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Describe Odysseus' character in terms of the good choices and the poor choices he...

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mcattack76 | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted May 21, 2012 at 12:19 PM via web

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Describe Odysseus' character in terms of the good choices and the poor choices he makes. Compare Odysseus to one of the Iliad heroes. Is he a hero in the same way?

These are questions for my Literature course and I need some explanation, as the language it is written in is not the easiest to interpret. Thank you!

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mimerajver | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted May 21, 2012 at 5:44 PM (Answer #1)

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As The Odyssey begins half-way through the story, let us go back a little to see Odysseus' first good choice. He was most unwilling to join the war, for an oracle had foretold that it would take him a long, hard time to return home if he did. Thus, when Agamemnon's messengers went for him, he pretended madness and appeared to them ploughing a field, oblivious of his regal condition. The messengers did not believe this was true, and threw baby Telemachus on the plough's path. If Odysseus had persisted in his behavior, he would inevitably have killed his son. Then his first good choice was to put an end to his farce and save his son's life.

Other good choices were finding the way to make Achilles reveal himself when he disguised as a woman in order to avoid going to the war, devising the Trojan Horse, which allowed the Achaeans to enter and conquer the impregnable citadel of Troy, and to patiently endure the abuse of the suitors, waiting for the right moment to punish their crimes against his land.

Among his bad choices, the one that stands out is blinding Polyphemus, a son of the sea god Poseidon. This earned him the god's rage and the fulfilment of the oracle, as Poseidon kept him at sea for ten years. It was also a bad choice to sleep and leave Eolus' gift- a bag of bad winds- unguarded. His men believed the bag contained gold, opened it, and set loose the storms that would cause the loss of the ships and of the crew's lives.

Odysseus was much valued as a shrewd advisor. However, he was but a man, and erred as much as any man would. Precisely the reason why James Joyce fell in love with this character was his humanity. He was a hero in a human, not in a suprahuman way. He fought, conquered, was true to his friends and cruel to his enemies, but if you compare him to Achilles, the most extraordinary hero in the Trojan war, you will find that such comparison is unfair. Achilles was the son of a goddess and a mortal, and knowingly chose a short, glorious life rather than a long, uneventful one. Hiding him among the women, as mentioned before, was his mother's desperate attempt to spare him.

In this sense, Odysseus was a hero because he had no choice, while Achilles made it his choice to lead a heroic life. 

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