Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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What is an epic hero's greatest weakness called? What is Odysseus's?

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Homer’s Odyssey is a heroic epic that recounts Odysseus’ ten-year journey to return to his homeland after the Trojan War.  Traditionally in literature, an epic hero possesses certain characteristics that serve as defining features of the genre.  In this instance, Odysseys is the epic hero and his weakness is referred to as his tragic flaw, or harmartia.  A tragic flaw causes the hero’s eventual downfall, or in heroic epics, causes immense obstacles and creates foes.  In the Odyssey, Odysseus’ weakness can be seen as his pride, or hubris.  Odysseus is a strong and courageous warrior who bravely leads his men back from Troy, but he often finds himself in situations caused by his own arrogance.  For example, in Book Nine, when Odysseus very wisely tells the cyclops Polyphemus that his name is “Nobody,” Polyphemus cries out that “Nobody has attacked me!”  This enables Odysseus and his men to escape, but Odysseus’ prideful nature causes him to turn back and yell his real identity to the cyclops, which in turn leads to destruction by Poseidon’s wrath.   Upon learning the identity of his son’s attacker, Poseidon unleashes a massive storm on Odysseus’ travel and he is forced to wander for an even longer duration.  Therefore, it is Odysseus’ pride that causes his epic struggle to return home. 

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