Odysseus: An Honorable Hero

This is an argument of if Odysseus is a hero worthy of praise.

Many believe that the character of Odysseus in the famous epic The Odyssey is not worthy of praise. From foolishly taunting a cyclops, leaving a beloved comrade behind and killing a crowd of young men, it is argued that Odysseus’s actions are far from commendable. As narrated in Book 11 of The Odyssey by Homer, “One shade came first Elpenor, of our company, / who lay unburied still on the wide earth / as we had left him dead in Circe’s hall, / untouched, unmourned, when other cares compelled us” (lines 24-27, 388). Leaving a man behind has incongruity with the expectations of an epic hero. It implies a selfish side of Odysseus unfitting of praise. Although it is true these actions do not seem to be classified as heroic or admirable, the opposition fails to recognize the motive behind Odysseus’s decisions as well as the magnitude of Odysseus’s many meritorious deeds.

Odysseus is an epic hero who employs his wit more than his weapons; although killing a crowd of young men may appear to be antagonistic, one must remember that these men were trying to win Penelope’s hand in marriage in dishonorable ways. Book 1 of The Odyssey clearly explains how the suitors disrespect Odysseus and his family. If a hero cannot battle for family honor and respect, then what can he fight for?

Another prime example of Odysseus’s brilliance can be seen when Odysseus refrains from slaying the Cyclops at the first opportunity; instead, he ties his men under Polyphemus’s rams so they could secretly elude the Cyclops (Book 9, lines 336-346, 381). The profound self control Odysseus exhibits is a quality identified as a classic characteristic of an epic hero. It shows his ability to make rational decisions in circumstances under which a common person may panic and act spontaneously. Additionally, Odysseus’s care for his men and loyalty to his comrades is depicted.

Throughout the epic, Odysseus’s choices and deeds characterize him as an epic hero well deserving of praise.

-Ayati M.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, A Translation by Simon Armitage

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This was the required summer reading assignment for my sophomore year. No matter how unwilling I was to open this book, I had to. When I first started reading, I thought I bought the wrong book in the wrong language, because it turned out that the left side of this translation was the original Medieval English. However, as my eyes skimmed through the lines of words and rhymes, I had a quite different idea about this poem.

The story was written by an unknown author in the Middle Ages, and its only manuscript was found in the house of an early seventeenth-century Yorkshireman. As one of the most significant representation of Arthurian romance, this piece of work is beyond valuable.

Gawain was King Arthur’s niece, the perfect representation of chivalry and honor. As the most notable knight of the Round Table, Gawain’s fame was known throughout the entire country. Nevertheless, there were countless people who wanted to challenge such a fine knight, and the mysterious Green Knight was one of them. This adventurous tale of Sir Gawain was woven between love and trickery, courage and danger, as well as Christianity and paganism. It not only taught me a pragmatic lesson on morality as it did to Gawain, it also brought to me a whole new perspective on the alliterative verses of the Middle English literature.

So, my dear readers, the next time your English teachers assigned you a reading assignment, don’t be a hater like I was. We all read differently and think differently, and that is the beauty of literature. Try to appreciate the joy and excitement that it gives us!

-Kate L.

Simon Armitage’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.