Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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In Homer's Odyssey, Books 1 and 9, how does Odysseus reflect the values of bravery, intelligence, and creativity?

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From the start of The Odyssey, Homer establishes Odysseus as a unique figure, noting that he and he alone had failed to return home from the Trojan War (“So now all who escaped death in battle or by shipwreck had to safely home except Odysseus . . .”) and was now help captive by Calypso.  Book One sets the stage for the story, and depicts its protagonist as a physically, intellectually and “morally” superior human.  The goddess Athena, approaching her father, Zeus, to intercede on the mortal’s behalf, receives this reply:

“My child, what are you talking about?  How can I forget Odysseus than whom there is no more capable man on earth, nor more liberal in his offerings to the immortal gods that live in heaven?”

Again, later in Book One, Odysseus’ attributes are suggested in the following quote from Athena, disguised as a man, in discussing Odysseus’ fate with Telemachus, in which the goddess is seeking to comfort the son with regard to the destruction to the estate caused by his mother, Penelope’s, suitors:

“Is that so?” exclaimed Athena, “then you do indeed want Odysseus home again.  Give him his helmet, shield, and a couple of lances, and if he is the man he was when I first knew him . . . he would soon lay his hands about these rascally suitors, were he to stand once more upon his own threshold.”

The story has not yet focused on Odysseus’ actions, so the reader is not exposed to “first-hand” descriptions of his heroism.  His reputation, however, is established as a good, brave, man and warrior. 

By Book Nine, the story of Odysseus’ journey is well-underway.  Evidence of his military prowess, heritage, and courage is presented by the protagonist himself in his self-description upon meeting King Alcinous:

“I am Odysseus, son of Laertes, reknowned among mankind for all manner of subtlety, so that my fame ascends to heaven. . . When I had set sail thence the wind took me first to Ismarus, which is the city of Cicons.  There I sacked the town and put the people to the sword.  We took their wives and also much booty, which we divided equitably amongst us, so that none might have reason to complain.”

Moral relativism aside, this passage suggests the nature of the beast.  Odysseus mentions his reputation and standing with the gods, his “success” as a conqueror, and his rational approach to management.  As he continues his tale of daring-do and command, replete with instances of intelligence and bravery, such as the defeat of the Cyclops and the escape from the Lotus-eaters, Odysseus reveals himself to be a true leader, one instilled with both extraordinary bravery and humanity with regards to the fate of his crew.  “Stay here, my brave fellows,” said I, “all the resto of you, while I go with my ship and exploit these people myself: I want to see if they are uncivilized savages, or a hospitable and humane race.”  And, as they approached the strange new land, “I told my men to draw the ship ashore, and stay where they were, all but the twelve best among them, who were to go along with myself.”

Odysseus is conveying in his recitation of his journey the risks to which he subjected himself while sparing his crew the hazards of the unknown.  His courage is commendable.  His wisdom in leading his men into the den of the Cyclops, who would devour a number of them, is obviously questionable, but his bravery and resourcefulness are confirmed

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