What does it take to be a hero? Heroes are often stereotyped to be larger than life and capable of doing the impossible. However, these heroes still have qualities that make them like everybody else. Take Superman for example; despite his superhuman strength and seemingly flawless stature, his weakness towards kryptonite reveals that there is more to his personality than meets the eye. In Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus is extolled by the people of Ithaca for his strength and cleverness, but the events that unfold during his return journey help to reveal a more complex personality that one would not expect a hero to have.
Odysseus possesses traits that embody his arrogant, cunning, and emotional demeanor, which in turn evoke empathy from the reader to make his character more appealing.
Odysseus’ display of arrogance in the epic poem makes him a more memorable character overall. He lets his arrogance and pride prompt his actions. There are several instances where Odysseus’ ego alters the outcome of events that take place throughout the story.
When Odysseus uses his wits to escape from the wrath of Polyphemus, his arrogance becomes apparent when he shouts, “if ever any one asks you who put out your ugly eye, tell him your blinder was Odysseus the conqueror of Troy, the son of Laertes, whose address is in Ithaca” (Rouse 117). By taunting Polyphemus, Odysseus boosts his ego, but at the same time, he compromises his safe and easy passage home. Odysseus’ dire need to claim credit for his ingenious accomplishment resembles the inevitable selfish side of human nature.
His arrogance is also shown when he insists on fighting Scylla despite Circe’s instruction not to. Circe angrily points out his arrogance when she says, “You hothead! fighting and asking for trouble is all you care about. There is no help for it; flight is better than fight” (Rouse 152). Instead of listening to Circe’s advice, Odysseus once again lets his ego get in the way of a smooth return. He attempts to outsmart the immortal gods due to his high sense of pride and ego. Odysseus’ arrogance exemplifies a common human trait, thus, making him more memorable and relatable.
While Odysseus’ arrogance makes him a memorable person, his cunning demeanor similarly embellishes his character. Although Odysseus has tremendous physical strength, he is well-known for his artifices, which help him figure his way out of tough situations. His cunning demeanor is noted by Menelaus when, in describing the events leading to the fall of troy, tells Telemachus, “Both of us wanted to jump up and get out, or to answer at once from within; but Odysseus prevented us and kept us back…” (Rouse 47). Despite the extreme circumstances he faces while hiding in the Trojan horse, Odysseus knows that he has to endure the hardships in order to successfully execute his cunning plan and defeat the Trojans. However, coming up with a plan to hide in a wooden horse goes to show that Odysseus’ craftiness is truly one of the most impressive and makes his character more interesting. His cunning personality is also shown when he finally returns to Ithaca disguised as a beggar and weaves a plan to defeat the suitors. Odysseus tells his son Telemachus to “…take away all the weapons and shields which hang about in the hall …. But you may leave enough for us two alone…” (Rouse 205). Odysseus plans out all the necessary mechanics down to every little detail to make sure his plan to defeat the suitors works out. In this particular scene, it is evident that one of Odysseus’ main strengths is his ability to use his cleverness to solve his problems. Odysseus’ cunning demeanor shows that the ability to use one’s brain is just as powerful as using physical strength.
The characteristic that perhaps connects Odysseus the most to regular people in society is the emotional side of his personality. Although Odysseus seems like he is invincible, he is vulnerable when it comes to his emotions. The scene where Odysseus and Telemachos first reunite after being separated for years evidently shows the variety of emotions that Odysseus feels. Homer writes, [need to better transition to improve context] “Saying this, he kissed his son, and let the tears run freely down his cheeks; until that hour he had always held them back” (Rouse 203). Odysseus is overwhelmed with an assortment of emotions, predominantly joy, from finally being able to hold his son in his arms. The opportunity of seeing his loved one causes the emotions he has held in for all those years to emerge. His emotions continue to expose themselves when he sees his dog Argos for the last time before it passes away. Homer says, “When he [Argos] knew that it was his old master near him, he wagged his tail and dropped both his ears; but he could not move to approach him. Odysseus saw, and secretly wiped a tear from his eye…” (Rouse 217). Having seen Argos neglected, Odysseus feels a sense of nostalgia and pity simultaneously. Witnessing a loved one undergo immense pain hurts Odysseus deeply, just as anyone would upon seeing their own loved ones suffer as well. Essentially, Odysseus’ emotional side epitomizes the wide variety of feelings that any ordinary person is capable of experiencing.
Odysseus is clearly not the typical one-dimensional hero. There are multiple aspects to his personality that show he is just like everybody else. Throughout the epic poem, Odysseus engages in acts that display both positive and negative sides to his character. These acts continue to give the reader a better idea of who Odysseus really is, making him much easier to relate to. By the end of the epic poem, readers are able to genuinely appreciate Odysseus as a character through the collection of traits he possesses.
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