10 Dec. 2017
Odysseus from The Odyssey is one of, if not the most debated hero throughout all of fiction. How could such a well known and long-lasting fictional character with such a seemingly simple to understand story lead to such wildly varying opinions from so many people? The reason is that the questions being asked are simply too vague. “Is Odysseus a hero?” isn’t a reasonable question, as questions like “What constitutes a hero?”, Could a hero be evil, or must they be a role model?” begin popping up. Odysseus is a horrible hero as a person, but is an amazing example of a war hero. These two extremes are the main sources of the debate. Although Odysseus’ actions portray himself as an effective warrior and leader, which may make himself resemble a hero, he achieves his effectiveness through violence, dangerous arrogance, and a lack of respect for those close to him. He may be a war hero, but he isn’t a heroic person.
One of Odysseus’ unfavorable traits, his violent tendencies, are on display constantly, which would be expected from a man whose title includes “Sacker of Cities”. This violent nature has driven him to murder dozens, something which instantly makes one evil. Towards the start of his story, Odysseus finds himself in the city of Troy as a soldier of the Greeks who are currently engaging in a long war with the Trojans. Although he’s a soldier who has no reason to kill innocent civilians, he goes out of his way to slaughter innocents left and right, earning him his title. One could even look at one of the first things he ordered his men to do once they found themselves lost to see his extreme lust for blood. Even though they had absolutely no reason to, Odysseus ordered his men to attack the Cicones and destroy their entire city for committing the heinous act of being. The man chases after the opportunity to battle like how a drug addict chases a high. The moment he escaped the Cyclops, he taunted it to provoke it. The moment he heard of Scylla and Charybdis, he asked how to “fight off Scylla when she raids [his] crew,” (74) instead of how to escape them, and the moment he heard his wife Penelope mention moving their bed he began screaming “Woman, by heaven you’ve stung me now!/Who dared to move my bed?” (33-34) like a child throwing a fit. Although his violence has brought him a lot of success in battle, it still makes him a horrible person. A good person doesn’t yell at their wife like an angry child, they don’t ask how to risk the lives of those supporting them for no reason other than their self-centered world view and cavalier attitude, and they don’t kill dozens of innocents. Odysseus is a violent maniac first, and a leader second.
Odysseus is not just violent, but he is arrogant as well to a dangerous extent. With such a lack of self-control and unchecked confidence, Odysseus has gotten himself and his crew killed many times. The most memorable example would be during their adventure with the Cyclops. After they escaped the Cyclops, Odysseus delayed their trip and doomed his men to death by shouting to the Cyclops “Cyclops,/if ever mortal man inquire/how you were put to shame and blinded, tell him/Odysseus, raider of cities, took your eye:/Laertes’ son, whose home’s on Ithaca!” (415-419), enraging the Cyclops who was the son of Poseidon, Odysseus’ main enemy. Odysseus’ confidence has also led him to nearly get himself killed by becoming the only man to live after hearing the call of the sirens. If he hadn’t been bound down as well as he was, preventing himself from committing suicide as a result of the siren’s songs, he would’ve died, leaving his family and crew without him. Odysseus’ arrogant attitude has cursed all of his friends to death, delayed his return to his family who is suffering without him, and nearly left his family abandoned without him by nearly getting himself killed because he feels invincible. Odysseus’ over-confidence goes even further, to the point of flat out disrespect to those close to him. His narcissistic extreme self-love has caused many situations where others suffer because he doesn’t take them into account while making a decision. Multiple times throughout the story, immortal women have fallen madly in love with Odysseus, and instead of respecting his wife who is going through immense suffering without him, he sleeps with every single woman at least once but then claims he still loves his wife. Not only does he disrespect his own wife, but he disrespects his crew as well. When the god of wind gave Odysseus the bag filled with wind that could blow them to home, he didn’t respect his crew enough to tell them what was inside the bag. This led to them trying to find out what was inside by opening the bag, which led to their ship getting destroyed because the wind was released prematurely. During another adventure, they were faced with the obstacles of Scylla and Charybdis which ensured that some of his men would die. In an act of disrespect, he didn’t warn any of his men of this upcoming obstacle that he knew would be coming, not allowing them to properly come to terms with their impending doom, dying in fear. All of these horrible decisions, from cheating on his wife to leading his men to their deaths unknowingly, have proven Odysseus’ insane narcissism and complete lack of respect to anyone who cares about him.
After looking at all of Odysseus’ successes and failures, one will know the answer to the question “Is Odysseus a hero?”, but not what it means. The question is inherently vague. Is it asking “Is Odysseus a role model?” or “Is Odysseus inspirational?” Odysseus shows no respect to those closest to him, is dangerously arrogant, and lacks a lot of self-control which leads to his violent tendencies, which, according to most, are major qualities of horrible people. However, he is an amazing fighter, who has strategically fought with his resources to complete his goals efficiently and skillfully without fail, making him a well known war hero and an inspiration. These two conclusions happen to support both sides of the debate around Odysseus’ hero-hood, and show that the various definitions of hero may not always work together. Odysseus is not a heroic person, he is a self-absorbed, violent man with little self-control, but he has committed the actions of a war hero, which is why many incorrectly believe that Odysseus is a hero.