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The Odyssey – What Is a Hero

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Ashley Literature and Composition 1 8 March 2010 “The Odyssey” by Homer What is a hero? One who holds a proud countenance or obtains a strong build? Different cultures and ethnicities may have their own, unique definition of a hero. Although the Greeks believed that such a principled individual is someone that people look up to, and a title such as this cannot be bestowed upon the ordinary. In Homer’s “The Odyssey”, it is Odysseus who possesses the true characteristics of a hero wisdom, loyalty and showing moral improvement.

Homer describes Odysseus as an intelligent individual; this statement is proven fact when in the cave of the Cyclops Polyphemus, Odysseus’s first thought was to kill the giant. Instead of acting upon his first thoughts Odysseus takes the time to use his intelligence and realize that Polyphemus is the only way out of the cave. Odysseus offers wine to Polyphemus who then asks his providers’ name, Odysseus wittily replies with “Nohbody: mother, father, and friends, everyone calls me Nohbody” (Homer Lines 360-361). Even as he spoke, he reeled and tumbled backward, his great head lolling to one side and sleep took him like any creature” (Lines 360-366). Odysseus and his men blind Polyphemus while sleeping which results in the giant yelling to his brothers that, “Nohbody, Nohbody’s tricked me. Nohbody’s ruined me! ” and no one came to his aide (Line 443). In this example, Odysseus shows his intelligence, a trait one can infer that the Greeks admired, by lying to Polyphemus to save the lives of his men.

Also, after 2 eturning home to Ithaca to find many suitors begging for his wife’s hand in marriage, Odysseus disguises himself as a beggar to avoid attention. The seemingly beggar at first glance enters the home of Odysseus to witness the emotional destruction of his wife Penelope. Odysseus is disguised until the last possible moment when he eventually reveals himself after completing the task to win Penelope’s hand in marriage. Odysseus is a marvel character whose characteristics allow readers to infer that the Greeks held the trait f intelligence in respect for a hero. During 720 BC, when “The Odyssey” was first published, the book explained that Odysseus preferred not to go to war, especially a war fought for an unfaithful woman. The Greeks showed no signs of disloyalty as a respectable trait for any man or woman, therefore when Odysseus is described as a faithful man, he is immediately categorized as a hero. To an extent Odysseus’s bravery can be substantiated by Athena’s constant support, and also proving his loyalty to the Greek Gods during his twenty years away from home.

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Locked away on the goddess Calypso’s island, Odysseus, despite the attraction he feels toward the nymph goddess, stayed as faithful as possible to his Penelope proving his devoted love for her. Calypso had offered him immortality and a life bound her, but with his one goal in mind, (to return home) Odysseus declines the offer proving his loyal character. Along with the promised loyalty to his wife, Odysseus was equally faithful to his men. When in the face of danger, his men looked to Odysseus for help and guidance knowing that he will come to their aide.

An example of this mutual relationship is when Odysseus and his followers landed on the island of Aeaea, where they rested to replenish their strength. His men were divided in half and Odysseus and his half of followers stayed behind when the rest of his men journeyed through the island to investigate. After finding the palace of the goddess Circe the men were 3 welcomed into the palace by the goddess herself. One man, Eurylochus, sensed danger and stayed hidden outside while the others ate and drank the pleasures provided by Circe.

The win was drugged, causing the men to forget all memories of their home. After drugging the men, Circe used her twisted magic and transformed the men into swine. Eurylochus quickly returned to Odysseus and explained the evil doings of Circe. Odysseus traveled to the house of the goddess alone, where she invited him in and gave him the same drugged wine. With the help of the Messenger God Hermes, Odysseus managed to escape the magic of Circe and threatened her with his sword into changing his men back.

Taking responsibility for his men’s lives and sacrificing his own instead of running away from the danger is proof of his loyal character. Odysseus’s principle attribute is loyalty which the Greeks believe, is in belonging to a heroic figure. Everyone deserves a second chance; learning from your mistakes provides evidence of your improving character. Throughout “The Odyssey” one may make comments about the numerous faults they find in Odysseus’s character such as; his love of glory, and his abiding arrogance.

However, nearing the end of the tale Odysseus does not immediately react violently upon the dreadful sight of the many suitors destroying the heart of his Penelope. Instead of acting quickly, Odysseus patiently waits until the right time to reveal his identity and surprise the suitors with their own death. Learning and improving your reputation are the qualities one can infer from the epic that were greatly admired by the Greeks as a heroic trait. During the period where heroes were described as intelligent, loyal, and dedicated, Odysseus is described as a model warrior in Homer’s “Odyssey” and a true heroic being.

With his intelligence Odysseus saves the lives of his devoted followers when a desperate situation calls for hero. His loyalty provides reassurance to his wife 4 Penelope and his men that he will soon return home. Odysseus shows his improving character by learning from his past mistakes to improve the future. These traits are just a few traits that the Greeks, during Homer’s time period, held in the highest regard for a hero. 5 Works Cited Homer. “The Odyssey”. New York: Ballantine Books, 1973

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