Is Odysseus A Good Leader

What is some evidence that Odysseus is a good or bad leader in Homer's Odyssey?

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noahvox2 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Determining whether Odysseus is a "good" or "bad" leader is a difficult question. On the surface, he probably appears to have more lapses as a leader than successes.

In Odyssey 9, he refuses to leave the cave of the Cyclops, despite his men's urging to the contrary.

"At first my men begged me to take some cheeses and go, then to drive the lambs and kids from the pens down to the swift ship and set sail. But I would not listen, though it would have been best, wishing to see the giant himself, and test his hospitality" (A.S. Kline translation)

This choice results in the death of six of his men.

In Odyssey 10, Odysseus does not communicate with his men about the contents of the bag he receives from Aeolus. Odysseus falls asleep, his men become curious, open the bag just when their ship was in sight of their homeland, and then they are blown back to Aeolus' land.

In Odyssey 12, Odysseus does communicate about the dangers of eating Helios' cattle, but he again falls asleep. This gives his men the chance to eat some of the cattle, which results in their lives being lost.

On the other hand, Odysseus does seem to make the right choice in Odyssey 12 when faced with the Scylla and Charybdis. He sails nearer to the Scylla, which does result in the deaths of six more crewmen; but, if he had sailed closer to the Charybdis, the entire ship would have been lost.

Also, in Odyssey 12, Odysseus probably prevents a significant loss of life by having his men stuff their ears with wax while sailing past the island of the Sirens.

Odysseus' leadership choices seem to be better once he returns to Ithaca. He wipes out the suitors and all of his allies (Telemachus, Eumaeus, and Philoetius) survive the fight.

Thus, when it comes to Odysseus' leadership qualities, Homer presents us with an ambiguous picture.


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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Odysseus is not intended to conform to twenty-first century notions of "good leadership." Homer existed within a very different culture. Many acts that would horrify us, such as fairly casual ways of thinking about rape and murder, excessive boasting, and valuing saving face over survival, are common in Homer. Moreover, Homer is a poet who praises the "great deeds" of individuals and is less concerned with things like teamwork, shared goals, and working within systems than modern business leaders. In fact, any modern business leader with the attitude or habits of a Homeric hero would end up fired or in jail in a matter of days. 

Within Homeric context, Odysseus is one of the great Greek heroes, although this does not mean he is without flaws. He is renowned for his cleverness, as can be seen in his schemes for defeating Polyphemus. He is loyal to Penelope and apparently a good and benevolent ruler of Ithaca. He is favored by many of the gods (even if offending Poseidon), something that was an important component of Homeric leadership. This can be seen in Hermes giving him the herb moly. He leads by example and shows prowess as a fighter and skill with words or diplomacy, both of which were important components of Homeric leadership. His boastfulness is traditionally Homeric and would not have been seen as a character flaw. Thus we can say that Homer presents him as a good leader, and one who should be emulated in his physical strength, willpower, and intelligence. This does not mean he is without flaws; Homeric heroes are larger than life but despite their greatness, all are presented realistically in the sense of being flawed if extraordinary beings, not as unrealistically perfect.

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The Odyssey

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