Homer’s Odyssey provides a clear illustration of Joseph Campbell’s hero cycle through the journeys and characterization of the protagonist Odysseus. The hero cycle is used in epics to describe the journey of the hero from bad to good. In The Odyssey, Odysseus is characterized as arrogant, and and his journey from hubris to humility. The hero cycle is a theme that epics follow. It starts off with a departure then goes to an initiation where they come to an end in their return.
Odysseus’ test is to see help him heal hubris. He must learn self-control, and humbleness.
He comes to a breaking point because of some of the tasks that he endures, he must overcome them to help him with his need for life change. They start off in a departure phase where Odysseus gets the notification from Menelaus and Agamemnon that he needs to leave their home for Troy even though he does not want to go.
He had just had his son Telemachus and he wanted to be there for him. He realized that it was his duty and that he needed to go. Then, in the hero cycle there is usually a supernatural figure that helps them with materials or knowledge.
This is a god, monster, superhero, ghost, or fairy tale creature. When Odysseus and his fleet leave and come to their first part of conflict during their journey. When he is on his way he gets his visit from Athena, goddess of wisdom. She is a strategist and often fights in wars.
She came to Odysseus on his way to Troy with words for the wise. Then he encounters his first test. This is the battle between the Greeks and Trojans. He was able to survive the war. The Trojan War had lasted 10 years and finally it was over. This is only the beginning of his journey.
The second step of the hero cycle is initiation. This is when the tests and climax happen. Odysseus endures many tests with creatures that test him externally and also internally. Along the way Odysseus gets aided by many supernatural beings. He would not be able to go survive without their assistance. After winning the Trojan War Odysseus decide to attack the island of the Ciccones where he lost a ton of me, about six men from every ship he had. This demonstrates a clear act of hubris and stupidity. Odysseus thought he was high and mighty for commanding some of the Greek army to their great victory.
After leaving this island he went to the island of the lotus eaters which had his men not wanting to leave the island so he had to tie his men down to the boat. After the island of the lotus eaters Odysseus went to the island of the Cyclopes, where he met Polyphemus. This is a place where he shows that he shows clear acts of hubris. He tells the Cyclopes, after blinding him, that his name was Nohbody, which is very clever. When he and his ships were leaving he yelled to him his real name and guided Polyphemus who was throwing rocks at him with his voice. This was just plain stupid and arrogant.
Polyphemus prayed to his father, Poseidon that Odysseus should never return to Ithaca. Following the visit to the Cyclopes was island of Aeolus. He is the keeper of winds. He gave Odysseus a bag of winds and told him to open it when he was close to ithaca. He told his crew to not open it but of course they did thinking he was cheating the crew and they were blown back to Aeolus. Then he goes to the island of the Laestrygonians and they kill the rest of his fleet except for his boat. They end up on Circes Island and his men get turned into animals. He gets them turned back with the help of Hermes words and him coaxing her.
He gets the knowledge from Circe that he must go to Hades. He goes and talks to a bunch of people who tell him of his past and future. This is where Odysseus has a change of heart and learns that he must recover from hubris. This is the turning point of his life. When he leaves he goes past the sirens where he demonstrates some more hubris. He then encounters the Scylla, a 6 headed monster where it eats 6 of his men. After escaping him they ended up on Thrinikia where they were not allowed to eat any cattle on the island. They all did except Odysseus and when they set sail the boat got destroyed.
This is a start on recovery. Finally Odysseus ends up on Ogygia with Calypso. This is where Odysseus spends seven years able to think about what to do and what to change. The final part of the cycle is the return. This part of the cycle is when Odysseus makes all of his changes in life that need to be made, then puts them to use. When at Ogygia, Calypso gets a visit from Hermes saying that he is able to leave. When he does, he journeys across the seas until he gets to the island of the Phaecians. When here he talks to Nausicaa who helps him see the king, her father, and get a ship for his trip to Ithaca.
When he arrives on Ithaca he was told by Athena to be a beggar and not Odysseus. This way he is able to see what it is like without him. When he meets Telemachus for the first time he does not reveal his identity, showing self-control. After he does reveal his identity, he makes Telemachus promise that he will not tell Penelope. Odysseus thinks it would be a bad idea to storm back into the castle and demand his throne. This would mess up everything and would eventually cause a battle. Penelope decides that is time for a new husband so she tells all the suitors to string Odysseus bow and shoot it through 12 axes.
No one could do it until the beggar tried, this is Odysseus. He then kills all of the suitors, starting with Alchinous. Penelope still could not believe it so she tests him and says that she will move her olive tree bed that he made for her outside of their room for him to sleep on. This is a symbol of their firm relationship and his throne. He stops her and explains to her that she can’t. Only then, does Penelope truly accept that that was Odysseus. The book ends leaving you with all of the suitor’s families are ok and they go through a settlement, the kingdom is back in order, and Telemachus has finally become a man.
Joseph Campbell’s cycle is all about a hero’s journey from good to bad. In The Odyssey this is shown throughout the story and follows the cycle closely. At first Odysseus starts off with being arrogant when Polyphemus is throwing rocks after being blinded by Odysseus and Odysseus is yelling at him and taunting him which guides Polyphemus who is throwing rocks toward their ship. He then after visiting Hades and learning what he must do and how he needs to change his ways he has the option of hearing the sirens song while tied to the mast of the boat or he cannot hear the song and just keep his ears plugged.
He of course, chooses to hear the song. Soon after that they are on the island of Thrinikia where he starts to listen and understand what he must do and he was specifically told not to eat any of the cattle on the island. He didn’t but his men did. He survived but his men didn’t. Then when arriving upon Ithaca instead of barging in and demanding his throne back, Odysseus was very humble and patient by acting as a beggar. This shows self-control and when everything is over; you look back at how Odysseus handled things and realize that he has recovered from hubris.