In Homer's Odyssey, what is the importance of Heracles (also known as Hercules) in the story? This is for an English project about the Greek gods and I need to know what he has to do with in the Odyssey

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This is an interesting question. As others have already pointed out, Heracles doesn't actually have much of a presence in the Odyssey itself. This should not be surprising, considering that Heracles belongs to an earlier generation of heroes. But perhaps one could argue that, even so, he's actually a lot more important to the Odyssey than one might assume, if we look at the Odyssey within the larger context of Greek heroic literature rather than viewed in isolation.

Consider the thematic underpinnings which tend to be central to the stories of Heracles. If we look at the world in which Heracles emerges, we see one that's actually deeply threatening to human flourishing. Just consider the Twelve Labors and the nature of his exploits. One of the critical themes that emerges within Greek heroic literature is the safeguarding of civilization, and a major part of why Heracles emerges as the greatest of all the Greek heroes is because he, more than any other, tames the dangerous forces which would threaten it (i.e., civilization). To what degree might we say that the exploits of Heracles's generation ultimately have shaped the world as Odysseus and his generation know it? It's an interesting question and one worth asking as far as this question is concerned.

With that in mind, now consider the story of Odysseus himself: thrown off course to travel across dangerous seas, Odysseus is thrown from the relative security of civilization into the dangers which lie beyond it. In a certain respect, one might even say that Odysseus's own encounters represent an echo of those earlier heroes. They conquered those dangerous forces and pushed them towards the edges of human habitation, but now we have Odysseus, who must confront the forces which still linger outside these bounds.

It's a difficult question because, viewed in isolation and separate from the larger traditions of Greek heroic traditions, it appears as if Heracles has very little importance to The Odyssey. Moreover, I don't think this claim is by any means incorrect (it seems a valid interpretation). Looking at it from a wider context, however, of how The Odyssey fits into that larger literature and how the Greeks themselves may have viewed the world around them, then I think things might start to look more murky.

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Perhaps the specter of Heracles, especially considering the fact that he carries a "naked bow in his grip [. . .] forever poised to shoot," is meant to serve as another warning to Odysseus. He is like Odysseus's double in the Underworld; he shows that even the greatest of heroes succumbs to death. Several shades offer advice to Odysseus, this seemingly invulnerable hero—Agamemnon and Achilles are the most memorable. However, Heracles was never known for his intelligence. He does not, therefore, offer anything like real advice, but his mere presence, the reality of his greatness brought low just like everyone else, seems to foreshadow Odysseus's own eventual death. Heroism, bravery, and dauntless feats do not protect one from death, and Heracles's presence (most especially his appearance) could serve as a stark reminder of this fact for the proud Odysseus.

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Yes, Heracles (The Romans called him Hercules) does not really play a significant role in Homer's Odyssey. Odysseus does encounter the phantom of Heracles when Odysseus conjures up the spirits of the dead from the underworld in Odyssey 11.

It is perhaps noteworthy that Heracles is the last phantom with whom Odysseus speaks. Heracles' phantom draws a comparison between himself and Odysseus when he compares Odysseus' struggles with his own fate to his own struggles. Like Odysseus, Heracles suffered signficant misery in his life; and, like Odysseus, Heracles encountered beings from the underworld while he was still alive.

Also of note is the weapon that the phantom of Heracles carries: "his bow unsheathed and an arrow strung, glared round fiercely as if about to shoot" (A.S. Kline translation). Many artistic and literary representations of Heracles depict him with a club; in this case, however, Homer chooses to represent him as carrying a bow, which may foreshadow Odysseus' actions at the end of the epic as he destroys his wife's suitors with his own famous bow.

Interestingly, Odysseus' bow and arrows, which he will use to destroy the suitors, was given to him by a Greek named Iphitus, whom, ironically, Heracles later killed while Iphitus was a guest in Heracles' house. Similarly, Odysseus will kill the guests who have been preying upon his house. Whereas Heracles' killing of Iphitus was unjust, Odysseus' killing of the suitors in his house will have the full backing of the gods.

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