To consider someone a hero, he must boast certain characteristics that are harder to detect in an average person, such as being humble, merciful, loyal, and a great leader. King Odysseus of Ithaca survived the Trojan War. While most of his other men returned to their native lands immediately following the war, it took Odysseus ten years to journey home because of his lust for other women and desire to prove he was superior to everyone. Odysseus and his group of shipmates faced countless obstacles, which claimed the lives of more men as their journey went on.
Not only did his procrastination kill off his men, but his mother as well, who longed to see him and gave up when she realized she would never see him again. Through the many actions Odysseus took on his trip home, including murder and adultery, it is apparent that Odysseus does not display the aforementioned attributes of a hero and does not deserve the high admiration he receives. Odysseus’ journey was prolonged many times because of Odysseus’ selfishness. After leaving the Cyclops, Polyphemus’ island, Odysseus and his men sailed until they reached Aeaea.
Circe, a goddess that inhabited the island, transformed all of Odysseus’ men into pigs. Odysseus, rather than fighting for her to change his men, offered to stay behind with Circe. Odysseus became Circe’s lover and lived alongside her in luxury and satisfaction. Odysseus and his men “… sat at ease, day in and day out, till a year had run its course… [and] when the year was gone… [Odysseus’] comrades took [him] aside and prodded [that his behavior was]… madness [and it was] time [he] thought of [his] own home at last… ‘” (Homer and Fagles 10. 515-521). Odysseus needed to be reminded of their goal.
For an entire year, Odysseus did not care to think about his wife and son because he enjoyed the pleasure he got with Circe. After they got advice from Circe about the rest of their travels, Odysseus and his men sailed to the land of the Cimmerians. Odysseus made sacrifices and poured libations so as to attract the souls of the dead. Odysseus spoke with many deceased people, such as his dead crewmates and old prophets. The next person to greet him was his mother, Anticleia, even though he was unaware that she had passed, considering she was alive when Odysseus left for the war.
Odysseus’ mother tells him that “… it was [her] longing for [him]… that tore away [her] life that had been so sweet” (Homer and Fagles 11. 230-232). Anticlea was so overcome with grief at the seeming loss of her son that she was forced to kill herself in order to end her misery. Had Odysseus thought of other people, such as his mother, rather than only himself, he would have been surprised by such paramount information. In more ways than one, Odysseus put himself over other people, emphasizing his selfish nature. Most prominently, Odysseus was merciless.
Soon after beginning his journey home, Odysseus was instructed to visit the king of the Phaeacians, Alcinous, and his wife Arete. Odysseus, recalls his struggles thus far, very intent to gain their sympathy. However, after convincing them that he was tortured on the islands with Calypso and Circe, he told a story of his travels after he left Troy. Odysseus said that “The wind drove [him and his men] out of llium on to Ismarus, the Cicones’ stronghold. There [they] sacked the city [and] killed the men” (Homer and Fagles 9. 5-47).
The crewmates left the city of Ismarus in ruins and left just after they had taken what they wanted, although it had no impact on their journey. Odysseus was not regretful of this detour in his trip, although it devastated the people. Odysseus’ willingness to invade a random island that he had nothing against, steal their money and sleep with their women shows his merciless character. Nevertheless, he and his crewmates sailed on. Odysseus and his men traveled to Aeaea, an island inhabited by a magical nymph named Circe.
Similar to on Calypso’s island, Odysseus was tempted by Circe to sleep with her, if she would give them advice in return. Previously, Circe turned Odysseus’ men into pigs. Odysseus proposed the idea for them to stay behind if she would transform them back. Eurylochus, one of Odysseus’ most trusted men, disputed his ideas. This angered Odysseus, so he “… had half a mind to draw the sharp sword from beside [his] hip and slice [Eurylochus’] head off, tumbling down in the dust, close kin that he was” (Homer and Fagles 10. 483-487).
Even the fates and safety of Odysseus’ closest men was not guaranteed, as Odysseus prioritizes himself and his ideas over his men. Odysseus callous actions show that he lacks mercy for those around him, despite their innocence and close relationship to him. In many ways, Odysseus is very disloyal, especially to his wife and shipmates. Firstly, on his journey home, there were a few instances in which Odysseus was being held captive on an island inhabited by lustful goddesses or nymphs. Towards the beginning of his journey, Odysseus stumbles upon the island Scheria, where he is found by Nausicaa, daughter of the king.
At the time she found him, Odysseus was naked and vulnerable. Odysseus, cunning as he is, wins over her heart after Athena made him look presentable. Nausicaa expressed her longing for”… ‘a man like [Odysseus to be called her] husband, [who] lived right here [and was] pleased to stay forever'” (Homer and Fagles 6. 270-271). For his own pleasure, Odysseus had thoughtlessly lured the heart of Nausicaa, not thinking of his wife in Ithaca. Although Odysseus and Nausicaa might not have slept together, the relationship between the two suggests Odysseus’ adulterous and disloyal behavior.
Besides Nausicaa, Odysseus had also cheated on his wife, Penelope, with Circe and most notably, Calypso, whom he cohabited with for seven years. All the meanwhile, Penelope was trapped at her home, plagued by the suitors that refused to leave her. A while after leaving Scheria, Odysseus landed on Aeaea. Odysseus and his men spent a year on the island and Odysseus had to be forced to leave in order to continue with their journey. As promised in return for Odysseus’ stay on the island, Circe gave him advice on where to go next.
She explained the route they had to take and warned them about the dangerous monsters they would face along the way. Rather than informing his men about the monsters, Odysseus “… cleared his mind of Circe’s orders [that urged him]… not to arm at all… Now wailing in fear, [Odysseus and his men] rowed on up those straits” (Homer and Fagles 12. 245-253). Because he thought his ideas were superior to others’, Odysseus refused to tell his men about the dangers they might face in fear that they would worry and disagree with him.
Had he mentioned the monsters to his men, they would have been more prepared and might not have lost their lives. However, Odysseus was disloyal and only thought for himself. Whether it was to his wife or devoted shipmates, Odysseus was disloyal to all of them, despite their dedication to him. Not only does being selfish, merciless, and disloyal make someone unheroic, but it also makes him a bad leader. Odysseus was anything but a beneficial leader to his men. Although he acted superior to his men, it was nothing but an act he put on to gain attention and admiration.
Odysseus depended on the gods too much to be considered a true leader, let alone a hero. Almost every part of Odysseus’ trip was positively influenced by the gods. It was because of Athena and her ideas that Odysseus was able to gain the resilience to return to Ithaca. Odysseus left Nausicaa in order to speak with King Alcinous of the Phaeacians, to tell him of his travels thus far. On his way, he was greeted by Athena, disguised as a young girl. She offers to guide Odysseus to the palace.
With her help, Odysseus”… ent on striding down the hall [and] the man of many struggles shrouded still in the mist Athena drifted around him” (Homer and Fagles 7. 165-167). The mist acted as a metaphor for the large amount of protection given to Odysseus for things as little as walking down the halls. Athena surrounded him in this mist so as to shield him from harassment by the commoners. Odysseus told Alcinous all of his stories in such a way that brought him the pity from the Phaeacians, leaving out parts such as murder and cheating on his wife. Although Odysseus became cherished by the Phaeacians, “…
Athena… always [stood] beside [Odysseus, shielded him] in every exploit [and it was] thanks to [her] the Phaeacians all embraced [Odysseus] warmly” (Homer and Fagles 13. 341-343). Athena made Odysseus appear pitiful and innocent; she gave him the image of a war veteran who was tortured and put against his will in many situations. Athena and the other gods were to thank for the overall success of Odysseus’ journey, despite his heinous acts along the way. Therefore, he is not a leader. Many people have argued that Odysseus is a hero.
This is understandable, through reasoning that Odysseus displays leadership. However, Odysseus is anything a leader, and as a result is not a hero. Odysseus is not a good leader, given that his entire trip relied on help from the gods. The plan for Odysseus to return to Ithaca and save his family from the suitors was completely pioneered by Athena. Without the guidance of Athena specifically, as well as a handful of others, Odysseus would never have been able to return to Ithaca, let alone leave the captivity of Calypso. Therefore, Odysseus is more unheroic than not.
Odysseus shows he is undeserving of the admiration he receives through his selfish, merciless, and disloyal actions as well as his lack of leadership and reliance on the Gods. Throughout his trip home, Odysseus faced countless obstacles and acted cowardly when trying to overcome them. Whether it was his willingness to betray his wife by sleeping with another woman in order to progress his trip or killing his own men when they disobeyed, Odysseus is not heroic. Although fame may bring you the title of hero, it is unjust to be considered heroic if you are a terrible person.