Odysseus and His Heroism: Critical Essay

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Is Odysseus a true hero as popular opinion would have us believe, due to the crucial role he played in winning the Trojan War and returning home to his kingdom, Ithaca? Or is he a self-serving leader with numerous faults?

In Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’, Odysseus is portrayed as a hero, but, when one examines his quest, actions, deeds, and various peer commentaries, it is easy to unmask the numerous flaws that he actually has. After playing a pivotal role in the Trojan War, Odysseus travelled the globe, experienced horrors most humans could never imagine, and finally returned home safely. He is exemplified in this book as a true hero who can overcome what most would consider insurmountable. Contrary to these traits, many of his actions deem him unworthy of receiving the label of a hero. Throughout his journey, he brazenly sacrifices his men and often places the value of his own life above his comrades. We are witness to this when Odysseus sees smoke coming from an island and proclaims, “I’d go back to the shore and the swift ship first, feed the men, then send them out for scouting” (Homer, 235). A genuine hero would never even consider placing his well-being above that of his men. Characters who encounter Odysseus throughout his quest describe him in many different ways. On Aeolian Island, when he receives a bag of wind, his crew suspects that it is actually a bag of gold. Even though this is not the case, his friends never trusted him from the beginning, which leads readers to believe that something happened in the past that caused this distrust. When Odysseus reaches Phaeacia and is about to sail for home, the bard sings of how heroic Odysseus is and how the whole island worships him immensely.

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‘The Odyssey’ by Homer displays both his heroic and unheroic side, ‘Ulysses’ by Tennyson portrays him as trying to accomplish heroism, and ‘Ulysses and the Siren’ by Daniel presents his heroicness as simply an underlying attempt to gain glory. Odysseus’ deeds, actions, and thoughts make readers believe that he truly deserves to be known as a hero in ‘Ulysses’ by Alfred Tennyson. In this poem, Odysseus has finished his quest and finally returned home. Written from Odysseus’ point of view, it portrays his feeling that his life is over because his journey has finally ended. He insists that he will make the most of his short time left when he says: “I will drink/ life to the Lee’s” (Tennyson, 6-7). When Odysseus claims that it is “For some three suns to store and hoard myself” (Tennyson, 29), readers can see how Odysseus detested being confined to his kingdom after traveling and experiencing the world. Even though Odysseus yearned to go home while facing great horrors, once he arrived in Ithaca, he desired the thrill of exploration and adventure. He declares that although he and his old crew are now old, they still have the ability to do something noble and honorable before “the long day wanes” (Tennyson, 55). He encourages them to make use of their old age because “’T is not too late to seek a newer world” (Tennyson, 57). In these speeches, we can see that he is acting as a hero should and that the true character trait has never left him. Even in his final days after returning from a journey filled with unspeakable horrors, he still believes there should be no end to exploration, and through this, the readers believe that he is a true leader with noble ambitions.

In the poem ‘Ulysses and the Siren’ by Samuel Daniel, readers are led to believe that Odysseus’ heroicness is built on the desire to achieve fame and honor. In the middle of his journey, a siren tries to lure him in and tells him that he can live a peaceful life without worries and escape the dangerous seas by living with her. Odysseus replies: “Fair nymph, if fame or honor were/ To be attained with ease/ Then would I come and rest me there” (Daniel, 9-11). Even though Odysseus is acting very noble by turning down this tempting opportunity, he does so because of his desire to achieve glory and fame. If he was not set on this goal, he probably would have accepted the siren’s offer. Odysseus claims that “To spend the time luxuriously/ Becomes not men of worth” (Daniel, 15-16), in which it is clear to see that he does not want to help the world to become a better place, or save many people – he just wants glory. This perspective of Odysseus contrasts greatly to the viewpoint that is portrayed in ‘Ulysses’. In ‘Ulysses and the Siren’, Odysseus is shown to be a selfish man who is striving to be a hero only for the sake of glory and fame, while in ‘Ulysses’, Odysseus is shown as a man who is determined to defy age and death, to explore the world, and accomplish an act of heroism in his old age.

These three poems all present a different angle on Odysseus’ heroism. One depicting a heroic and flawed character, another seeking to accomplish heroism, and one attempting to achieve glory. Both of these poetic portrayals have similarities to ‘The Odyssey’ by Homer. ‘The Odyssey’ displays Odysseus as heroic in some parts, but also displaying a lack of respect by some of his comrades and flaws in many of his actions. Both of these traits – heroic and flawed – are described in detail in the poems. Daniel paints a more compelling picture of Odysseus because it is interesting to see him portrayed as a non-hero. When most talk about Odysseus they envision a hero, but Daniel depicts him as doing everything he did only to get the fame that comes with it.

Reading about Odysseus through these three different lenses, with one of them being a new and undiscovered side, really allows the reader to analyze what Odysseus was truly like, instead of merely being told what to think.

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Odysseus and His Heroism: Critical Essay. (2023, September 19). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/odysseus-and-his-heroism-critical-essay/
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Odysseus and His Heroism: Critical Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/odysseus-and-his-heroism-critical-essay/> [Accessed 16 Jun. 2024].
Odysseus and His Heroism: Critical Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Sept 19 [cited 2024 Jun 16]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/odysseus-and-his-heroism-critical-essay/
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