Is Odysseus a Hero?


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Is Odysseus a Hero

Is Odysseus considered a hero? Why or why not?



For the ancient Greeks, a ἥρως (hḗrōs) was a human being who was believed to have lived long ago in the distant past, but, through great or noble deeds while alive, had been able to attain a certain level of semi-divine power after death. Heroes could be propitiated with sacrificial offerings and persuaded to grant favors (sort of similar to how Catholics today invoke revered saints for intercession). They were also worshipped in hero cults associated with particular locations.

Being a hero by the ancient Greek definition did not necessarily mean you were a morally perfect—or even necessarily “good”—human being. It only meant that you had performed mighty deeds while you were alive that won you great renown and granted you authority in death to aid the living. By this definition, Odysseus is a hero, because he was venerated as one and had his own local cults.

Odysseus is certainly a different kind of hero from the sort that we most often encounter in Greek mythology and in the Homeric poems. As his role in the Iliad particularly demonstrates, he is strong and courageous and he has skill in battle like all the other heroes, but his greatest attribute by far is his cunning (μῆτις; mētis), which serves him well in almost any given situation, especially in the Odyssey, where it truly has its chance to shine.

This unusual contrast has led to Odysseus having had a controversial reception throughout history. The ancient Greeks always admired Odysseus, although, in Plato’s Hippias Minor, the speaker Hippias says that Achilles is a better hero than him, a statement most Greeks probably would have agreed with. The Romans, by contrast, vilified Odysseus as “lying Ulysses,” on account of his duplicitous nature and his role in the destruction of the city of Troy, from whose royal house the Romans claimed to be descended. The Romans also derided Ulysses for alleged cowardice and his lack of pietas (“filial piety”).

In regard to whether Odysseus is a hero by modern standards, I am inclined to say that he is one, but that does not mean he is perfect. He is certainly morally flawed by any standard, but that is part of what makes him so amazing and fascinating as a character. I have always greatly preferred Odysseus as a character over Achilles because Odysseus solves problems using his mind, rather than his might.

Is Odysseus a Hero

Is Odysseus a Hero?

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Why Odysseus is a Hero Essay



A hero is defined as: a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal”. The definition of a hero is someone who is respected for doing something great, and is respected for doing so. An average hero, also has flaws to accompany his heroic acts. Archetypal heroes are people who do noble or heroic things, accomplish his or her goals, or are looked up to by others. Archetypal heroes also have a crucial flaw, which serves as an imperfection that can often affect the hero themselves or others around them. Odysseus, the protagonist in the epic, is a good example of an archetypal hero. Odysseus does so by accomplishing his goals and overcoming obstacles, but has flaws that can get him involved in new conflicts.

Odysseus shows the traits of a hero by accomplishing his goals, and overcoming any obstacles he happens to face. For example, in the section of the book where Odysseus and his crew are about to pass the island of the sirens, that also pose a great deal of danger to them all. Odysseus chooses to be honest to his crew, and explain how that they are in danger: “Friends it’s wrong for only one or two to know the revelations that lovely Circe made to me alone. I’ll tell you all, so we can die with our eyes wide open now or escape out fate and certain death together.” (Book 12, lines 166-170) Odysseus was being honest to his crew, to tell them to prepare for danger, telling them that people will die, and that nobody will be safe along their journey. This is a heroic act, because Odysseus is doing something that can save the lives of his crew.

Odysseus also saves his crew from the sirens as they are about to encounter them: “Now with a sharp sword I sliced an ample wheel of beeswax down into pieces, kneaded them in my two strong hands and the wax soon grew soft, worked by my strength and Helios’ burning rays, the sun at high noon, and I stopped the ears of my comrades one by one.” (Book 12, lines 189-193). By deafening his crew, Odysseus is saving them from the Sirens. The Sirens kill people by drawing anyone passing their island with their songs. After the person is drawn in, the only way to reach the island is by boat, their ship would hit the rocky perimeter of the island, destroying their ship, and leaving the crew to drown. By making so that his crew cannot hear the Sirens, they won’t be drawn in by the Sirens. This impacts Odysseus journey by making his crew survive one of the obstacles they all had to face. This is a characteristic of a heroic act by saving lives, and by accomplishing his goals, because after doing this, Odysseus and his crew are able to pass the island without being drawn towards the Sirens, resulting in nobody dying. Overall, Odysseus is heroic by saving lives, and overcoming obstacles.

However, even though Odysseus shows heroism, and accomplishes his goals, he does have flaws that can compromise his actions. For example, during the encounter with the Sirens, Odysseus had previously heard that no man had ever passed the Sirens and survived. Odysseus however, wanted to prove this theory wrong: “I alone was too hear their voices, so she said, but you must bind me with tight chaffing ropes so I cannot move a muscle, bound to the spot erect at the mast-block, lashed by ropes to the mast. And if I plead, commanding you to set me free, and then lash me faster, rope on pressing rope.” (Book 12, lines 174-179) Odysseus was telling his crew that he wanted to hear the Sirens, but be tied up to his ship, so he cannot respond or move towards the Sirens. This is a showing of hubris (a showing of excessive pride, leading to a negative result), because by allowing himself to hear the Sirens, Odysseus is endangering his crew, and himself. Although Odysseus and his crew later pass the Sirens unharmed, it results in a loss in trust and respect towards Odysseus from his crew (this being the negative result).

Odysseus and his crew slowly grow resistant towards each other, as his crew begins to suffer from hunger on his journey, and refuse Odysseus’ advice: “Listen to me, my comrades, (the person speaking is Eurylochus) brothers in hardship. All ways of dying are hateful to us poor mortals, true, but to die of hunger, starve to death- that’s the worst of all. So up with you now, let’s drive off the pick of Helios’ sleek herds, and slaughter them to the gods who rule the skies up there.” (Book 12, lines 366-371) This section shows Odysseus’ crew slaughtering Helios’ (the Greek personification on the Sun) cattle, resulting in Helios in an outrage, and conveying Zeus to kill Odysseus’ crew. Zeus then sends down upon Odysseus’ crew a lightning bolt, killing all of Odysseus’ crew, but leaving Odysseus himself alive but adrift on open seas. This shows the further results of Odysseus’ hubris. Earlier, when Odysseus showed hubris (during many events, ie. Sirens, Polyphemus, Cattle of the Gods) and endangered his crew, almost to the point where he had gotten them killed several times, they had lost trust of him, thinking they were unimportant and expendable. As they lost trust more and more after Odysseus’ actions, they decided to go against his knowledge and advice, which ultimately got them killed. Odysseus’ hubris is generally his primary flaw, and has an effect on him and his crew on their journey.

There are also moments where Odysseus can instantly contradict his own actions with hubris, even when his previous actions were heroic. An example of this being when Odysseus and his crew encounter Polyphemus (a cyclops and the son of Zeus), who begins killing Odysseus’ crew. Odysseus in an attempt to outsmart Polyphemus, spots a large wood club that Polyphemus left behind the previous night and, with the help of his men, sharpens the narrow end to a fine point. That night, Polyphemus returns from herding his flock of sheep. He sits down and kills two more of Odysseus’ men. At that point, Odysseus offers Polyphemus the strong wine given to him by Maron. The wine makes Polyphemus drunk and unwary. When Polyphemus asks for Odysseus’ name, promising him a guest-gift if he answers, Odysseus says: “I will tell you, but you must give me a guest-gift as you’ve promised. Nobody- that’s my name. Nobody- so my mother and father call me, and all my friends.” (Book 9, page 223, line 409-411) Odysseus was not telling Polyphemus his real name, meaning that Polyphemus doesn’t know who Odysseus is yet. Polyphemus thinks of it as a real name and says that he will eat “no-one” last and that this shall be his guest-gift.

Polyphemus crashes to the floor and passes out. Odysseus, with the help of his men, lifts the flaming stake, charges forward and drives it into Polyphemus’ eye, blinding him. With Polyphemus now blinded he yells for help from his fellow Cyclopes that “no one” has hurt him. The other Cyclopes think Polyphemus is making a fool out of them or that it must be a matter with the gods and walk away. When morning comes, Odysseus and his men escape from the cave, unseen by Polyphemus, by clinging to Polyphemus’ sheep as they go out to graze. “And with that threat he let my ram go free outside. But soon as we’d got one foot past cave and courtyard, first I loosed myself from the ram, then loosed my men, then quickly, glancing back again and again we drove our flock, good plump beasts with their long shanks, straight to the ship,” (Book 9, page 226, lines 515-520) Odysseus was able to escape Polyphemus as well as getting his crew out along with Polyphemus’ cattle, which they needed. This shows heroism by Odysseus being able to save others from trouble that could have gotten them killed. Overall, this is one of Odysseus’ biggest heroic feats. He came up with a clever plan that outsmarted his enemy, and then managed to save him and others from danger.

Is Odysseus a Hero

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