Odysseus Defines An Epic Hero Essay, Research Paper
On a website posted by teachers at Harker Heights High, an epic hero is someone who embodies the values of a particular society. He is superhuman. An epic hero is b raver, stronger, and cleverer than an ordinary person. He is on a quest for something of great value to him or his people. The villains that try to keep the hero from his quest are usually uglier, more evil, and more cunning than anyone we know in ordinary life. The epic hero is often of mixed divine and human birth and so possesses human weaknesses. And finally, the divine world often interferes with the human world in the hero’s quest. In the Odyssey, by Homer and translated by Robert Fitzgerald, Odysseus embodies everything that is an epic hero, aside from being a mix of the divine and human birth. The story of The Odyssey is not just of Odysseus’ journey from Troy to Ithaka, but also one of his journey from a sometimes foolish and almost immature warrior to an epic hero.
In book IX, Odysseus begins his tale of his trip from Troy to Phaiakia.
What of those years of rough adventure weathered under Zeus? The wind that carried west from Ilion brought me to Ismaros, on the far shore, a strongpoint on the coast of the Kikones. I stormed the place and killed the men who fought. Plunder we took, and we enslaved the women?(9.146)
The beginning of this tale displays the warrior who left Troy. He and his crew immediately go to battle and take control of the city. Although afterwards Odysseus recalls telling his men to stop and return to the ship, he never actually forcibly tried to make his men return, because at the time it was more about the victory of a battle then the message or values that were being fought for. Odysseus should have taken control and forced his men back, not doing so only got them driven out of the city and could have caused another battle. This episode shows Odysseus’ slightly immature nature.
Odysseus and his crew’s imprisonment with the Cyclops, Polyphemos, show signs of his epic hero characteristics, bravery and trickery, but at the same time signs of his immature and foolish side, his human weaknesses. Odysseus takes out the eye of the Cyclops saving the lives of himself and his remaining crew. But later, after getting free and setting sail, Odysseus taunts Polyphemos proudly stating who he is and that he was the one who took out his eye. Polyphemos then gets his father, Poseidon, god of the sea, to invoke rage in the sea causing his journey home to be set off course and prolonged once again.
Odysseus’ journey to Hades, the land of the dead, shows a symbolic death for Odysseus and a later “rebirth.” Here he meets with Teiresias who warns him of his later journeys and cautions him of his eventual return home to Ithaka where there is great danger and chaos for him. After this event Odysseus is more inclined to return home; He takes all of the advise and wisdom he has been given and realizes that he can not act foolishly as he had done before if he wants to return home alive or anytime in the near future. After his symbolic “death” in Hades, Odysseus has a symbolic “rebirth” when he washes ashore on the island of the Phaiakians, where he is naked and lost, as he was the day he was born. This “rebirth” is the beginning of Odysseus’ journey to being a true epic hero.
Once he is back in Ithaka the new changed Odysseus does not act foolishly and attack the suitors or immediately rush in, state who he is and start a battle. Instead, he is wise and clever, and with the help of Athena he disguises himself as an old beggar in order to bide time, assess the situation, and gather assistance. With his identity concealed, he easily roams his kingdom and surveys the ills of his disrespectful subjects. Here Odysseus displays his sheer strength when he fights Iros.
The two were at close quarters now, and Iros lunged hitting the shoulder. Then Odysseus hooked him under the ear and shattered his jawbone, so bright red blood cam bubbling from his mouth, as down he pitched into the dust, bleating, kicking against the ground, his teeth stove in./Then, by the ankle bone, Odysseus hauled the fallen one outside, crossing the courtyard to the gate, and piled him against the wall.
Everyone is amazed at the incredible strength of this old beggar. With one swift movement Odysseus effortlessly breaks Iros’ jaw, picks him up and carries him outside.
Later on after Odysseus fires his bow during the contest to win Penelope, Odysseus’ wife’s, hand in marriage, a battle ensues. It is only Odysseus and his son, Telemakos, against all of the suitors, but he is still triumphant, proving he is smarter, cleverer, braver and also stronger than an ordinary person is.
Although his “death” and “rebirth” paved the way for the changed Odysseus to become a true epic hero, just his changed state of mind and his physical attributes are not enough to tag him as a true epic hero; there are other things involved. Every characteristic, aside from being of divine and human birth, is one that Odysseus possesses. This hero’s quest to return home to Ithaka is definitely of great value to him and also to his people, for in his absence there has been great chaos. After being absent for so long all Odysseus wanted was to return to his wife, his son, and his palace. His wife and son and many of his people could no longer handle the hectic nature of things caused by Odysseus’ absence, they wanted him to return and order to be restored.
The villains in The Odyssey that try to keep Odysseus from his quest are definitely uglier, more evil, and more cunning than anyone in ordinary life. Poseidon, Polyphemos, Skylla, Kalypso, and Circe are all gods. There is no doubt they are more evil, more cunning, and often times uglier than ordinary people. The fact that most of the villains in The Odyssey are gods proves the final characteristic of an epic hero; the divine world, the gods, interferes with the human world. If it hadn’t been for these villains Odysseus’ journey home from Troy would have been a rather short and plain tale. He would not have been help up on an island or had some of his crew eaten and some of them killed in a storm. But, the gods interfering with the human world in this story are not all villains; Athena and Zeus also interfere. Athena feels her and Odysseus are somewhat alike; she likes him, feels he has been away long enough, and wants to help him return home. Zeus is sometimes like Athena and helps Odysseus, and is also sometimes one of the villains and hurts him. As he did when Odysseus’ men ate one of Helios’ cattle. Zeus then created a storm that killed all of the remaining men and wrecked his ship, leaving Odysseus stranded.
In the beginning Odysseus is a careless, foolish and immature warrior who seems to care only about battle. But in the end we see a completely different person who has seen the error of his ways and realizes the evil in being only a prideful warrior.
He has learned that a man is not as strong as he wants to be; a man is only as strong as the gods want him to be. Without the help of the gods Odysseus would not be the truly heroic leader he has become. He embodies all that is an epic hero, and upon his return home to his palace in Ithaka and his victory over the suitors Odysseus is definitely a larger than life hero.
Harken Heights High Knights website
The Odyssey by Homer Trans. by Robert Fitzgerald