Does Odysseus follow the criteria for being an epic hero?

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chelseaosborne314 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For this answer, I have included a few links; two of them give characteristics of epic heroes, and the other talks about Odysseus' role as an epic hero.

It seems that there are a lot of different characteristics of epic heroes floating around in the world, so I will examine the most important ones (in no particular order):

  1. Epic heroes generally have a noble birth and/or are leaders among men. Odysseus is the king of his home island, Ithaca.
  2. Epic heroes are also great warriors, which Odysseus very clearly is as he survives the Trojan War. In fact, not only does he survive the war, he helps to win it because the Trojan horse that got the Greeks into Troy was his idea.
  3. Epic heroes are always on a difficult journey that tests their bravery and skills. Odysseus travels for ten years (after already spending another ten years at war) in his attempt to get home to his family, facing many different types of danger (Scylla and Charybdis, the lotus-eaters, Calypso, Polyphemus, Poseidon's wrath, etc). Another characteristic of an epic journey is a trip to the Underworld, which Odysseus does in order to talk to Tiresias.
  4. Epic heroes also find themselves involved with the supernatural, which is something Odysseus does a lot of. On the one hand, he has Athena helping him succeed. On the other, not only does he blind the Cyclops, Polyphemus, but then he faces the wrath of the god Poseidon for doing so. He also loses his men to the god Helios because they killed his cattle, and he has to sail waters that were guarded by the monsters Scylla and Charybdis. Odysseus' journey is filled with supernatural people and events.
  5. Epic heroes are capable of great things, things which regular people would not be able to accomplish. Odysseus, for instance, has his massive bow, which only he can string.

There are, of course, other characteristics, but these five are the ones most people can agree on as being the important traits. As you can see, Odysseus has all of these characteristics in spades, so he is certainly an epic hero.

Read the study guide:
The Odyssey

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