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What qualities of the epic hero does King Nestor attribute to Odysseus in his...

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jennl0lz | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 9, 2009 at 11:41 AM via web

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What qualities of the epic hero does King Nestor attribute to Odysseus in his recollections of him?

Yes, I read the book. Couldn't figure out some questions.  Thanks for help, accurate answers only please.

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sfwriter | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted August 10, 2009 at 12:16 PM (Answer #1)

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When Telemachus and Athena (who is disguised as Mentor) visit Nestor on Pylos in Book III, the old king tells Telemachus a few things about his father Odysseus.  One of them is particularly ironic, because Athena, unbeknownst to Telemachus, is standing right next to him when Nestor says:

If Athena were to take as great a liking to you as she did to Odysseus when we were fighting before Troy (for I never yet saw the gods so openly fond of anyone as Athena then was of your father), if she would take as good care of you as she did of him, these wooers would soon some of them forget their wooing. (Book III)

So one of the attributes of Odysseus is he is noticed by the gods.  In this speech he is favored by Athena; we will find out in later books that he angered Poseidon.  It is absolutely necessary for epic heroes to be remarkable enough to come to the gods' notice (if the heroes are not already descended from the gods.)

Odysseus is also the subject of a mystery at this point, as Telemachus is asking Nestor where he might be buried.  At this point Telemachus has no idea if his father is dead or alive.  Telemachus knows his father was a great warrior in the Trojan war, and the warrior/adventurer status is also a necessity for an epic hero.

Interestingly, in this book, Nestor brings up some of Odysseus' less-than-common epic heroic tendencies.  One of them is his subtlety.  "...during all this time there was no one who could compare with your father in subtlety..."  This is not a surprise, as the cleverness and subtlety of Odysseus was proclaimed throughout the earlier poem, the Iliad.  This is part of what makes Odysseus such a unique and different hero (different than, say, Hektor or Achilles of the Iliad).  Though Odysseus is a brave man, and a strong and powerful warrior, it was not primarily for these attributes that he is extolled in the Iliad and the Odyssey.  It is for his craftiness, and in many instances in the Odyssey Odysseus exhibits that it is his strength of mind, in addition to his strength of body, which make him an epic hero.

Odysseus, while crafty and clever, was nevertheless trustworthy and -- that most epic quality of heroes -- single-minded.  Nestor says of Odysseus, "He and I never had any kind of difference from first to last neither in camp nor council, but in singleness of heart and purpose we advised the Argives how all might be ordered for the best."  So Odysseus and the wise Nestor were of one mind, which makes the reader think that Odysseus was probably cautious, virtuous, and wise, too, like the venerable and much-respected Nestor.  This quality of steadfastness, and his ability in matters of council (in direct opposition to the fiery Agamemnon and headstrong Menelaus, who were both greater kings than Odysseus and held more sway in council than he did) are both things which add to Odysseus' heroic image.

Finally, we know from this book that Odysseus is nobly born.  He is the king of Ithaca, and the possessor of a fine palace and estate.  While he is not the high king Agamemnon was, he is certainly not a common farmer; this is another quality of epic heroes.

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