How does Odysseus compare to other heroes in literature?

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readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Out of all the heroes in Greek and Roman literature, Odysseus stands out singularly in one area. He is the hero that wins not through brawn but through cunning. From this perspective, he can be seen sort of an anti-hero. He wins through deceit, disguises, smooth talking and wiles.

Let me give you a number of examples.

First, in Odysseus' famous encounter with Polyphemus he realizes that he is not strong enough to kill him or to move the rock that covers the entrance of the cave. So, he has to use his cunning to get out. In a word, he get Polyphemus drunk. You can imagine other heroes, like Achilles or Heracles not taking this route at all.

Second, Odysseus also realizes that he cannot defeat the young suitors in his homeland. So, he comes in disguise as a beggar to plot and scheme. I can think of no other hero who would do this. Other heroes would come and simply have come to fight.

These two examples show how Odysseus is unique.

At this point the temptation would be to think of Odysseus as lesser of a hero, but we must not. If we think of the tradition behind the fall of Troy, Odysseus's cunning is central. He is the one who thought of the wooden horse that ultimately lead to the downfall of Troy.


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