Most individuals have a conceived concept of the ideals in which one highly values or desires to acquire. These ideals generally make up the mannerisms of a person one considers a true champion, whom can be existent or imaginary. This relatively immaculate code of ethics is also accompanied by achievements one finds admirable. This person is usually goes through a series of tests or hardships that prove their importance. This is what one considers a hero. Giving the term hero such a definition, one’s idea of a hero may completely differ with another’s concept of such a person worthy of praise.
In today’s eclectic society, everybody’s heroes are different. One’s hero may be a character in an action movie, surviving against all odds to finally get the bad-guy in the end. It may be a character with superhuman strength with no concern of death like the hero in the epic Beowulf. Others may desire more intellectual heroes such as the Wright Brothers, devoting years of effort to create a machine to make man fly, or Thomas Jefferson, risking his life by writing the Declaration of Independence. Some may call one with great moral value a hero such as Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, or even Jesus Christ who suffered and died so we humanity could enter the Kingdom of God.
During the era of Homer’s, The Odyssey, the majority of the population in ancient Greece had the same basic ideas of the qualities a hero should have.
The Greeks valued a warrior with great physical strength as well as shrewdness. The emphasis on strength was based on the fact that battles were frequent from city-state to other city-states. A hero for those times would need to have a strategic way of thinking and wisdom to aid in achieving the numerous tasks placed before him. Heroes should also be eloquent in their manner of speaking, for it was a tool necessary so others could easily be convinced by the hero’s speech. All the values necessary for a hero are portrayed in The Odyssey. These are told through the stories and exploits of the main hero, Odysseus.
In Book IV of the Odyssey, Menelaos and his wife Helen, both tell a story of one of Odysseus’ accomplishments during the Akhaian war against the Trojans. Helen tells of how Odysseus ingeniously had “given himself an outrageous beating and thrown some rags on” to disguise himself as a beggar and slip into the impenetrable city of Troy. Once inside, he was unrecognized by the Trojans by merging with the townspeople. Odysseus found Helen and told her of the Akhaian plans to conquer Troy. Once Odysseus had learned of the
Trojan’s war strategy, he left the city and killed many Trojans on his way out with his sword.
Many examples of the concept of a hero can be seen in this tale. Odysseus used his wits to think of a plan, which would be useful in accomplishing two goals: to tell Helen of the Akhaian’s plans of rescuing her while taking over Troy. The other goal was to find out his opponent’s stratagem. Helen describes the shrewdness of Odysseus in making himself pass for a
beggar, and allowing himself to be humiliated by his enemies, but without revealing his true identity. He then makes his exit while killing some Trojans along the way, illustrating his strength. Helen’s tale portrays some qualities of Homer’s concept of heroism: ingenuity, sagacity and bravery.
Menelaos tells another of Odysseus’ feats after his wife is done with her tale. He tells of how Odysseus’ will power and leadership saved all of the fighters inside the hollow horse. He tells of how Helen approached the horse with Deiphobos and called each of the warrior’s names as she walked around it. Her voice sounded like each of the fighter’s wives and caused the warriors great longing to go or to call out to the voice. Odysseus fought down Menelaos, Diomedes and held his hands over Antiklos’ mouth to prevent him from calling out.
Odysseus thus saved the warriors from being discovered.
Menelaos’ tale depicts Odysseus as a man with patience and strong will-power. Menelaos himself names Odysseus’ characteristics when he says “never have I seen one like Odysseus for steadiness and a stout heart.” It can also be understood that Odysseus is a leader that protects the lives of others as well as his own. This can be seen when he prevents the soldiers from calling out to Helen. Aside from the qualities mentioned, Homer also adds another concept to heroism which is the element of altruism. This is clearly evident because most of Odysseus’ actions are for the for the benefit and well-being of others. For
example, the reason why he is fighting the in the Trojan War in the first place is to help his friend Menelaos rescue his wife Helen from the Trojans.
Aside from these two stories painting a picture of Homer’s idea of a hero, they also predict some of the latter events in the epic. These stories give the reader a hint about some of the tasks Odysseus will encounter since they are similar to each other.
This is especially evident in Helen’s tale of Odysseus because he uses the same tactic of disguising himself as a beggar back home at Ithaka. With the help of Pallas Athena, she disguises Odysseus into looking like a beggar so he can study his enemies without being seen. This can be seen in many of Odysseus’ remarks, like in Book XVI Odysseus states, “I alone must learn how far the women are corrupted; we should know how to locate good men among our hands..” Also in Book XVII, Athena also tells Odysseus to study his enemies closely while under the transformation by saying, “learn who are the descent lads, and who are vicious..” Odysseus is once again ridiculed, in his own home this time, but manages to compose himself and keeps his identity a secret until no longer necessary. This further expands on Homer’s concept of a hero by also showing that patience and ability to maintain one’s composure under any circumstance is a virtue that a hero should have.
There are many instances where Odysseus must watch over his crew to prevent them from being killed or hurt. This is seen in Menelaos’ story of the wooden horse and how Odysseus fought down three members of his crew to
prevent them from going or calling out to Helen’s voice. If they had been discovered, the Trojans would’ve killed them. Menelaos’ story also has many similarities with events that happen to Odysseus later on. In the event of the Lotus Eaters, three men had eaten the Lotus plant and thus longed to stay forever on the island to die. Odysseus forcefully brought all three back to the ship and tied them under their rowing benches to protect them. Odysseus also risks his life to save his crew in Book X. The goddess Kirke had turned a group of Odysseus’ men into swine by giving them food, tainted with a potion. Odysseus became worried after they had not returned and went to find them. He encountered Kirke and had them changed back into men. This shows the importance of loyalty and care that Homer’s idea of a hero should have for his friends.
These were the values the people of Homer’s time favored in a hero. Even though Odysseus comes from a vastly different century than other heroes, most of the qualities that make them heroes are the same: bravery, intelligence, patience, and loyalty. It seems as if the basic virtues of a hero have remained unchanged over thousands of years. Odysseus is still one of the great heroes that we have. This is why The Odyssey has been studied for thousands of years, and people in the future will continue to read about great heroic deeds of Odysseus due to the timelessness of this story.