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Odysseus

Books: Odyssey, The Iliad, The Odyssey

Genres: Poetry, Poetry, Legend

Authors: Homer, Homer, Homer

Description:

 

 

One man stands tall above the rest, the only man on the battlefield without a hint of fear in his eyes. Along with fearlessness, his determination and guile is simple to sense. These are just a few of the characteristics of an epic hero. One such hero is Odysseus, the central character of the epic poem The Odyssey by Homer. Odysseus is an epic hero who embodies many admirable traits but, not only, does he have all the characteristics of an epic hero. He also goes through the process of the hero’s journey.

Odysseus, like all epic heroes, is a figure of great, sometimes larger than life stature. Among Odysseus’s many titles, his title of King of Ithaca is most imposing. For this reason, all of his soldiers look up to him. Also, when he arrives back on Ithaca, though the suitors had an advantage, there was no doubt that they feared him. Even before The Odyssey, Odysseus proves to be an epic hero by earning fame as the master tactician of the Trojan War. By conceiving the plan of creating a wooden horse to ambush the Trojans, Odysseus’s fame as a strategist spread like wild fire. People throughout history remembers Odysseus as one of the greatest generals of the time. Where ever Odysseus journeys, his title as “Son of Laertes and the gods of old, Odysseus, master of landways and seaways” precedes him (1009-1010). The title of “master of landways and seaways” is hard earned by Odysseus. Gods and men alike know him by this title and upon hearing the title they treat Odysseus with respect. Odysseus is an imposing figure, who built his reputation through valiant deeds and courage.

Another trait of an epic hero that Odysseus fulfills is that he is a wily and courageous leader. One of the greatest examples of Odysseus’s intellectual prowess is when he tells Polyphemus “[his] name is Nohbdy: mother, father, and friends, everyone calls [him] Nohbdy” (315-316). Odysseus cleverly fools the Cyclopes with his fictitious name. Polyphemus is left clueless about Odysseus’s true identity. Another example of Odysseus’s intellectual prowess is when he sends scouts out to survey the land of the Lotus Eaters instead of sending out his entire main force. Odysseus’s cautiousness ensures the survival of his men. If he had not sent out only three men, the results could have been disastrous. An instance where Odysseus shows his bravery is when he arrives in the land of the dead and “spaded up the votive pit, and [pours] libations round it to the numbered dead” (551-552). Odysseus is focused on his tasks and remains unfazed at the sight of all the surging phantoms. While his men are terrified, Odysseus hides his emotions and accomplishes his challenges. Odysseus’s guile and courage is unmatched; without him, his men would have journeyed to their doom much sooner.

An important aspect of Odysseus’s journey is that it completes all of the stages of a hero’s journey. A vital element of the hero’s journey is the threshold, in this point of the story the hero encounters a guide. In Odysseus’s case, his guide is in the form of Calypso. Calypso is Odysseus’s guide because she aides him by giving him a great deal of advice and sharing her wisdom. Another aspect of the hero’s journey can be seen when Odysseus is tempted to abandon search for his home when he hears the sirens’ “lovely voices in ardor appealing over the water” (745). This section of the epic poem can be best described as the descent, a section of the hero’s journey where the hero enters the “Zone of Magnified Power” and is faced with many temptations. Only after surpassing these challenges does the hero continue his journey. The last part of the hero’s journey can be seen when Odysseus finally arrives home and notices numerous suitors who “thought [Odysseus would] never make it home from the land of Troy [and] took [his] house to plunder” (1439-1440). The last section of The Odyssey is known as the return. During the return the hero witnesses many changes in society during his absence. Being an epic hero, Odysseus completes all the stages of a hero’s journey.

Odysseus is a great leader who looks out for the well being of his men. He is a true epic hero who is not only strong but also cunning and puts all of these skills together to do his best and try to bring his men home. He passes all of the challenges he is presented to reach his goal. When Odysseus’s vision is set, his determination never falters, because nothing can break Odysseus’s determination.

In The Odyssey, Odysseus had to face many challenges during his travels; a few of these difficulties were a cannibalistic Cyclops, huge whirlpools, determined suitors, along with many hardships. Odysseus fought constantly to return to his homeland of Ithaca, but to accomplish this Odysseus had to be clever, resourceful, and have great leadership qualities.

Odysseus proved throughout the story that he was very clever. When he was faced with having to get out of Polyphemus's cave, Odysseus first told the Cyclops, 'My name is Nohbdy: mother, father, and friends, / everyone calls me Nohbdy'. (pg. 452, 341-342) Odysseus told him this because he knew if the other Cyclopes would come and ask who was with him, they would think that 'Nohbdy' was there. In another episode, Odysseus outsmarted the Sirens; he wanted to listen to their sweet song, but he knew he would try to jump overboard. It was then he got the notion to tell his crew, '...you are to tie me up, tight as a splint, / erect along the mast, lashed to the mast, / and if I shout and beg to be untied, / take more turns of rope to muffle me.' (pg. 459, 536-539) This and telling the crew members to put wax in their ears ensured that Odysseus, alone, could listen to the Sirens' song and not die. When Odysseus had to figure out how he could kill the Suitors who were staying in his house, he had Athena disguise him as an old beggar and then told Telemachus, his son, to hide all of the Suitors' weapons and armor. If they asked Telemachus what he was doing, he was to tell them he was storing the weapons so that none of the suitors would kill each other if they got into a fight.

Many times throughout the story, Odysseus had to be resourceful enough to accomplish a task by using surrounding things, whatever was at hand. When he was drifting back towards Charybdis, Odysseus grabbed onto a nearby fig tree and held on until a piece of driftwood shot out of the whirlpool; then he grabbed a hold of the driftwood and soared to safety. In order to escape from the Cyclops's cave, Odysseus wanted to blind the Cyclops. To do this, he carved a large stave which he planned to use against the Cyclops and poke his eye out. But in order to keep this stave a secret from Polyphemus, he had to hide it in a place where Polyphemus would not suspect. It is here he hid it, '...under / one of the dung piles in profusion there.' (pg. 451, 303-304) To make this stave, Odysseus first had to find a tree which he could cut down, '...an olive tree, felled green and left to season...' (pg. 451, 293) Odysseus also had to find a way to prevent the suitor from knowing that he was back, so he prayed to Athena to disguise him as a beggar.

Odysseus had to be a good leader in order to make tough decisions about what he and his crew should do. When passing through the strait between Scylla and Charybdis, Odysseus chose to lose six men to Scylla instead of risking losing the entire ship to Charybdis. Upon the Island of the Lotus Eaters, Odysseus had to get the men who had eaten the Lotus off the island. 'I drove them, all three wailing, to the ships, / tied them under their rowing benches,...' (pg. 445, 97-98) On the island of the sun god, Helios, Odysseus warned his men not to kill the cattle which belonged to the god; but, unfortunately, his men disobeyed him and slaughtered the cattle, which they feasted upon. Zeus later punished his men with death. Trapped inside of Polyphemus' cave, Odysseus knew he had to be a good leader if he was to get himself and his men out of the cave. Originally he was going to kill Polyphemus when he ate two of Odysseus's men; but when Odysseus was about to stab him, he realized that he should not kill him, because 'I had touched the spot / when sudden fear stayed me: if I killed him / we perished there as well, for we could never / move his ponderous doorway slab aside.' (pg. 450-451, 273-276)

During his adventure Odysseus proved that he was smart, and able to deal with adversity skillfully. He proved an able leader despite all the troubles that he encountered on his adventure. In the end, Odysseus proved he could surmount the challenges which might have prevented him from getting home.

In Homer's "The Odyssey" Odysseus gets punished many times for offending the gods. With each offense the gods unleash an attack upon him or his men that sets his voyage back, further delaying him from his final destination, home. Some may criticize Odysseus for being so foolish to offend the gods, but Odysseus is not at fault for the blasphemy that the gods suffer. Either it is not Odysseus' fault or he is just trying to save himself, but Odysseus is not the one to blame.

        While at his many stops, Odysseus gets punished terribly by the gods. Though towards the end of his journey most of the gods have grown to love him, such as Athena, or simply pity him, such as Zeus. This is because Odysseus is such a good guy, and suffers so many hardships. One might ask why Odysseus would offend the gods if he is more or less perfect. Well the answer is it is not Odysseus' fault that the gods have been offended, but it is really the fault of his crew. A prime example of this is when Odysseus and his men loot the village which angers the gods. They were just going to stay the night there, however then men wanted to loot the village. Odysseus pleads with his men not to do this but they are stubborn and do not follow his orders even though he is there leader. They choose to loot and destroy the village and Odysseus can not stop them. They successfully destroy the village which angers the gods, and sets them back on their journey because many of the men are killed. This is not Odysseus' fault, and in fact he even tried to stop them. Another example of the crews fault is when Odysseus gets a safe trip home thanks to the winds of Aiolos, the wind god. He right when they are in sight of Ithaka disaster strikes, as Homer writes, "Temptation had its way with my companions, and they untied the bag" (Pg. 166). This shows that it was the temptation of Odysseus' crew that set their journey back, and not even remotely Odysseus' fault. This is very much the same case as the village. We can tell that Odysseus is not at fault when he says, "I had worked the sheet nine days alone, and given it to no one, wishing to spill no wind on the homeward run" (Pg. 166). This shows that Odysseus feared his crew and tried his hardest to keep the bag from them, staying awake for nine days straight guarding the bag. These are both examples of how it was the crew of Odysseus that was at fault for the set backs of their journey, and not Odysseus'.

        There were times along Odysseus' journey where it was not Odysseus' fault or his crews, but just protecting themselves from danger. This is seen when they are in the cave with Poseidon as it was told by Homer of Polyphemos, "The, his chores being dispatched, he caught another brace of men to make his breakfast, and whisked away his great door slab to let his sheep go through-but he, behind, reset the stone as one would cap a quiver" (Pg. 154). Odysseus and some of his best men were trapped in a cave with a man eating giant, with no means of escape. As Homer states, "In these words he prayed and the gods heard him" (Pg. 162). Poseidon answers his pray just because Polyphemos is his son. Odysseus was in a lose-lose situation. He could have either been eaten by Polyphemos or attacked by Poseidon. Some may argue that he should not have told the Kyklops his name as he made his escape. Though this is foolish of Odysseus, he can not be blamed just for pointing out his name. If Polyphemos never attacked him and killed his men he would never have been fault of giving his name to the Kyklops. In a case like this Odysseus had no choice but to offend the gods simply to save his life, and can not be blamed for doing so.