What are some reasons why Odysseus is or is not a hero?

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shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Odysseus fulfills the expectations of a hero in that he survives in many situations where an ordinary man would certainly have perished. He is a leader who is looked up to by his men. He deviates from the traditional hero in that physical strength is not one of his attributes, but he makes up for it with his intelligence. We see his cunning in how he concocts a way to win the Trojan War (using the Trojan horse) and survive the encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemus. He also never loses sight of his ultimate goal, making it back home to Ithaca and his wife Penelope. When offered immortality by the nymph Calypso, Odysseus chooses to return home to his wife. Odysseus may also be viewed as less than heroic in several ways. For one thing, he is the only member of his crew to survive the journey home. He was unable to save any of his own men. He also was unfaithful to his wife on several occasions, although this happened with immortal women who were in a position to be exceptionally persuasive. Finally, Odysseus had a proud streak that got him into trouble several times. In fact, it was his pride that initially offended Poseidon, the god of the sea. So one could make a case for the fact that Odysseus’ pride cost his men their lives.
jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Odysseus meets the standards of the Greek hero because he is unwaveringly faithful to his family and to his people in Ithaca. Defying the odds, he fights to return to his home, and he never forgets about his wife, Penelope. Though his wife's beauties do not measure up to those of Calypso, he still loves his wife and wants to return to her. He declines Calypso's offer of immortality to return home. When he is home, he rids his palace of the suitors, who have defied the Greek laws of hospitality by living off his food and wine and trying to marry his wife. Odysseus is, however, loyal to people like Eumaeus, the swineherd, who have been loyal to him. He restores the island to its rightful state and re-establishes peace, not only among humans but also with the gods.

Odysseus does, however, have some tragic flaws. His blinding of the Cyclops, for example, is what angers Poseidon and makes Odysseus's journey home take so long. He has moments of anger and pique that cause him to take rash actions, and, in these moments, he is not an ideal hero but a very human character.