Is Odysseus Really a Hero?
A hero, by definition, is a person who 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, and smart. They must have a moral compass and be able to make the best of a situation. Heroes are not only limited to fictional works; they are all around us. They appear in real life, in comics, in books, and more. Though many people view Odysseus, main character of the Odyssey, written by Homer, as a hero, he is anything but. Odysseus defies the definition of a hero due to his arrogant ways of dealing with situations and of endangering others due to his selfishness.
During the entire plot of the Odyssey, Odysseus’s arrogance causes him to put many people in peril. An example of this is seen in the section The Cyclops, where Odysseus and his men were trapped in a cave with the man-eating cyclops, Polyphemus. Odysseus was trapped in there as he wanted to meet the owner of the cave, to see what more goods he could get out of them. Odysseus and his men manage to escape by blinding the cyclops and sneaking out of the cave. But, 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 was able to curse Odysseus and his crew to never see their home again, unless is was fate that they do.
If Odysseus did not tell the cyclops his name, he and his crew would have arrived much sooner to 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 sing. This shows that Odysseus was willing to put himself in the face of death 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? These two examples illustrate how Odysseus’s arrogance causes him to make reckless mistakes that lead to further problems.
Not only is Odysseus arrogant, but also selfish. In The Lotus Eaters, Odysseus’s crew lands on an island, and 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 them as they were the oarsmen. It was not out of the good of Odysseus’s heart but that without his three oarsmen, Odysseus 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, Odysseus journeys to the land of the dead to learn of his fate. Tiresias, a prophet, 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 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 telling them the exact consequences, Odysseus simply left his crew with a vague warning and left to pray to the gods. This showcases the fact that Odysseus only cared about getting himself home, so he did not enforce the rule of not eating the sun god’s cattle to his crew as the only thing on his mind was to pray to the gods to get himself home. If you were a good leader, you would want to make sure all your men are safe and content. Not putting them into danger that could have been avoided.
Although Odysseus is considered a hero for being very clever and good at fighting, he would continue to get into trouble due to his arrogance and selfishness. It does not seem right to deem Odysseus as a hero for those two traits. What is the point in being clever if you will always get into trouble? Though Odysseus was also good at fighting, he is violent, as shown in The Suitors, when he returns to his home and murders all the suitors there for trying to marry his wife in his absence: “Eurymachus alone could speak. He said: ‘… Spare your own people.
As for ourselves we’ll make restitution of wine and meat consumed… meanwhile we cannot blame you for your anger.’ Odysseus glowered under his black brows and said: ‘Not for the whole treasure of your fathers… Fight your way out, or run it…’”(611). Although the suitors begged for mercy, Odysseus slaughtered them all, mercilessly. Odysseus’s anger is justified, as the suitors did take advantage of his wife. But killing all the suitors is in the fine line between teaching a lesson and cold-blooded murder. Remember, there was a reason the gods decided to punish Odysseus to twenty years at sea.
As one can see, Odysseus falls short of the hero status. He is not a good decision maker, nor is he reliable for being responsible with his or others’ lives. No one would trust a hero who is not responsible for his own life. Odysseus also proved to be very violent, quick tempered, and self-centered. What kind of hero is so selfish that half their crew dies? Would you call a man who risks other’s lives, who does foolish things despite being told not to, and only thinks of himself a hero? In fact, Odysseus’s shortcomings outweigh him more than his hero-like traits. In fact, no hero is selfish or arrogant to the point where it becomes the reason for all their problems. Ultimately, one can see that Odysseus, main character of the Odyssey, is not deserving of the title of a hero.