An Archetypal Hero Odysseus
Homer’s The Odyssey Essay
A hero is defined as: a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal”. The definition of a hero is someone who is respected for doing something great, and is respected for doing so. An average hero, also has flaws to accompany his heroic acts.
Archetypal heroes are people who do noble or heroic things, accomplish his or her goals, or are looked up to by others. Archetypal heroes also have a crucial flaw, which serves as an imperfection that can often affect the hero themselves or others around them. Odysseus, the protagonist in the epic, is a good example of an archetypal hero. Odysseus does so by accomplishing his goals and overcoming obstacles, but has flaws that can get him involved in new conflicts.
Odysseus shows the traits of a hero by accomplishing his goals, and overcoming any obstacles he happens to face. For example, in the section of the book where Odysseus and his crew are about to pass the island of the sirens, that also pose a great deal of danger to them all. Odysseus chooses to be honest to his crew, and explain how that they are in danger: “Friends” it’s wrong for only one or two to know the revelations that lovely Circe made to me alone. I’ll tell you all, so we can die with our eyes wide open now or escape out fate and certain death together.” (Book 12, lines 166-170) Odysseus was being honest to his crew, to tell them to prepare for danger, telling them that people will die, and that nobody will be safe along their journey. This is a heroic act, because Odysseus is doing something that can save the lives of his crew.
Odysseus also saves his crew from the sirens as they are about to encounter them: “Now with a sharp sword I sliced an ample wheel of beeswax down into pieces, kneaded them in my two strong hands and the wax soon grew soft, worked by my strength and Helios’ burning rays, the sun at high noon, and I stopped the ears of my comrades one by one.” (Book 12, lines 189-193). By deafening his crew, Odysseus is saving them from the Sirens. The Sirens kill people by drawing anyone passing their island with their songs. After the person is drawn in, the only way to reach the island is by boat. Their ship would hit the rocky perimeter of the island, destroying their ship, and leaving the crew to drown. By making sure that his crew cannot hear the Sirens and that they won’t be drawn in by the Sirens. This impacts Odysseus journey by making his crew survive one of the obstacles they all had to face. This is a characteristic of a heroic act by saving lives, and by accomplishing his goals, because after doing this, Odysseus and his crew are able to pass the island without being drawn towards the Sirens, resulting in nobody dying. Overall, Odysseus is heroic by saving lives, and overcoming obstacles.
There are also moments where Odysseus can instantly contradict his own actions with hubris, even when his previous actions were heroic. An example of this being when Odysseus and his crew encounter Polyphemus (a cyclops and the son of Zeus), who begins killing Odysseus’ crew. Odysseus in an attempt to outsmart Polyphemus, spots a large wood club that Polyphemus left behind the previous night and, with the help of his men, sharpens the narrow end to a fine point. That night, Polyphemus returns from herding his flock of sheep. He sits down and kills two more of Odysseus’ men. At that point, Odysseus offers Polyphemus the strong wine given to him by Maron. The wine makes Polyphemus drunk and unwary. When Polyphemus asks for Odysseus’ name, promising him a guest-gift if he answers, Odysseus says: “I will tell you, but you must give me a guest-gift as you’ve promised. Nobody- that’s my name. Nobody- so my mother and father call me, and all my friends.” (Book 9, page 223, line 409-411)
Odysseus was not telling Polyphemus his real name, meaning that Polyphemus doesn’t know who Odysseus is yet. Polyphemus thinks of it as a real name and says that he will eat “no-one” last and that this shall be his guest-gift. Polyphemus crashes to the floor and passes out. Odysseus, with the help of his men, lifts the flaming stake, charges forward and drives it into Polyphemus’ eye, blinding him. With Polyphemus now blinded he yells for help from his fellow Cyclopes that “no one” has hurt him. The other Cyclopes think Polyphemus is making a fool out of them or that it must be a matter with the gods and walk away. When morning comes, Odysseus and his men escape from the cave, unseen by Polyphemus, by clinging to Polyphemus’ sheep as they go out to graze. “And with that threat he let my ram go free outside. But soon as we’d got one foot past cave and courtyard, first I loosed myself from the ram, then loosed my men, then quickly, glancing back again and again we drove our flock, good plump beasts with their long shanks, straight to the ship,” (Book 9, page 226, lines 515-520) Odysseus was able to escape Polyphemus as well as getting his crew out along with Polyphemus’ cattle, which they needed. This shows heroism by Odysseus being able to save others from trouble that could have gotten them killed. Overall, this is one of Odysseus’ biggest heroic feats. He came up with a clever plan that outsmarted his enemy, and then managed to save him and others from danger.
However, Odysseus then contradicts his own heroism by saying: “Cyclops- if any man on the face of the Earth should ask you who blinded, shamed you so- say Odysseus, raider of cities, he gouged out your eye, Laertes’ son who makes his home in Ithaca!” (Book 9, page 227, lines 558-562). Odysseus wanted to let Polyphemus know who was the man who outsmarted him, and revealed his name, kin, and home. Not only was this one of Odysseus’ biggest mistakes; this is the contradiction to Odysseus’ heroism earlier. Earlier, when Odysseus told Polyphemus that his name was “Nobody”, he was protecting his identity, so that Polyphemus could not harm him. After Odysseus tells Polyphemus his real name, he prays to his father, Poseidon for revenge. “But at that he bellowed out to lord Poseidon, thrusting his arms to the starry skies, and prayed, ‘Hear me– Poseidon, god of the sea-blue who rocks the earth! If I really am your son and you claim to be my father- come, grant that Odysseus, raider of cities, Laertes’ son who makes his home in Ithaca, never reaches home.” After this, Poseidon hears his son’s prayer and supposedly gave Polyphemus the strength to hurl a large boulder at Odysseus’ ship, which lands in the water next to the ship, causing the ship to collide with nearby land. This would have never happened if Odysseus hadn’t told his name to Polyphemus than he wouldn’t have been able pray to Poseidon, resulting in him having the strength to harm Odysseus and his crew. Odysseus’ hubris can contradict his heroics, and can affect him in negative ways. Odysseus has a tendency to be reckless and do things without thinking about what affect it could have on his future. His hubris can often get in the way of his accomplishments, and make his efforts seem like they were for nothing.
Overall, Odysseus is a shining example of an archetypal hero, by being able to overcome his own conflicts and save others while having flaws that can counteract his heroism. These traits are shown over the course of Odysseus’ journey. Odysseus shows heroism when he and his crew pass by the island of the Sirens. Odysseus saves his crew by plugging their ears with beeswax so they cannot hear the Sirens song that if they heard it; they would have died. Odysseus also has flaws that every hero must have (no hero is perfect), and Odysseus has the flaw of hubris. He shows it during the island of the Sirens by allowing only himself to hear the Sirens. This was Odysseus proving that a man could hear the Sirens and live, but it was an unnecessary act and put his crew in danger. More examples of this was when Odysseus and his crew encountered Polyphemus.
Odysseus outsmarted Polyphemus and got his crew out safely, until Odysseus told Polyphemus his real name, home, and family, allowing Polyphemus to pray to Poseidon for revenge. In total, Odysseus is an archetypal hero, by saving himself and others and achieving his goals, but also has flaws just like any other person, making him a realistic person that someone can relate to. In our modern world, there are people who we look up to as heroes. People who may have traits similar to Odysseus himself. Soldiers who serve overseas are a good example. They constantly have obstacles to overcome, and save others, or could have their own flaws that make them a hero. Odysseus is no different than any other hero that we look up to today, and we know them by their heroic acts, and their flaws that make them relatable to ourselves.
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