Is Odysseus a Hero: Essay on the Main Character of Homer’s Epic Poem
An epic hero, according to the Webster Dictionary, is a “ brave and noble character who is admired for great achievements and affected by grand events.” This is a fitting description of Homer’s protagonist Odysseus, son of Laertes and Anticlea, and the king of Ithaca. A well known hero in Greek Mythology, Odysseus was known to be a skillful leader who used courage and intelligence to defeat his opponents, notably the way he led Greek victory against Trojans. He was well known for indulging in many adventures while he made his way back home to Ithaca. In this essay we will examine some of the main personality traits that made Odysseus a Phenomenal leader while understanding what motivated and drove him as a person.
One of the chief traits of a Hero is to lead by example. Odysseus worked twice as hard as anyone else. He was not the one to simply boss around, but in fact did not ask much of his men. He challenged himself to most difficult tasks. It is possible he may have been a perfectionist or simply did not trust others to do the job well. Whatever the reason may be, Odysseus put himself through rigor. “No one of the Achaeans labored as much as Odysseus labored and achieved…..”(4, 106 – 111) said Menelaus about Odysseus. Apart from working hard, he also had great perseverance. He did not give up easily no matter how hard the situation got. When going got tough on the ship, his friend Eurylochus said, “ Your force is greater, your limbs never wear out. You must be made all of iron……” (12, 279 – 283). Even when Poseidon made life miserable for Odysseus, he beat all odds to get home. Odysseus had brought Poseidon’s wrath on him for blinding Polyphemus for which Poseidon responds, “…..I’ll give that man swamping fill of trouble.” (5, 319 – 324) People saw in him greater than human strength he was blessed with that got them to respect him.
In spite of his strength, Odysseus was humble and attributed his strength to blessings of the gods. He believed that if one had gods’ blessings, people will be impressed by that person. He also believed that one had to work hard to earn god’s’ blessings. “So the gods don’t hand out all their gifts at ones, not build and brains and flowing speech to all. One man may fail to impress us with his looks but a god can crown his words with beauty, charm and men look on with delight when he speaks out.” (8, 192 -196) Odysseus was never under any illusion that men are blessed as leaders, but fully understood that god did play a role in making one. With that quote he implies that god provides opportunity for one to emerge as a leader by fully realizing one’s potential through oratorical skills and valor.
He always had the blessings of Athena, who guided him when she was able to. “In silence you must bear a world of pain, subject yourself to the cruel abuse of men.” (13, 352 -353) She gives him a clear picture on how he must disguise as a vagabond and witness the misbehavior of Penelope’s suitors before he can reveal himself as the king of Ithaca. Furthermore, Odysseus was a strong believer of respecting strangers, family bond and respect for culture and tradition. He clearly drew a contrast between civilized people versus barbarians based on values. “But since we chanced on you, we’re at your knees in hopes of a warm welcome, even a guest gift the sorts that hosts give strangers. That’s the custom. Respect the gods my friend….” (9, 300- 306) He extends a chance to the cyclops to greet strangers with respect, as he would do, although he knows they may not be aware of customs and traditions of civilized humans.
Of all the heroic traits, the most admirable is loyalty, the patriotic devotion to one’s land. Odysseus goes through many epic adventures, builds relationships all the while aiming to return home. Along the way he meets two beautiful women Calypso and circe, but never deters from wanting to come home. No one could have influenced him against that aim. “ Calypso the lustrous goddess tried to hold me back, deep in her arching caverns, craving me for a husband. So did Circe, holding me just warmly in her halls, the bewitching queen of Aenea keen to have me too. But they never won the heart inside me, never. So nothing is as sweet as a man’s own country.” (9,33 – 37) Nothing was going to prevent Odysseus from coming home. As a hero, he shows extreme resilience in this regard. There were several opportunities for him to settle in exotic lands, but he chooses to come to his kingdom. He feels that it’s his responsibility and duty to do so. He does not give into seductive temptations either, exercising self control.
Hardworking, resilient, persevering, god fearing, respectful, loyal and self controlled, all packaged into one courageous leader makes Odysseus an all encompassing Hero in Greek Mythology. His greater than life persona gives us glimpses into how expectations of epic heroes have come about, and the standards set for leaders. Odysseus’ personality portrayal demonstrates the characteristics of a true leader worthy of praise through centuries. He may have had some flaws humanising him, but his positive qualities overshadow those flaws making him one of the greatest Heroes in Literature.
Odysseus. Online. Available: https://www.ancient.eu/odysseus/
The Odyssey Quotes. Online Available: http://www.bookrags.com/notes/od/quo.html#gsc.tab=0
The odyssey. Online. Available: https://www.ancient-literature.com/greece_homer_odyssey.html
Thesaurus. Online. Available: https://www.thesaurus.com/
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