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The Odyssey Odysseuss Greek Values English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2291 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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An epic hero is more than just a hero who goes on an extraordinary adventure and fights perilous creatures. A true epic hero is one who goes on a complex and arduous journey to attain admirable values. It is one who originally may be dissolute and immoral, but eventually gains exceptional character and nature. He is willing to sacrifice himself for the betterment of society. Such is the case with Odysseus in The Odyssey, who aspires to reach his home in Ithaka and reunite with his family. Along the journey, Odysseus displays several important Greek values that shape him as an epic hero. Odysseus is an epic hero due to his cleverness in pressuring situations, bravery during daunting challenges, and humility towards higher beings.

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Odysseus displays exceptional cleverness by using his cunning skills in difficult and challenging situations. Throughout the epic, Odysseus is able to use his ingenuity to surmount perplexing situations and overcome the difficulties he faces. His quickness and cunning are the traits he possesses that muddle him through the problems he encounters. One aspect that crafts his cleverness is his ability to provide well-thought out answers to pressuring questions. Whenever Odysseus is asked a demanding or stressful question, he warily thinks of an answer. He knows to answer with caution because of the situation at hand. Odysseus’s shrewdness is evident when Polyphêmos, the brawny one-eyed creature, asks Odysseus what his name is. Through this pressuring question, Odysseus is able to swiftly answer that his name is “Nohbdy”. He carefully yet quickly thinks of an answer to such an intense question. Odysseus displays the similar trait of cleverness when Kalypso questions him of whether a mortal can compare with a goddess in grace and form: “To this the strategist Odysseus answered / My lady goddess, here is no cause for anger. / My quiet Penélopê – how well I know – / would seem a shade before your majesty” (V, 223 – 226). Rather than defending Penélopê, he praises Kalypso and acts as though his wife is inferior to her. He claims that the reason he wants to leave the island is because he longs for his home, not for his wife. By answering like this, he is able to leave the island without angering Kalypso. Answering with circumspection and caution is Odysseus’s key to overcoming many of the challenges he faces. Not only does Odysseus answer questions carefully, but he always has plans and follows through with them. When trapped on the Land of Kyklopes, he devises a plan to escape the cave and leave the island. This plan was executed by lying to Polyphêmos about his name and slowly getting him intoxicated. When the time was right, Odysseus drives his giant pike right into Polyphêmos’s eye, stabbing the one-eyed creature. He previously develops a plan and follows through with it, rather than improvising. Odysseus knows that by having a plan, there is a direct set of steps that will guarantee success in his task. Another plan Odysseus follows is to eat the drug “moly” to resist Kirke’s magic. In order to free his men, he has to sleep with Kirke. Although this is the only way to free the men, he does what is told to him. By not avoiding the plan, Odysseus successfully convinces Kirke to change the pigs back into men. Finally, Odysseus knows when and how to lie under the right circumstances. He ingeniously lies to Polyphêmos that he and his crewmen’s ships have been destroyed when entering the island. He does this rather than revealing their true location because if the Kyklops were to attack the ships, they would have nowhere to go. His ability to formulate lies swiftly is evident when he is about to answer to Polyphemos: “He thought he’d find out, but I saw through this, / and answered with a ready lie” (IX, 305 – 306). Whenever Odysseus encounters a dilemma or pressuring question, he sees through the difficulties and finds a ready lie to answer with. His cleverness contributes to his ability to triumph hardships. Additionally, Odysseus’s clever ability to lie is evident when he outright avoids telling his crewmen the perils they are about to face: “But as I sent them on toward Skylla, I / told them nothing, as they could do nothing. / They would have dropped their oars again, in panic” (XII, 288 – 291). Odysseus knows that by telling his men about the dangers to come, it will only frighten them. Although Odysseus hides the truth and lies, it was under the right circumstance. He knows when to lie and what the results and consequences are. Blatantly shown, Odysseus’s cleverness through providing well thought out answers to pressuring questions, following through with plans, and answering with ready lies is just one aspect that shapes him as an epic hero.

Furthermore, Odysseus shows how brave he is by possessing a bold semblance in challenges and never conceding to defeat. Although Odysseus sometimes fails to overcome the challenges and difficulties he faces, he never submits to triumph. Odysseus’s courageousness is partly made up of him being able to face his fears. When he is at the Land of the Dead and sees the shocking truth that his mother is dead, he does not run away. His braveness is exemplified when he rather stays and fights through the pain: “Seeing this ghost I grieved, / but held her off, through pang on pang of tears” (XI, 97 – 98). Despite the fact that he just realizes his mother was dead while he was away from home, he chooses to stay and talk to her. He fights through the rush of tears and hurt inside of himself rather than runaway and avoid the truth. A similar example is his fear of not being reunited with his family. Throughout the epic, Odysseus is on a journey to reach his home in Ithaka and see his family again. However, the hardships Odysseus encounters and the length of the time he is on the journey instills doubt in him. He is on his journey home for twenty years, including the ten years fighting in the Trojan War. As the time adds up and the difficulties increase, Odysseus becomes skeptical. However, he does not let this qualm and uncertainty take over him. He rather faces the fear and continues on the journey. Odysseus is also a brave hero by never surrendering because of the uncertainty in success. When Odysseus is discussing with Telemakhos about the plan to kill the suitors, he does not agree with his claim that the suitors are too strong. Odysseus does not believe that just because the suitors and their assistants are in numbers more than one hundred, they cannot be defeated. He instead is bold by stating, “I’d rather have my head cut from my shoulders / by some slashing adversary, if I / brought no hurt upon that crew!” (XVI, 121 – 123). He would rather have his head cut off by an enemy than inflict no pain on the suitors. This strong statement establishes his boldness even when everybody around him is skeptical. A similar example of Odysseus’s courage is when he does not sail the other way when facing Skylla. Odysseus is fully conscious that the prognosis of heading into Skylla is the death of six men. However, what outlines his valor is him knowing that although six men will die, he’d rather go through the pain of that than possibly all of his men dying in a whirlpool. Though Kharybidis may be promising due to the possibility of complete survival, he is not lured in. He is brave for choosing Skylla. Finally, Odysseus’s possesses bravery because he defends others and not just himself. Throughout the journey, Odysseus tries his hardest to keep most of his men alive. Although his main goal is to reach home in Ithaka and come together with his family, he also wants all of his men to reach their families. An example of him taking care of his crewmen would be when Odysseus and his men are heading towards Seirenes. He gives all of his crewmen ear wax to plug into their ears, aware of the dangers of the luring song of Seirenes. He does this because he wants the men to stay alive and be free from the enticement. However, what truly establishes his audacity is that he does not plug his own ears with wax. Odysseus does this because he needs to know of when the song has stopped playing and the men are free to take the wax out. Odysseus choosing to bear the pain of wanting to jump into the ocean and swim towards the island truly shows how courageous he is. Rather than choosing one of his men to do the job, he chooses himself. This clearly shows how he puts the safety and care for others before himself. Another instance is when he convinces Kirke to change the swine back into his men. He ends up sleeping with Kirke in order to achieve this task. By putting his concern and care for the men before the risk of being unfaithful to Penélopê, he acquires the trait of courage. He is defensive when it comes to his crewmen and always tries his hardest to keep them safe. Clearly shown, Odysseus is extremely bold in challenges and does more than just help himself.

Finally, Odysseus displays humility by abasing himself and letting go of his hubris. In the beginning of the epic, Odysseus is a dissolute and curt man who displays the traits of impatience and arrogance. He overestimates his own capabilities and often gloats about his power and knowledge. He believes he was better than the people around him. However, as Odysseus continues on his journey back home, his character traits start to change. He begins to exhibit embarrassment and shame for his mistakes and actions, getting rid of his haughtiness. One way Odysseus displays humility is by bowing down to higher beings. This humility is evident when he begs to Poseidon for mercy: “In weariness before your knees, your waters? / Here is your servant; lord, have mercy on me” (V, 472 – 473). Odysseus finally understands that his hubris is the reason for his downfall on the journey. He begs for mercy and forgiveness to Poseidon. This establishes a key point in the epic where his character changes for the better. Odysseus also prays to the gods when drawing his arrow back to kill Antinoos. Before he shoots, he prays to Apollo for luck knowing that he doesn’t have the best arching skills. By praying to Apollo, he is degrading himself and his skills, clearly expressing humility. Odysseus also accepts his mistakes. When facing Elpenor, a crewman who is left unburied in Kirkes hall, Odysseus weeps for pity. He realizes it was extremely immoral and corrupt for him and his crewmen to not bury Elpenor. Leaving Elpenor dead on earth’s ground was a mistake Odysseus accepts. His acceptance of his mistake is evident when he apologetically promises to Elpenor his barrow and burial. Another instance of Odysseus’s humility gained through mistakes is when he and his crewmen arrive on Lamos. Rather than scavenging through the island like marauders looking for loot and treasure, he carefully sends two of his crewmen with an attendant to investigate the inhabitants. Odysseus learns from a mistake he and his crewmen commit on Ismaros. On Ismaros, Odysseus and his men rummage through the island. They began burning down houses and stealing riches, allowing their voracity to take over. Despite Odysseus’s advice to leave the island immediately, their gluttony and greed began to engulf them. As a result, the furious army of the Kikones attacks, killing six men from each ship. Odysseus clearly learns from the death of his men to not make the same mistake in the future. Aside from accepting mistakes, Odysseus also obeys the plans that are told to him and does not get arrogant. This is shown through several instances in the text, one being when he follows Kirke’s plan of going to Hades and making the sacrifice. Despite his crewmen’s’ wails and cries, he decides to continue to follow Kirke’s plan. He assertively tells the men, “Go / to the cold homes of Death and pale Persephone / to hear Teiresias tell of time to come” (X, 624 – 625). He does not let the crewmen’s complaints allow him to disobey the plan. Odysseus’s compliance is also shown when he obeys the plan of Hermes. He has change the pigs back into his men by sleeping with Kirke, keeping in mind that he has a wife in Ithaka he should be loyal to. Despite the moral issue of sleeping with another woman and cheating on Penélopê, he obeys the plan of Hermes and is able to free the men. He knows to listen to higher beings and people who are smarter than him. Odysseus’s shame towards the gods, acceptance of mistakes, and compliance with plans told to him truly show his humility.

In summation, Odysseus in The Odyssey is clearly an epic hero by displaying the Greek values of cleverness in anxiety-filled situations, courageousness during difficult challenges, and humility towards higher beings. He undergoes a journey in which he learns to grow as a person and develop good moral values. Although Odysseus is not the best person in the beginning of the epic, his hubris eventually dwindles and his moral character elevates. He begins to accept his mistakes and listen to others. Rather than just caring about himself, he has lots of concern for others. He clearly displays the values and traits an epic hero possesses.

Writing Goals:

1. To integrate quotes correctly in sentences and make them flow.

2. To strengthen my diction and use strong word choice.

3. To use specific examples in text when trying to show an idea or prove something.


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