Leadership in The Iliad – Odysseus
While the Iliad has a strong focus on individual glory on the battlefield, Odysseus excels in a different fashion. He is a cunning hero as opposed to a strong, bold hero such as Achilles. Book 10 of the Iliad highlights the more psychological aspect of warfare which affords Odysseus the chance to display his tactical prowess. Furthermore, Odysseus’ understanding of the power of words contributes to his unique, sage-like character as portrayed by Homer throughout the poem. It is through these aspects that Odysseus develops into a strategic hero using psychology and rhetoric as avenues to victory. Odysseus’ understanding of the strategic side of warfare brings him to the forefront of book 10.
Beginning with a gathering of the chieftains as the Achaeans plan their next move, book 10 follows a reconnaissance mission involving Diomedes and Odysseus whose “blood was always up for exploit.” This detail that Homer includes gives his audience an insight into the thinking of this leader. While his comrades possess a “fighting blood” to win battles by force, Odysseus prefers to win battles through the exploitation of his foes’ weaknesses. Because of this, Diomedes wisely chooses “the mastermind of battle.” It is evident through these quotes that Odysseus’ strategic mind is his primary asset. A spy mission in the dead of night is the perfect setting for this to be showcased. For example, when Odysseus and Diomedes encounter Dolon, instead of fighting head on as would be typical of other encounters in the Iliad, they hide and wait for him to pass before making their ambush. Furthermore, promising life for information about Trojan weaknesses is another move by Odysseus focused on the psychology of the human race. This series of quiet, building moves eventually allows the spy party to land a devastating blow to the Trojan reinforcements. Odysseus’ key strategic ideas are imperative to this important Achaean success in a time of gravely low morale.
As a human body would be nothing without its brain, the Achaeans would be nothing without their mastermind Odysseus. A primary example of this comes from earlier in the poem when the Achaeans are on the brink of failure after Agamemnon tells them that they should sail back home in book 2. The only reason why the Greeks are still fighting in book 10 is because of Odysseus’ power through words. One of the defining moments of Odysseus’ leadership style is in book 2 after Agamemnon has told everyone to go back home. This inspired speech to the Achaean army shows a style defined by the power of the word over the power of the sword. Knowing that the army is desperately low in morale, he reminds them of the prophecy that Troy will only fall after nine years. He also uses his words to get the leaders, kings, and chieftains to step up to their roles. Using Agamemnon’s scepter, when he came across anyone of rank, he would “hold him back with winning words”. Likewise, he reminds soldiers of their places “beating them with the scepter”. Not even Agamemnon is exempt from this tongue lashing from Odysseus.
This style of leadership further displays his insight into the psychology surrounding warfare. He knows broken men are dead man in this war since he will no longer have the passion to push past the next barricade or step up to the next Trojan. Therefore, he stirs within their hearts a passion that can only be satisfied by Trojan blood. Odysseus had inspired them so that the “armies roared…the ships resounded round them”. This turning point in the Achaean war plan is a direct result of these words. It could be said that all the timé gained in the war is accredited to Odysseus and his bold monologue. Odysseus has effectively killed more Trojans and brought more glory to Greece with his words than any individual man could with his sword.
Although Odysseus does not display the physical strength possessed by the other Achaean chieftains, his strength of mind overcomes any deficit that may have afforded him. His understanding of the human mind and the psychological aspect of warfare proves to be one of the Achaeans’ greatest strengths as the war could have been lost in book 2 and again in book 10 without Odysseus’ intervention. This mastermind uses words over swords to stir the hearts of men, probe the weaknesses of enemies, and win a war against man and god.
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