, he would do so. This bravery could be an example of either physical or mental. For instance, in Odysseus’ battle with the Cyclops, he demonstrates great courage as he ¨drove the sharp end of the beam into the monster’s eye, and bearing upon it with all my weight I kept turning it round and round as though I were boring a hole in a ship’s plank with an auger¨ saving his men and himself. In the case of Oedipus, he demonstrates mental bravery through his reality with humanity and fear. ¨ “Fear? What has a man to do with fear? Chance rules our lives, and the future is all unknown. Best live as we may, from day to day.¨ 


  1. Homer. “The Odyssey.” Translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics, 1999.

  2. Sophocles. “Oedipus Rex.” Translated by David Grene, University of Chicago Press, 1954.

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In What Way is The Odyssey an Epic: Heroic Tensions between Mortals and Gods. (2023, Aug 02). Retrieved from