An Analysis of Odysseus' Complex Character in Homer's Odyssey

Categories: Hero

Homer's epic poem, the Odyssey, presents Odysseus as a multifaceted character with both admirable qualities and moral complexities. While he is portrayed as a courageous and intelligent hero who places great faith in the gods, Odysseus also exhibits flaws and questionable actions throughout his journey. In this essay, we will explore the character of Odysseus, highlighting his loyalty, the circumstances of his affairs, his concern for his men, and the controversial slaughter of the suitors. By delving into these aspects of Odysseus' character, we aim to provide a nuanced understanding of his actions and decisions.

Odysseus' Loyalty

One of Odysseus' most redeeming characteristics is his unwavering loyalty to his wife, Penelope, and his son, Telemachus. Despite his numerous affairs with other women during his long absence, Odysseus never forgets his family, and his enduring love for Penelope remains a central theme in the epic.

It is important to consider the context of Odysseus' affairs. In some instances, he appears to be forced into these relationships.

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For example, during his extended stay on Calypso's island, Odysseus is held captive with no means of escape. Calypso, a powerful goddess, detains him against his will. In this situation, Odysseus' involvement with Calypso can be seen as a result of coercion rather than personal choice.

Similarly, when Odysseus encounters Circe, Queen of Aeaea, he initially enters her domain with the primary objective of rescuing his crew members who have been transformed into animals. However, Circe's lavish hospitality and treatment, coupled with the emotional toll of previous setbacks, contribute to his prolonged stay.

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The emotional distress caused by the opening of the bag of winds and the subsequent loss of his ships and crew members leaves Odysseus in a vulnerable state. His extended stay with Circe can be better understood when viewed within this context.

Furthermore, Odysseus' loyalty is evident when he declines the offer of immortality from Calypso. Despite the allure of immortality, he remains committed to the idea of reuniting with his family and returning to Ithaca. This unwavering loyalty to his wife and son serves as a redeeming factor in Odysseus' character, highlighting his ability to resist temptations and prioritize his family above all else.

Concern for His Men

Odysseus' commitment to his men is another aspect of his character that deserves recognition. While it may initially seem that he disregards the welfare of his crew, there are instances that demonstrate his genuine concern for their well-being.

One such moment occurs when Odysseus encounters the spirit of Elpenor in the Underworld. Elpenor, one of his fallen comrades, implores Odysseus not to forget him and to plant an oar with his tomb. Odysseus responds with empathy, assuring Elpenor that he will honor his request. This interaction reveals that Odysseus still carries a sense of responsibility and care for his men, even in death.

While Odysseus may have lost many of his crew members during his journey, his consideration for Elpenor's wishes underscores the enduring bond he shares with his men. It is a testament to his leadership and the deep connections he formed with his comrades.

Controversial Slaughter of the Suitors

One of the most controversial actions attributed to Odysseus is the massacre of the suitors upon his return to Ithaca. However, it is essential to contextualize this act within the narrative and the behavior of the suitors themselves.

The suitors had taken over Odysseus' home, consuming his resources, and attempting to win the affections of his wife, Penelope. This could be perceived as an act of treason, as Odysseus is the rightful king of Ithaca. The suitors' disrespectful and aggressive behavior, epitomized by the actions of Antinous, who insults and physically assaults Odysseus, further justifies his response.

Odysseus' decision to eliminate the suitors may appear excessive, but it serves to reestablish his authority and protect his family. Had he not taken decisive action, the ongoing conflict between him and the suitors would have likely escalated, leading to a potential coup or further violence. By eliminating the suitors, Odysseus not only avenges their disrespect but also restores order to his kingdom.

Furthermore, the execution of the disloyal maids who had served the suitors is a contentious issue. However, their complicity in aiding those who were against Odysseus makes their fate more understandable. While their punishment may be seen as harsh, it aligns with the consequences of their actions and their disloyalty to their rightful king.


In conclusion, Odysseus is a character of great complexity in Homer's Odyssey. While he may have engaged in questionable actions and affairs during his journey, it is crucial to examine these instances within their respective contexts. Odysseus' unwavering loyalty to his family, his genuine concern for his men, and his decisive actions against the suitors all contribute to a multifaceted character.

Odysseus' character reflects the challenges and complexities of the human experience. His flaws are tempered by his virtues, making him a hero whose actions and decisions can be debated and analyzed. Ultimately, Odysseus remains a character of enduring relevance, as his journey and choices continue to offer insights into the human condition. While his adventures may be steeped in mythology and epic grandeur, the themes of loyalty, leadership, and the moral complexities of decision-making resonate with readers across time and cultures.

Updated: Nov 07, 2023
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An Analysis of Odysseus' Complex Character in Homer's Odyssey. (2022, Aug 09). Retrieved from

An Analysis of Odysseus' Complex Character in Homer's Odyssey essay
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