Is Odysseus a Hero?

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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A hero, by definition, is a person who is is admired or idealized for having noble qualities. Anyone, no matter shape or size, can be a hero as long as they are selfless, noble, smart, and can think through situations to make the best possible decision. Though many people view Odysseus, main character of the Odyssey, as a hero, he is anything but. Odysseus is not a hero due to his two traits of arrogance and selfishness.

During the entire epic poem of the Odyssey, Odysseus’s arrogance causes him to put not only his life in danger but his crew’s as well.

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An example of this can be seen in the section The Cyclops, where Odysseus and his men were trapped in a cave with the man-eating cyclops, Polyphemus. Odysseus and his men manage to escape by blinding the cyclops and sneaking out of the cave.

However, as they are preparing to leave on their ship, Odysseus reveals himself to the cyclops as he taunts him: “…Tell him Odysseus, raider of cities, took your eye: Laertes’ son, whose home’s on Ithaca!”(574). Because of Odysseus’s arrogance, Polyphemus cursed Odysseus and his crew to never see their home again, unless is was fate that they do. Had Odysseus not tell the cyclops his name, him and his crew would have arrived much sooner to Ithaca, their home, instead of facing more danger. Shortly after the incident with the cyclops, Odysseus and his crew must pass the Sirens, creatures who could lure sailors to their death with their song.

Though Odysseus tells his crew to put beeswax in their ears to avoid hearing the sirens, Odysseus orders his crew to first tie him up to the mast so he can hear the sirens song. This shows that Odysseus was willing to put himself in the face of death in order to boast that he was the first man who heard the sirens and survive. If Odysseus was a real hero, he would not have put himself at risk, for if he, the leader, were to die, what would his crew do?

Not only is Odysseus immensely arrogant, but also selfish. In The Lotus Eaters, three of Odysseus’s men eat the flowers there, which makes one lose their memory and long to stay on the island forever. Odysseus drags all three of them back, saying, “All hands aboard; come, clear the beach and no one taste the lotus, or you lose your hope of home”(564). Though it seems as if Odysseus is a caring leader, the real reason he brought all three back was because he needed the extra oarsmen. It was not out of the good of Odysseus’s heart but that without his three oarsmen, they would not be able to return home.

Although Odysseus in the end saved those men, he was doing it out of selfish gains. In The Land of the Dead, Tiresias, a prophet, explicitly tells Odysseus not to have him or his men eat the cattle of the sun god, or they will be destroyed. When they arrive on the island with the sun god’s cattle, Odysseus simply gives his men a weak warning of, “The cattle here are not for our provision, or we pay dearly for it”(585).

Instead of caring for his crew and specifically telling them the consequence, Odysseus simply told them that and left to pray to the gods. If you were a good leader, you would want to make sure all your men are safe and content. Not putting them into danger.

Third paragraph: Though Odysseus was very clever, and was able to get out of many situations, he would continue to get into trouble due to his cockiness. It does not seem right to deem Odysseus as a hero for that trait.

Although there does come a need to think of yourself before others, Odysseus has done that far too many times: When nearly eight of his men died due to Odysseus wanting to see what more he could get out of the “cave-dweller”(the cyclops), etc.

As one can see, Odysseus is a spoiled lil brat who doesn’t care about his crew. He is immensely big-headed and I would not flinch to see him being boiled alive in hell. Or having his skin being ripped off slowly like string cheese.

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Is Odysseus a Hero?. (2019, Jan 05). Retrieved from