Illustration of Odysseus tied to a ship's mast

The Odyssey

by Homer

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Name five reasons why Odysseus might not be considered a hero.

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One could argue that Odysseus is not a hero because he partakes in cruel asks of violence, his pride makes him suffer and lose men, and he lies, spies, and cheats to get what he wants.

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Typically, readers view Odysseus as a somewhat unusual type of hero, a figure who reshapes the definition of what it means to be heroic. However, there are several reasons why one could firmly argue that Odysseus is not a hero.

For example, consider how Odysseus partakes in some violent acts that we might not normally associate with the virtuous, idealized hero. One example of this is when he takes revenge upon the suitors, who have been occupying his house, vying for his wife's hand, and disrespecting his son. Odysseus even goes so far as to order the execution of the slave women he believes have been disloyal to him by sleeping with the suitors. Killing the suitors and, particularly, his household's own slaves could thus be considered a prideful act of violence and one that does not reflect the values and behavior of the typical hero.

Odysseus’s pride also frequently makes him impulsive and angry and makes it harder for him and his men to swiftly complete the journey. For instance, consider how he blinds the Cyclops and thus incurs the wrath of Poseidon, making the journey a lot more complicated.

Odysseus is also shown to disguise himself and lie throughout the story; in Sparta, Helen recalls how Odysseus disguised himself as a beggar in order to spy on the Trojans during the war. Even though Odysseus used such behavior to achieve important goals, we typically don’t associate heroes with lying, cheating, and spying. In doing all three of those things, Odysseus challenges the standard definition of a hero.

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

For a question such as this, it would be useful to question by what standard we are measuring Odysseus as a hero. Modernity tends to define history along modern morals, and while there are certain criteria which would tend to intersect (courage, for example, would be regarded as a key virtue both in the ancient and modern world), there is a sense of brutality to many of the ancient world's heroes that would be found problematic by modern moral standards.

Consider the example of Heracles, the greatest of all the Greek heroes, who murdered his wife and children in an insanity-fueled rage and then completed his most famous labors as an act of recompense for that crime. Ancient heroes were defined primarily by their elevated status and superhuman capabilities and deeds, to such a degree that their status was suspended in the space between mortal human beings and immortal gods.

In this respect, Odysseus certainly qualifies as a hero by the standards of his time. He is royalty and is supremely capable physically speaking (in fact, the Odyssey describes him as godlike in physique) while even Athena recognizes his cunning. Furthermore, his abilities are certainly matched in his achievements, both in his exploits during the Trojan War and also afterwards, in his long journey homeward.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that, in a poem that revolves around the theme of hospitality, Odysseus adheres to those same standards expected of guests (in stark contrast to the suitors plaguing Ithaca, his home). Even his greatest flaw, his pride (as can be seen particularly in his encounter with Polyphemus), can be understood as a heroic one, as Odysseus demands recognition for his heroic achievements.

I think the one area where his heroism can come under question, even by the ancient world's standards, might actually be his leadership. For all of his bravery, cunning, and physical ability, the fact remains that Odysseus does sometimes have difficulty controlling his followers and, in fact, has to deal with several rebellions against his authority. This is actually a critical flaw, one that cannot so easily be understood as a suitably heroic one the way his pride might have been.

Furthermore, if you were to judge him by modern standards, you could examine further criteria, most notably his brutality, not to mention his unfaithfulness toward Penelope, as grounds to question whether he deserves his heroic status after all.

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

Odysseus is a classic Greek hero because he is high born, a strong fighter, and an intelligent trickster.

Odysseus is the king of Ithaca, meaning he is royal, and he is renowned for his physical strength, which makes him an excellent warrior. To be a strong and courageous soldier was at the heart of what it was to be a hero in Greek society, and Odysseus is that. He is also central to the Greek war effort because of his intelligence. He uses this wily intelligence to concoct the idea of the Trojan horse, which allows the Greeks to win the Trojan war. He also has the favor of such deities as Athena, who carefully protects him as well as she can.

However, Odysseus is also a man with flaws. His pride causes trouble on his voyage home when he feels compelled to brag to Polyphemus that he was the one who blinded him. As Polyphemus is Poseidon's son, this incites Poseidon's fury at Odysseus so that he conjures storms that delay Odysseus's voyage.

Odysseus also lingers, once for seven years, having affairs with Circe and Calypso. This leaves poor Penelope pestered with suitors for far longer than otherwise would be the case if Odysseus had not been unfaithful. Further, when Odysseus gets favorable winds on the journey to Ithaca, he lacks self discipline and falls asleep. This gives his crew the opportunity to release the ill winds from their bag and create a terrible storm that again delays the return home. A part of the twenty years it takes Odysseus to get home emerges from his flaws, not circumstances out of his control.

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

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. 

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

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.
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Is Odysseus a hero? How would you argue that Odysseus is NOT a hero?

Many people consider Odysseus to be a hero, but ultimately it's a matter of personal perspective. Odysseus isn't very heroic when you consider how careless he is with the lives of his men and some of the decisions he makes.

Odysseus isn't a careful person. His men die repeatedly on his journey home because he isn't more careful. For example, he attempts to sail past Charybdis and Scylla and doesn't give anyone else information about what could happen. Because he's aware of the dangers, he survives. Some of his unwitting men, however, are killed.

All of Odysseus's men are dead or missing by the time he returns to Ithaca. Some of their deaths aren't due to him, but many are. He values his own life above the lives of others. He sends them into danger while shielding himself.

It's also difficult to see Odysseus as a hero because he doesn't accomplish much on his own. The gods guide him home and grant him mercy from Poseidon to end his captivity. They help him fight his battles. If he'd been without the attention of Athena, he'd likely be as dead as the rest of his men. It's only through the power and guidance of a higher power who is directly involved in his travels that Odysseus makes it home to slay the suitors.

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Is Odysseus a hero? How would you argue that Odysseus is NOT a hero?

Odysseus is certainly considered to be a hero by most classical definitions of the term. It could be said that he is the very standard of an epic hero. He is brave, valiant, and skilled in combat, not to mention incredibly intelligent and cunning. Over the course of his journey, Odysseus faces impossible odds and overcomes obstacles the likes of which a normal man, even in such a fantastic setting, could scarcely dream of equaling. It seems at times that Odysseus's men only exist within the narrative as a contrast to Odysseus himself. When they panic and fear for their lives, Odysseus is calm, collected, and resolute.

One aspect of Odysseus that you could use to make a point against him being a hero, at least from a more modern lens, is his apparent bloodlust. Odysseus proves time and time again that he is utterly without mercy, and he is occasionally even outright cruel. The most blatant example of this is when he has already defeated Penelope's suitors in the competition of strength. He proceeds to slaughter them indiscriminately, absolutely heedless of their cries for mercy. Much in the same manner as Achilles, Odysseus is a hero who is celebrated for his might rather than his virtue.

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Is Odysseus a hero? How would you argue that Odysseus is NOT a hero?

To back up #5, I think the event with Charybdis and Scylla that comes straight after the sirens definitely can be used to support the idea that Odysseus is not a hero. Note how he deliberately ignores the advice of Circe in not fighting them and tries to win even more glory and honour for himself. As a result, six men die a terrible death because of his arrogance. Not a very heroic thing to do, really.

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Is Odysseus a hero? How would you argue that Odysseus is NOT a hero?

I would take issue with his hero status because he dallies with the sirens.  I personally don't like that and it always makes me dislike Odysseus, although the Sirens were alluring and supposedly no man could resist their songs.  I personally don't buy that LOL.

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Is Odysseus a hero? How would you argue that Odysseus is NOT a hero?

Generally speaking, Odysseus does not demonstrate heroic qualities of manliness, wisdom, or faithfulness. Although he leaves the Trojan War with a well-deserved reputation as a fine warrior, the first time the reader sees him, he sits on the shore on Ogygia (Calypso's island), staring off at the sea and weeping because he's homesick. Heroic behavior? On a number of occasions, he loses men or loses time because he doesn't make wise choices. Greed leads to the attack on the Cicones, and he loses half of his ships. Foolish curiosity leads him to investigate the cave of the Cyclops where he loses 6 men. Failure to delegate responsibility and to tell his men what's in the bag of winds causes his ship to be blown back to Aeolia when he falls asleep because he was trying to pilot the ship alone. On the Island of the Sun-God, he tries to stay awake to prevent his men from eating the cattle so when he goes to pray, he again falls asleep, and the men cause their own doom by defying Helios' order. Finally, he is not faithful to Penelope bvecause he sleeps with every beautiful female he encounters while she waits patiently and faithfully for him on Ithaca. None of these behaviors are typical of a hero.

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