The Odyssey: An Unconventional Hero's Journey

Categories: Odyssey

The Odyssey, attributed to the legendary poet Homer, stands as a monumental work that intricately weaves together the threads of heroism and storytelling. Within the tapestry of ancient Greek society, this epic unfolds a distinctive narrative wherein an already established hero, Odysseus, embarks on a quest to reclaim his dignity amidst the tumultuous currents of challenging times. As the various elements coalesce, each contributing its unique hue to the overall canvas, The Odyssey emerges not merely as a story but as an ode to the Greek perception of an ideal hero.

Despite departing from the conventional hero myths, this literary marvel retains its significance, solidifying its place as one of the most captivating and well-crafted novels of all time (Griffin 46).

The Godlike Transformation of Odysseus

Odysseus's journey, as depicted in The Odyssey, is marked by divine interventions and a godlike aura surrounding the protagonist. Repeatedly referred to as godlike and even immortal by various characters, Odysseus possesses extraordinary qualities, heightened by the assistance of the goddess Athena.

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This divine intervention not only transforms him physically, making him appear taller and more imposing, but it also enhances his intellect and wit, qualities essential for navigating the challenges that lie ahead. Telemachus, his son, benefits from Athena's inspiration as well, underlining the pervasive influence of divine guidance throughout the narrative (Fagles 439).

Odysseus's ability to swiftly change moods and react to events is a testament to his godlike nature. His announcement of testing his servants by moving among them in disguise adds another layer to his complex character.

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The king of the Phaeacians even queries if he is a god, and the suitors, upon witnessing Odysseus emerge from his beggar's guise with a violent spirit, are taken aback (Fagles 457). Even Penelope, learning of the slain suitors, struggles to believe that her husband, in mortal form, could have single-handedly accomplished such a feat. Her skepticism underscores the larger-than-life aura that surrounds Odysseus.

The divine touch goes beyond appearances; it plays a crucial role in shaping Odysseus's character. Athena's interventions serve as a guiding force, making Odysseus not just a mortal hero but a figure blessed by the gods. This godlike transformation serves a dual purpose: overcoming obstacles and gaining the favor of those he encounters. These depictions offer insights into the Greek emphasis on appearance, highlighting how even the gods play a role in shaping one's external image to secure approval within society.

The Integration of Common Characters: A Societal Anomaly

One of The Odyssey's most intriguing features lies in its inclusion of common, everyday characters—servants, maids, and farmworkers—who contribute to the story's authenticity. This departure from the norm, however, was met with criticism during the time of its publication. Homer boldly introduces a societal anomaly, portraying a wealthy hero descending to a lowly position to serve justice and rectify societal wrongs. The encounter between Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, and the jealous, greedy Irus becomes a pivotal moment, influencing the suitors' perception of the returning king (Fagles 378).

The physical altercation between the wealthy king and the impoverished beggar challenges societal expectations, blurring the lines between classes. This unique narrative choice serves as a commentary on justice and societal hierarchy. Furthermore, Odysseus's alliances with the cowherd and the swineherd bridge the gap between the classes, emphasizing the hero's commitment to justice and fairness. In doing so, The Odyssey portrays a wealthy hero humbling himself to rectify the imbalances within society, offering a nuanced exploration of heroism that transcends the conventional boundaries of its time.

An Unconventional Hero's Journey: Breaking the Mold

The Odyssey, in its essence, stands as an epic tale that defies the traditional norms associated with a hero's journey. Contrary to the archetype of an insignificant young protagonist rising to heroic status, Odysseus begins his journey already established as a hero. The narrative introduces tragedy, compelling him to embark on a quest to regain his prowess and kingdom. Rather than relying on sheer physical strength, Odysseus navigates challenges with wit and the assistance of unexpected characters.

Comparisons with other Greek heroes, notably Theseus, reveal both similarities and differences in their respective journeys. Theseus, like Odysseus, faced challenges from a stronger adversary, mirroring Penelope's plight with the suitors. The involvement of Athena in guiding both heroes further draws parallels between their stories. The Odyssey, through its unconventional approach, distinguishes itself by presenting the journey of an older, well-established hero, challenging the prevailing norms of hero myths.

Conclusion: The Odyssey's Timeless Significance

In conclusion, The Odyssey transcends the boundaries of conventional hero myths, offering a timeless exploration of heroism. Homer's narrative craftsmanship, blending divine interventions, common characters, and an unconventional hero's journey, contributes to the richness of this epic. The societal anomalies depicted in the interactions between different classes and the hero's journey of an already established protagonist provide a unique lens through which the Greek perception of heroism is examined.

The Odyssey, far from being inferior, emerges as an exceptional piece of literature that challenges and redefines the norms of its time. Its enduring appeal lies in its ability to resonate across cultures and epochs, captivating audiences with its complex characters and intricate plot. As we continue to dissect and analyze this masterpiece, its impact on literature and the portrayal of heroes remains an ongoing conversation, a testament to the enduring power of storytelling.

Updated: Dec 15, 2023
Cite this page

The Odyssey: An Unconventional Hero's Journey. (2016, Jun 25). Retrieved from

The Odyssey: An Unconventional Hero's Journey essay
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