Odysseus: A Character Analysis

The Odyssey by Homer: 9780140383096 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

Around 750 BCE, at the height of Greek civilization, a blind bard named Homer lived in Ionia, on the western coast of Turkey. Little is known about Homer, but his legacy lives on in his two great works – the Iliad and the Odyssey. While the former is formidable in its own right, it is in its sequel, the Odyssey, that Homer’s incredible craft is showcased. Detailing the adventures of Odysseus, the wily king of Ithaca, and his ten-year-long attempt to return to his country, the Odyssey explores lofty themes of human nature while remaining relatable to readers nearly three thousand years later. 

The poem can generally be split into three parts: immediately post-Trojan War, when Odysseus begins to set sail for home; the true odyssey, in which Odysseus must overcome many obstacles on his way back to his home; and the return to Ithaca, the chronicle of Odysseus regaining his rightful position as king. However, it is not the events of the poem that are worthy of note – instead, it is the behavior of the hero himself. Through the interference of the gods, whether to aid or hinder, Odysseus withstands harrowing experiences, all of which leave him a man and hero changed for the better. 

Odysseus is introduced to the audience as a god among men (in Ithaca, at least). However, this implies that Odysseus has never truly needed to better himself, making him vulnerable to hubris. Odysseus’ pride is justified to an extent, as seen when he and his crew are captured by the Cyclops, but Odysseus manages to trick the Cyclops and engineer their escape. However, just as they are about to sail away, Odysseus arrogantly stokes the rage of the Cyclops, not realising that the Cyclops he insults is the son of Poseidon, who then curses Odysseus. This is the catalyst for the change that Odysseus will undergo for the rest of the poem, because it makes it clear his pride will not serve him well in the future. 

In the ten long years between Odysseus’ departure from Troy and his arrival in Ithaca, Odysseus faces countless struggles that mold him into a character that is capable of overcoming his previously debilitating hubris. He meets characters who are equally as clever and wily as he is, forcing him to recognise people outside of himself. Famous characters who make an appearance during this arc are Circe, the wickedly powerful enchantress of the sea; Scylla and Charybdis, two sea monsters who devastate Odysseus’ crew; and Calypso, who successfully manages to trap Odysseus on her island for seven years. However, these experiences are mitigated by divine interference, notably via Athena and Hermes. 

By the final arc of the story, Odysseus has finally renounced his hubris and bowed to the will of the gods, while also being self-aware enough to understand his own worth. The situation in his country has deteriorated in his absence, and suitors of his wife, Penelope, have overrun the palace. Heeding the lessons of the past decade, Odysseus disguises himself as a poor beggar and wanders to the home of his loyal shepherd, Eumaeus, choosing to keep himself secret until he can determine who in Ithaca is truly loyal to him – a wise move, considering that the very next day, he is accosted by both one of his subjects and a suitor. By this point in his journey, Odysseus has learned how to let go of his pride with the knowledge that he will soon get his revenge. 

It is this that makes Odysseus a revolutionary hero: not that he is strong enough to kill all the suitors, but that he is clever enough to both withstand the abuse directed towards him while betraying nothing, and to trick the suitors into underestimating him until the fatal moment. Because of the way he handles the unfortunate situation he is in, although Odysseus does not fit the usual definition of a Greek hero (that is, all brawn and no brains), throughout his journey, he learns to be a more balanced heroic figure, which undoubtedly cements his status as one of the foremost heroes in literature for all time.

– Mahak M.

Homer’s The Odyssey is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

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.

2001: A Space Odyssey Essay

Throughout the movie, many parts led me to believe that David Bowman, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, is most relatable to Odysseus, in The Odyssey. David Bowman and Odysseus relate in many ways. First, David Bowman is emotionless and “cold-blooded,” just as Odysseus is throughout The Odyssey. Second, David Bowman could be described as intelligent and witty, as could Odysseus could be described as well throughout the story. Lastly, David Bowman is strong-willed and strong-minded, which Odysseus is in many sections of The Odyssey.

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David Bowman could be characterized as emotionless because in order for him to open the emergency latch door to get himself to safety, he lets go of the body of his fellow scientist, Frank Poole, who he recently just picked up. He does this to ensure that he could live because Hal, the “sixth member” and computer on board, malfunctions and doesn’t let David Bowman in with the body of Frank Poole. The body of Frank Poole was held onto by the claws of the pod that David Bowman was in. Since Hal didn’t let David to enter, he had to enter through the emergency landing pod, which had to be opened by the claws of the pod he was in, so without thinking twice, David Bowman let goes of Frank Poole’s body, into space. This shows how David Bowman is completely emotionless and that relates him to Odysseus because when Odysseus returns to find that his maids have betrayed him, he makes them clean up the blood, and then he decides to kill all of them, which I think is completely unfair because he never took a second thought to consider the circumstances that the maids were in. The maids didn’t really have any choice but to betray him. So, this is a reason why David Bowman and Odysseus relate.

Another reason why David Bowman is like Odysseus is because David is intelligent. Throughout the movie, David Bowman shows his smartness in many ways. First, when Hal restricts David from entering, he thinks of another way, and succeeds. David entered through the emergency landing pod. Since he didn’t have a helmet, he had to improvise. He brilliantly lined the door to the opening of the emergency pod landing, then he jumped out grabbing the latch handle to close it. That plan that he made, in a matter of barely any time, saved his life. This is why I would describe David Bowman as intelligent and smart, which would relate to Odysseus too because in order for Odysseus to defeat the cyclops, he used his skilled mind to blind the cyclops and save his crew, quite simply from dying. Another time in The Odyssey when Odysseus shows how he is smart is when he heeds to Circe’s advice to not eat the cattle on the island of Helios.

odyssey_homerLastly, I would relate David Bowman and Odysseus with the trait of strong-willed. David Bowman, shows how he is strong-minded when he continues to Jupiter even though he lost all of his fellow scientists and cutting out Hal.This, to me, shows that he is persistent and will do anything to succeed in the mission. Whether that’s always good, or not, that’s arguable on the situation at hand, and in the circumstances, I would say that it is a good thing that David Bowman in strong-minded and strong-willed to continue to Jupiter. This attribute relates to Odysseus in many ways. Throughout, The Odyssey there were many times where Odysseus showed his courage and his strong mind. For example, when they passed by the Sirens, he sacrificed himself for the crew, he stayed tied to the mast ended up being the first man to survive the Sirens’ song. Also, he shows he is strong-minded when he is forced to stay for seven years at Kalypso’s island. He does end up staying all seven years and then is set free, so his time in the island, shows the readers how strong-willed and strong-minded he can be.

Throughout 2001: A Space Odyssey, David Bowman shows how he relates to his Greek equivalent, Odysseus. First, how emotionless he is when he lets go of Frank Poole’s body into space and how Odysseus slaughters all of his maids. Second, when David Bowman shows his intelligence, quite like Odysseus blinding the cyclops, when he finds another way to enter through the emergency landing hatch. Lastly, David Bowman’s strong mind related to Odysseus when he continues to go to Jupiter, and when Odysseus stays captive for seven years, but “toughs it out.” Overall, out of all the characters in 2001: A Space Odyssey, I would say David Bowman relates to Odysseus the most.

-Satej B.

2001: A Space Odyssey is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Library. 

Essay: Odysseus’s Dangerous Ego and Pride

odyssey_homerIn “The Odyssey,” a epic poem, translated by Robert Fagles, Odysseus represents an archetype that resonates in our culture today. I believe that Odysseus represents an archetype of a hero. Odysseus was well-known for being the King of Ithaca, his wife Penelope, occupied the suitors for many years while Odysseus went to fight at Troy. I believe that Odysseus is a hero but not an ideal one and that we should not accept his heroic conventions because many of his actions throughout the story make me believe the fact that he is too harsh at many times.

Odysseus’s actions in Book 22 represent show his cruelness to others. For example, when Odysseus trapped and killed the suitors, which is completely understandable, he also forced the maids to clean the blood and then he killed them. The maids were completely innocent, even though they sided with the suitors, they didn’t have a choice and at that moment there was no other choice then to listen to the suitors. I believe that the way Odysseus treated the maids, even after they betrayed him, was cruel and harsh and that this represent the merciless attitude of Odysseus.

Another good example of Odysseus’s non-heroic conventions is in Book 9, is when Odysseus stays to see the Cyclops, Odysseus just wants to brag about having a gift from the Cyclops. If he either stole some food, as his men persuaded him to, or just leave without food, lives would have been saved. Many men were murdered by the Cyclops because of Odysseus’s pride.

Throughout the story, Odysseus is on a journey, and his wife, Penelope, is at home keeping the suitors “occupied.” In many oppurtunities, Odysseus cheats on Penelope, which doesn’t represent and heroic attributes because honesty is one of them. Odysseus cheats on his wife many times with Circe and Calypso. Even though Odysseus was “unhappy” with Calypso, he was forced to sleep with her at night, but I’m sure he didn’t complain too much about being forced into it. To add on to Odysseus’s dishonesty, “Odysseus stayed with Calypso for seven years.” In modern times cheating is much more serious, the act of it, even back then, is nothing to be proud of and does definitely not represent honesty.

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Odysseus and Penelope by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

Another notable example of Odysseus’s non-heroic actions is when after he stabs Polyphemus, the cyclops, in the eye, he ends up escaping but Odysseus shouts back to the cyclops giving away his position and almost causing the ship to wreck. A hero, puts others in front of him, Odysseus put his ego and pride over his men on the ship, almost causing the death of his men to occur. His cockiness and selfishness is proven throughout the poem to be dangerous to others affiliated with him.

A trait that all heroes should have is humility. Odysseus doesn’t have any of humility. When Odysseus and his men are reflecting upon their escape from the Cyclops, Odysseus shows his true-self. “Did I not keep my nerve, use my wits, to find a way out for us.” (p.776-777) This shows how Odysseus is unappreciative of his men and that he thinks is the sole reason of success. Thinking that you are the best and everyone else is nothing compared to you isn’t the way the hero should act or think in front of his men.

Throughout the story, Odysseus proves that he is a ruthless and lying person. First, when Odysseus makes the maids at his house clean the blood and then kill them, that shows his ruthless trait. Second, when Odysseus wants to brag about a gift from the Cyclops, thats shows his big ego. Next, when Odysseus cheats on his wife, Penelope, with Circe and Calypso that represents his dishonesty and disloyalty, especially when he is “forced” to stay with Calypso, for seven long years, while Penelope is busy occupying the suitors to help Odysseus. Lastly, Odysseus shows that he has no humility when he tells his men that he is the sole reason why they escaped from the Cyclops. These traits do not represent a hero in any way, that is why it make my opinion to be in assurance that Odysseus is not a hero and that we should not accept his “heroic conventions,” because they are quite far from being heroic in many ways.

Works Cited

Homer, The Odyssey, Trans, Robert Fagles, New York: Penguin, 2002, Kindle.

“Odysseus | Greek Mythology.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.

-Satej B.