Heroism in the Odyssey  I am writing a lengthy essay over heroism in the Odyssey and how it applies to Odysseus. So my questions are what is the Greek definition of Heroism/a hero, what is heroism...

Heroism in the Odyssey 

I am writing a lengthy essay over heroism in the Odyssey and how it applies to Odysseus. So my questions are what is the Greek definition of Heroism/a hero, what is heroism in the greek culture, what heroism is in the Odyssey, how does heroism apply to Odysseus, and this all basically funnels into the main point of how exactly did Odysseus' intellectual growth from hero to intellectual hero come about and how and why his growth is important?  

Expert Answers
mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Odyssey, Homer often tells of his role in the epic:

"The Muse inspired the bard to sing the famous deeds of fighting heroes."  

The context is clear: the tale is divinely inspired by the gods for Homer, the poet-bard, to recite as entertainment for the host and guests.  Tales of heroes is the highest form of recitation, a form of religion.

Heroism is a function of the guest-host relationship that the Greeks held so sacred.  Even Odysseus plays the role of the poet-bard in the frame tell as he retells of his journeys to King Alcinous and the Phaeacians.  Once Alcinous learns that Odysseus has been to Hades, the kings wants to hear of other hero's deaths from the Land of the Dead.  So, heroism is passed on through stories from a poet to a host to honor the deeds of dead or lost heroes and a way to preserve their memory in the form of poetry.  The hero must be remembered with gifts and tales: 

"That's the man a guest will remember all his days."


"...a hero's welcome...[we will] treat him in style..."


"...lavish host who showers him with kindness...he loads our chariot down with gifts."

Remember, The Odyssey is a companion piece to The Illiad, the story of a horrific ten-year war.  The Odyssey is about homecoming.  Its function is to honor the heroes of The Iliad.  All the kings, Menelaus and Alcinous namely, want to hear stories of lost heroes as they host Telemachus and Odysseus, respectively.  The chief hero that they mention, of course, is Odysseus.  He is the greatest of heroes because his cunning lead to the Greeks winning the war in Troy.  In fact, Homer uses the word "hero" as an epithet for Odysseus.  He is only one hero left to return, so everyone would have taken the general term "hero" to, of course, refer to Odysseus.  Pisistratus says of Telemachus:

“son of Atreus, King Menelaus, captain of armies: here is the son of that great hero, as you say. But the man is modest, he would be ashamed to make a show of himself, his first time here, and interrupt you. We delight in your voice as if some god were speaking!"

Notice that Telemachus does none of the talking to the king.  He is a guest and not a hero.  By contrast, Odysseus, in Phaeacia, does all of the talking, because he is both hero and guest, and, therefore, bard.  So, heroism is forged by battle in war and, after, by tales of such.  

To prove that Odysseus is a legitimate hero, they test his feats of strength with games:

"...games for heroes...to honor the death of kings."

"...no hero's swords..."

Odysseus must mimic his feats in battle by throwing the spear for them.  When Odysseus returns to Ithaca, he proves his heroism to the suitors by stringing the bow and shooting the arrow through the battle axes.  And then, he proves his heroism to his son, by killing them in a river of blood.  You see, the Greeks believed in the concept of "arete," or "excellence in all things."  Odysseus' heroism is not only proven on the battlefield, but for guests as entertainment.  In these three ways, in war, in contest, and through words, is Odysseus the definition of the classical Greek hero.  The forgotten hero is the bard, the one who sings the hero's praises.

Read the study guide:
The Odyssey

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