Strengths and Weaknesses of Odysseus in Homer’s Poem
What qualifies men to be heroes? If a man who uses his wits to trick, not only women, but other men into doing exactly what he wants, is this man not a player? Heroes are presumed to overcome a great evil for the better of everyone and not just himself/herself. Odysseus from Homer’s The Odyssey believes that he is almost untouchable and unbeatable. Odysseus is a selfish man who failed his men, cheated on his wife and still managed to make himself look like a hero. Heroes are portrayed to be honest, selfless and courageous. Although Odysseus was favored by the gods and was very smart Odysseus is a con-man disguised as a hero.
At the beginning of the epic poem In the Odyssey, Odysseus shows that he is a very selfish person because he has many relations with other women and goddesses. He sleeps with other people for his own pleasure and not for survival. In book ten, he was “trapped” on the witch-god Kirke’s island of Aeaea for a year. During this time he does not attempt to leave. By not leaving he shows no care for his wife and puts her aside so that he may live with other women and leaves his wife fighting suitors at home defending his kingdom. While he was there, Odysseus and his men lived like kings, and Odysseus slept every night with Kirke.“Now as he spoke the sun set, dusk drew on/ and they retired, this pair, to the inner cave/ to revel and rest softly, side by side” (234-236) This means that every night Odysseus committed adultery against Penelope. Penelope in the meantime did not have relations with a single man even though one hundred and eight were in line to be with her. She stalled them by knitting by day and unraveling it at night and said she would not marry until it was done.
In book twelve Odysseus plugs his crew’s ears with beeswax and tied himself to the ship’s mast. The only reason Odysseus tied himself up to the mast, when he could have just plugged his ears with wax like the rest of his crew, is that he chooses the selfish choice, and listens to the sirens song. Odysseus wanted to ‘go down in the books’ by being the first man to ever listen to the Sirens song and live. Odysseus watches and cheers as his men stab Polyphemus in the eye. This shows Odysseus believes his men are tools helping him to reach home, rather than companions. Also, during the men’s escape from the cave, Odysseus escapes under the largest sheep of the flock. This is a very selfish action and shows Odysseus believes his safety is more important than the safety of his men. Odysseus rashness comes into play again when the ship rolls past the Sirens and Odysseus demands that he listens to their song. His pride clouds his mind and he wants the fame of being the only man to have survived the Sirens’ song, he never once considers what might have happened had he failed. He didn’t consider failing at all because he never stopped to think about his decision.
Odysseus is definitely not honest. There was only one reason that was acceptable of Odysseus to lie and that was when he was trying to survive. Though with Odysseus’s wits he should have been able to talk his way out of the situations he was in. Having his men by his side when he returns seems a trivial thing to him. Another example of Odysseus showing no mercy is when he makes the maids, who slept with the suitors, clean up the dead bodies and wash the furniture. Then they were to be executed: Despite the fact that the crew was willing to die for Odysseus, he calls them mutinous fools, simply because they were hungry and choose to eat some sheep after fighting on the island of Cicones. After his crew members died in service to him, he mocks them; even in their death, he shows them no respect. Not only does he show no respect for his willing crew he refuses to pay homage to the gods. Odysseus only calls upon the gods when he desperately needs their help, like when he knew the crew was finally seeing him for the man he really was and disobeyed a direct order not to butcher the Sun god’s cattle. Only then does he say, I washed my hands there, and made supplication to the gods who own Olympus,” but it was already too late.
Athena helps Odysseus on numerous occasions yet he never thanks her, not even once. Athena is not the only one whom Odysseus shows no respect for, the great god of the sea Poseidon, who should be honored by all sailors is repeatedly insulted by Odysseus’ inability to respect anyone. The only traits of a hero that Odysseus portrays is that he is smart. Not only is he good at strategy, he is also a good storyteller. Since he invented the Trojan Horse, thought of his way to get rid of Cyclops’ den. He is also a huge liar. After he reached Ithaca, seeing a young lad who was actually Athena, his caution arose, and he spun her a long tale about his identity without a single word of truth. No wonder Athena couldn’t help laughing, saying :’You crooked, shifty rogue! Anyone who would keep pace with your craftiness must be a canny dealer.’ The familiarity with Gods also incarnates Odysseus’ cunning. In order to successfully get home, he realized that he could not do everything alone, and was forced to recognize he needed the Gods to help him. He pleasantly accepted the assistance Athena offered, which eventually led him to the destination. Ironically, he also had a enemy, Poseidon. Even when on Odysseus’ way back home, Poseidon summoned all the violent winds and let them loose, Odysseus saw death before him, shouting:’ Poseidon, what do you want from me? I have nothing now! I’ve lost everything!’ At the very last moment, he still didn’t give up persuading Poseidon into changing his mind. His outstanding cunning made him keep calm in any time. ‘The hero would be no hero if death held for him any terror; The first condition is reconciliation with the grave.’
Odysseus’ extraordinary braveness was exhibited throughout the adventure, making him a valiant hero who is in dread of nothing, despite the fact that he has been in the situation of extreme peril many times. The fact that he is as brave in battle as he is wise in council, and the phenomenal power and strength he owns, moulded the awesome warrior. Although a war hero, Odysseus is not a hero in any other way. He is self-centered which is clear because he doesn’t value other people’s lives. He is cold-hearted with his unlawful killing and his lack of support for his crew members. He refuses to believe that any idea but his own is a good idea. Odysseus also lacks the loyalty of a true hero as shown by his affairs with other women even though his wife remained faithful. A hero is someone who does something for other people out of the goodness of his heart, Odysseus clearly is not this. Odysseus stole more than just cheese and riches, he took his men’s lives on multiple occasions for things that could have been prevented. Odysseus is not a hero and he never will be.