Timeless Qualities The Odyssey Holds

Taking Inspiration from Past Works

Cover image for The Odyssey / Homer ; translated by Robert Fagles ; introduction and notes by Bernard Knox.

Leaders of the world today face many types of challenges, such as the ability to resist temptations, and should take inspiration from past qualities of leaders displayed in literature. In The Odyssey, an epic poem by Homer, Odysseus faces obstacles that test his leadership skills on his journey home to Ithaca following the Trojan War. Odysseus develops as a leader by encountering anxiety-filled challenges that exhibit his leadership skills of self-restraint and knowledge of life lessons, many of which can still be applied to readers’ lives today.

Throughout Odysseus’ journey, he faces a variety of different experiences that develop him as a leader. The lessons he learns while at sea will ultimately aid him in killing the suitors and taking control of his home in Ithaca. These lessons act as inspiration for readers’ everyday lives. An important lesson readers take away when reading The Odyssey is that “the gods don’t hand out all their gifts at once, not build and brains and flowing speech to all” (8:193). Odysseus acknowledges this concept when speaking to Broadsea after being accused of not having “skill in any” sports (8:168). Even though Odysseus’ disk ends up flying “away past all the other marks,” (8:223) he reminds readers that nobody is perfect and everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. In addition to this aspect, readers also learn that some things are unavoidable, no matter how many hardships they have faced. The main takeaway from these obstacles is to learn from past experiences and apply them to real-life situations. For example, at the beginning of the epic poem, readers learn the outcome of Odysseus’ journey. Even though he fought hard and long to return home to the people of Ithaca, “the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all” (1:4-9). Odysseus did all he could to return home and save Ithaca, but the people were already doomed from the start, and he could do nothing to help them. As demonstrated, Odysseus develops as a leader by experiencing a variety of difficult situations while embarking on the hero’s journey.  These timeless lessons Odysseus faces apply to social, emotional, and physical problems one might meet today, keeping the continued appeal.

One of Odysseus’ most essential leadership traits is self-restraint, which acted in times of crisis. When talking to Circe about the journey home to Ithaca, Odysseus learns of the Sirens, the “creatures who spellbind any man alive, whoever comes their way” (12:44-47). The Sirens are temptresses, and despite being warned of the deadly consequences, they can still be hard to resist. Even though readers do not necessarily face the same challenges Odysseus did, humans constantly face temptations and have to display self-restraint to resist those and complete the task at hand. Another act of self-restraint demonstrated by Odysseus is when he feels the urge to kill all the suitors at once for being disloyal to Penelope and sleeping with the maids. However, Odysseus resists the urge when “he struck his chest and curbed his fighting heart” (20:20). Seeing Odysseus face and overcome these barriers in his journey inspires readers to face their challenges head-on with self-restraint.

Odysseus and his crew face many challenges beyond their control while voyaging home. He uses his intelligence and leadership to guide his men through tough times and his quality of self-resistance comes in handy when being thrust into temptations. Readers take away powerful lessons and leadership traits that can be applied to certain situations that might be uncomfortable. Although The Odyssey is one of the oldest works of Western literature, it keeps its continued appeal based on timeless qualities, like self-restraint, as it is something all humans strive for.

-Abby V.

The Odyssey by Homer is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

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