Virtue is having high moral integrity. One who is virtuous will do what must be done, not for the benefit of themselves, but for others. According to Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher, a virtuous man must embody the four cardinal virtues: prudence, doing the right thing, justice, giving people what they deserve, courage, being brave in the face of danger, and temperance, restraint from what one wishes to do most. This idea of virtue is present in Odysseus, the main character in the epic poem, The Odyssey, Odysseus must travel home after fighting in the Trojan War.
The war lasted ten years and it takes him another ten to get home, so he is gone for quite a while. He faces many obstacles along the way; he encounters gods and mythical beings. Odysseus eventually returns home to Ithaka, fulfilling his dream of nostos, where he rejoices with his wife, Penelope, and son, Telemachus. Throughout Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, Odysseus is able to prove time and time again that he truly is a virtuous man through his great restraint and acts of reciprocity.
Justice may be the most difficult trait for a virtuous man to embody as it causes one to do the right thing, which is usually not the easiest to do. Knowing the difference between right and wrong, and then applying it to one’s life is extremely difficult, yet Odysseus manages to do it very well. On the journey home Odysseus and his men stop at Circe’s Island. While they are there, one of the men, Elpenor, becomes intoxicated and falls off a roof, resulting in his death. Although devastating, the crew had to move forward.
However, in the Land of the Dead, Elpenor appears to Odysseus and begs for a burial, “I ask that you remember me, and do not go and leave me behind unwept, unburied, when he leave, for fear I might become the gods’ curse upon you; but burn me there with all my armor that belongs to me, and heap up a grave mound beside the beach of that gray sea, for an unhappy man, so that those to come will know of me” (Homer Book 11 Lines 60-65, 69-78). In asking this, he is asking for the whole crew to sail back to the island of the goddess that turned almost all of them into pigs.
No one desires to return to such a place, yet Odysseus does. Going against what he wants to do most, returning home to Ithaka, Odysseus travels back and properly buries his former crew member in an act of righteousness. Justice does not always refer to doing something that is merciful and generous, it may have to do with giving someone a punishment. Odysseus is very good at giving people what they deserve. During his long journey home Melanthios, a servant, becomes traitorous and decides to help the suitors, the men who try to woo Odysseus’s wife.
They are extremely rude and disrespect both the home of Odysseus and his family. In helping them Melanthios doles out all of the wine, bread, and cattle that is on Odysseus’s property. Once Odysseus returns home, it is only fitting that he would reciprocate Melanthios’s actions in a similar way; therefore, he “chopped with swords to cut his nose and ears off, pulled off his genitals to feed the dogs and raging hacked his hands and feet away” (Homer Book 22 Lines 493-495). Odysseus lacerates Melanthios’s body parts, including his genitals which are fed to the dogs.
This example is analogous to the traitorous actions of Melanthios giving out Odysseus’s goods to the suitors. The most precious possessions of each men are given away, Melanthios’s genitals and Odysseus’s home. In both cases those who receive the goods can be characterized as animals. The dogs who receive the genitals are truly animals, and the suitors are so ravenous and feral that they can be pictured as animals. They blame Penelope for all their disrespectful actions as if they are not responsible, along with basking in the riches of Odysseus like pigs.
Odysseus literally gives Melanthios what he deserves. He is completely justified in his actions as Melanthios disrespects Odysseus in ways that are unforgivable. He stabs the man who not only employed him, but was a friend, in the back. Odysseus is able to prove himself a virtuous man through his justified actions of reciprocity, both out of anger and respect. Odysseus proves his virtue through acts of temperance, or restraint, in Homer’s epic poem. There are many times where he wishes he could do something, but he holds himself back, for he knows that the timing is not right.
He has very keen timing and that is portrayed in his actions. An example of his self-control is seen when he comes in contact with his old hunting hou Argos. He had trained him twenty years ago when the dog was still a puppy and has yet to see him since he returned to Ithaka. Odysseus is talking to a trusted swineherd outside his home, where he stands disguised as a beggar preparing to go undercover in his own home in order to expel the suitors. The minute he sees Argos the dog’s ears perked up.
Odysseus grows depressed, for the dog he once knew and loved has been mistreated and neglected. He even “looked away, wiping a salt tear from his cheek” for that poor dog had “no strength to move nearer his master” (Homer Book 17 Lines 346-348). Odysseus is forced to hold in his emotions in order to effectively keep up his facade, even though all he wanted to do was mourn his dog. This great act of temperance saves him from unveiling himself to the entire group of suitors who stand on the other side of the gate.
If he were to have revealed his identity the entire mission would have failed, the suitors most likely would not be killed, and he would have died himself; yet, he dug deep to grasp all ounces of discipline and held in his emotions, as it was not the time to cry and blow his cover. Another example of temperance is seen when Odysseus refuses to see Penelope while he is disguised as a beggar. Odysseus is in the great dining hall when he is verbally assaulted by a few of the suitors, to which he responds with words and not actions.
Penelope is appalled and wishes to speak to the beggar, not only because she feels bad for him, but because he supposedly has information about her husband, Odysseus. If he were to meet with her in his current state his scheme for concealment would be ruined, so he responds to her request with “No; bid the queen be patient, Let her remain till sundown in her room… My rags are sorry cover; you know that; I showed my sad condition to you first” (Homer Book 17 Lines 664-665, 668-669). Odysseus knows that if he were to talk to her either she would figure out who he is or he would reveal it himself, for his love for her is too great.
The timing is not right for him to unveil himself, as it would probably lead to his death. All the suitors are either armed, or have weapons near by, and Odysseus is merely dressed in beggar’s clothes, acting like the man he is adorned as. As great as his desire to kill every suitor and reveal himself to his wife is, he could not, for it would be an inopportune moment. Odysseus clearly shows his great virtue through controlling his overpowering emotions. Holding in the emotions he has is difficult, especially after seeing his beloved dog and wife, whom he wishes to be with greatly, yet he is able to do it.
Odysseus is a virtuous character; however, one could counter this claim due to his lack of prudence. He does not always think things through; this is evident when he and his men are on the Island of the Cyclopes. After they ransack a cave, Odysseus decides to stay in order to meet the creature that inhabits it. Once Polyphemus, the cyclops who is also the son of Poseidon, appears, he eats several of Odysseus’s crew members. In order to escape, Odysseus formulates a plan in which he and a few other men will stick a burning stake in the eye of the cyclops.
Fortunately the plan is successful, and the remainder of the crew gets out safely. However, while fleeing the scene, Odysseus becomes overwhelmed with pride and hubris. He says “Cyclops, if anyone of mortal men shall ask thee about the shameful blinding of thine eye, say that Odysseus, the sacker of cities, blinded it, even the son of Laertes, whose home is in Ithaca” (Homer Book 9). In this example Odysseus reveals his identity to the creature who he hs blinded and now seeks revenge. This mistake will ultimately become the reason behind the many struggles Odysseus faces on his way home.
Regardless of this thoughtless action, Odysseus is still a virtuous character, for he would never make the same mistake at the end of his journey. It is important not to judge Odysseus solely on the man he started as, but the man he metamorphoses into. The man the begins the Trojan War is not the same virtuous man who rescues the people of his land from the ingrates that are the suitors. Odysseus learns a lot during the long and treacherous ‘odyssey’ he is forced to go through. His accomplishments in controlling himself are seen in his encounters with Argos and Penelope.
Odysseus is able to prove his virtue through acts of justice and self-control. On his journey home he transforms into a better person, one who is far wiser and makes better decisions. One can relate the fact that he is often judged based on past decisions rather than the person he is now; yet, it is the ability to become or maintain a righteous persona in spite of what others say that makes one virtuous. By implementing the four cardinal virtues into, he or she can have a fulfilling and enjoyable life, similar to Odysseus.