This week we’ll continue reading the Odyssey. The bulk of our reading focuses on Odysseus’ own narration of his adventures after the fall of Troy, including many of the poem’s most famous episodes: the encounter with the cyclops, the lotus eaters, the trip to the underworld, Circe, the cattle of the sun, Calypso. As you reflect on this reading below, take up one of the following prompts:
- What kind of a person is Odysseus? Is he a hero, by ancient or modern standards? A good leader? How does he fulfill the poem’s claim in its opening line that he will be polytropos, “a complicated man” or “a man of many turns”?
- Some ancient Greek readers of the poem understood books 9-12, Odysseus’ narrative in his own voice, to be a lie Odysseus tells to explain away the deaths of his men. Does this reading resonate with you? What it would mean for the Odyssey as a whole if books 9-12 were lies?
- Pick one of the episodes or encounters in your reading for this week affected you in some way, and describe that effect. Did it inspire an emotional reaction? Was it funny, exciting, bizarre, disturbing? Was the language particularly compelling?
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Children of Medea (Family A): Post your comments here!
Something I picked up on in regard to Odysseus’s character is how he is somewhat of a different man between the Iliad and the Odyssey. Odysseus is definitely complicated to me (polytropos). In the Iliad, he seemed much more set on the war and exemplifying these traditional characteristics of masculinity we’ve been talking about. However, in the Odyssey, we see Odysseus cry and call out lovingly for his mother. But, this is juxtaposed with moments of scolding his men for their hunger and lying to them about the dangers of Scylla and Charybdis. Knowing more about how the stories of the Iliad and Odyssey were passed along, this sort of discrepancy makes more sense to me – perhaps Odysseus’s character was never able to retain fixed characteristics because the stories might have been recited differently by different poets?
I do like the comparison of Odysseus in the Iliad, and Odysseus in the Odyssey. Complicated is in fact the best word for him. He is ultimately a more sneaky, lying man than I think was clear in the Iliad. I do believe however, it gives him more of a roundness as a character. The view of Odysseus as a liar, is very interesting, because it does show him to be very persuasive, and willing to do anything to get home, which seems like a more determined, strong willed manly-man, as he is shown in the Iliad.
I hesitate to agree with the interpretation that the entirety of Odysseus’ story as narrated by himself is a lie, because I think it makes the term “complicated man” much less resonant. If we imagine that Odysseus is simply a liar who has jilted his wife and let his men die, it makes all the 3rd person narration regarding his grief and and Penelope’s longing and Telemachus’ search far less weighty. I suppose the idea that Odysseus was motivated by his desire to remain famed in a positive light, a desire stemming from questionable heroic values/principles, could earn the phrase “complicated,” but I think that interpretation is just as valuable if we think Odysseus is telling the truth. In fact, I think the critique of Greek heroism and their culture of violence becomes much more rich when we take Odysseus’ stories into account as truth, or at least embellished truth.
I agree with you here. I think the Odyssey can be a very powerful story given the emotional weight found within, and that emotional weight is lost, or at least stunted, if the reader knows Odysseus to be a liar. Odysseus’s actions and the truth that he tells contribute much more to making him a complicated “man of many turns”. And that aspect of his character continues to fascinate and be passed along.
I strongly agree with you, Jessica here. I think belittling Odysseus’s complicated character makes light of the dramatic emotions riddled within his story. It belittles the emotions and takes the validity away from the influential 3rd person narrative that adds wrinkles to the story that would not be possible if he is viewed as simply a liar.
I agree with Jessica’s statement that I think ti would be too hefty a claim to say that the whole story is a lie since it’s told by him. But, I do feel that Odysseus can be viewed as an unreliable narrator in some ways, and this can add a depth to the story. I also agree with Jessica and Logan that viewing much of it as truth actually adds a much more valuable commentary to Greek heroism. Due to his “complicated” (polytropos) nature though his morals are sometimes “heroic” and othertimes not, but this is the nature of people as a whole that there is no perfect hero which contributes to the idea of polytropos, and how it does not inherently contradict the idea of a “hero.”
An interaction I found to be interesting was a conversation between Odysseus and Queen Arete and Echeneus. Odysseus pleads and begs to be shown the way home because he is lost and misses his family dearly. He claims to miss them so badly that it pains him. He is vulnerable and weak and is sitting by the ashes of a fire begging for help. After he begs, Echeneus speaks up and orders a spot for Odysseus at the table and for him to be fed and ultimately requests that Odysseus stay there in his hall. What I found somewhat amusing about this interaction was that, despite Echeneus’ apparent willingness to get Odysseus home as fast as possible, in practice, he is delaying Odysseus with elaborate feasts and an overnight stay. I found this delay to be somewhat ironic considering Echeneus’ commitment to helping Odysseus get home immediately.
Complicated may very well be the best word to describe Odysseus. Throughout these first few books, Odysseus demonstrates remarkable wit and tenacity, but he is also arrogant and deceitful. When, for example, Odysseus encounters Polyphemus, his trick to escape is extraordinary, but his hubris very nearly results in destruction for all of his men. Odysseus cannot be content with knowing that he has fooled Polyphemus; he must also make the cyclops aware of his genius. His shouts to Polyphemus almost result in his ships being smashed to pieces before he and his men can safely flee the island. Odysseus cannot be content with a silent victory, instead craving the recognition of his trick.
I agree, Odysseus is a very complex character. By ancient Greek standards, Odysseus is definitely a hero, as he is known for his courage and resourcefulness in battle. However, he is prone to making mistakes that lead to him and his men to getting into trouble. So as a leader, he is both skilled and flawed, as he is able to inspire his men and lead through difficult situations, but at the same time he makes decisions that are not in the group’s best interest. The opening lines of the poem highlight Odysseus’ character as a man who is capable of making many rash decisions, as the poem beings with, “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns… driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy.”
I really like this because I feel like so far it wasn’t brought up. I do believe that he is technically a hero even tho he may not be seen as one in our current eyes. Yes he does not make the most profound or right decisions but his story is long filled with mistakes. Even when cursed on the island, he did get side tracked but eventually is able to begin his mission again. I think an interesting and more modern perspective but I think because Odysseus’ path was so unclear many humans may be able to relate. I am not excusing or saying he is a good guy especially because he did not treat women correctly, but in the grand scheme of things he is more relatable. Overall he is a hero in Greek standards but from a 21st century we see his flaws much more clearly then they once did.
By ancient standards, I do believe Odysseus can be considered a hero. As a clever strategist and skilled warrior he embodies ideals like courage, leadership, and resourcefulness that were highly valued in ancient Greek times. Odysseus is faced with many challenges that require him to defeat monsters and gods. He is loyal to his homeland and family. Today in modern times I think he would be considered an anti-hero due to his sexist treatment of women and conniving trickery tactics. Odysseus is a complex character that can be looked at in many different lights.
I agree that Odysseus would not be seen as a hero by ancient standards. Not only is Odysseus cunning in his ability to get out of trouble, but he also embodies many of the Greek Hero’s characteristics. Odysseus is not virtuous or ethical and cares about his own pleasures. These characteristics can be seen in Odysseus’ interaction with the kyklops. Instead of leaving and taking the cheese, Odyessus decides to stay, a decision that ends up killing half of his men. Odysseus is selfish in this way by valuing his own wants over what is best for his men. In modern times, Odysseus would not be considered a hero as many of the characteristics of modern-day heroes go directly against the elements of greek heroes. Modern-day heroes are selfless and kind characteristics that Odysseus does not posses.
I find it very interesting your mention of Odysseus as an anti hero which has become a very popular phenomena in modern culture. His tactical skills and strategy do make him somewhat of a hero on a noble quest, however, his morals and ethics make him an anti hero as they are questionable to say the least. While he is not a traditional hero, anti heroes tend to provide a more interesting story as they complicate our notions of good vs bad.
When Odysseus lies, it is for a purpose, like to help himself or to manipulate a situation. The question then arises of why Odysseus is (or might be) lying to the Phaeacians. They are already planning to help him along his way, so he does not need to gain their sympathy. Perhaps Odysseus is simply very full of himself and wants them to think of him as a great man who has braved challenging adventures. Or maybe Odysseus, like any storyteller reciting the epic, understands the delight of a good story. He could be repaying the Phaeacians for their kindness with an entertaining and interesting tale. This also seems to be the general reward for giving kindness and food to strangers: the strangers don’t pay them back, but they do provide interesting stories and useful information about the outside world, like when Athena appears in disguise to Telemachus. Odysseus, then, if he is lying, isn’t lying to advance his own interests as he usually does, but instead to provide a reward for helping him.
I think Odysseus definitely fits the opening lines of the poem. He is complicated precisely because, unlike many other Homeric characters, Odysseus’ characteristics change over time; his ever-changing attitudes to things in reaction to things that happened to him vividly reveal the complexity of his character. Odysseus fits the image of a Greek hero: he is strong, courageous, and ambitious; he craves to win glory and also wishes to complete his “homecoming;” and he has a tragic and stirring journey of life. However, the complexity of Odysseus’ character also reminds us that he is not a perfect person- he has characteristics that are bad and notorious, he has made non-remediable mistakes, etc. I am not saying that these would disqualify him as an ancient hero but it is a recognition of him as a mortal. Per the modern standard, he would probably still be considered a hero since we have this lasting influence from the ancient greek culture. But he would indeed not be considered the only kind of person who is qualified as a hero, since nowadays our views are much more diverse and we have different standards, i.e., we held greater consciousness of who we treat women, class, and such.
An encounter that really surprised me, was the entire interaction between Odysseus and Circe. Having read the Odyssey before, I never picked up on the weirdness of the situation. He comes into Circe’s home, drinks her poison, threatens to hurt her and she asks him to go to bed with her. Out of context, this chain of events is so absurd, but what really caught my eye in this exchange was the language Circe uses to communicate with Odysseus. She calls him “the man who can adapt to anything” and the “master of every challenge.” The way Circe describes him is so different from the other epithets of Odysseus like “the lord of lies” and “the clever mastermind of many schemes.” While the others have a negative almost villainous connotation to them she decides to focus on his resourcefulness as a cunning hero. This leads back to the discussion we had today about how Odysseus’s intelligence is depicted in the story. He does not avoid trouble, instead, he deliberately waits for it and then works his way out of it, perhaps because it is not only more impressive but tests his skills as a hero and upholds his reputation as a man who is polytropos.
I also found this portion of the text to be really interesting. I love how you point out that he purposely puts himself into danger in order to work his way out of it. I found this abundantly clear when he taunted the cyclops on the ship. Despite the pleas of his crew, he put the entire ship in danger as he made his identity known to the cyclops and continued to antagonize the situation. Both of these scenes really highlight Odyssey’s obsession with kleos.
I agree with the point that Alia is making here; in the majority of Odysseus’s adventures on his way back to Ithaca, he is often negatively depicted despite being a “hero”. For example, when he is stuck on Calypso’s island and he breaks his promises to her and has to leave, he is described in a more villainous manner than he is during his interactions with Circe. The contrasting narratives of Odysseus in general contributes to his complex and (in my opinion) realistic and interesting character.
I think ultimately, the Odyssey would be improved if books 9-12 were lies. It fits Odysseus’s character perfectly as the “lord of lies” and gives credibility to that title as his lie was successful (the Phoenicians help him home). All good lies are based in truth, so we are inclined to believe that the broad strokes of what happens in these books, i.e. the locations at the very least, probably are true. It’s also more likely that book 9 is closer to the truth than the rest because telling the truth early in a lie is good for establishing the credibility of the rest of the story. But there is just no way that everything in these books are true, although again, that actually makes Odysseus’s character and the Odyssey as a whole much better.
I think Odysseus’s narrative in chapters 9-12, when he is in the palace of the Phaeacians, is not necessarily a complete lie but at the same time is not the full truth. Because these chapters are told in flashbacks from Odysseus’s point of view I think that he embellishes some details of his journey and tries to paint himself in the best light possible. In that sense, I do think that he tries “explain away” the deaths of his men and avoids taking responsibility for the role that he played in their deaths. The theory that these chapters are lies has implications that carry through the rest of the book because it changes the way the audience views Odysseus and how he is perceived. If the audience had a more accurate portrayal of Odysseus’s journey to the Phaeacians it is possible he would not be perceived as a cunning hero.
Julia, I definitely agree with your comment. It is totally plausible to me that these four books are lies told by Odysseus or at least not complete retellings of the truth. For one, I felt like all of the stories were centered around Odysseus and his heroic actions in getting his men out of sticky situations, and they glossed over Odysseus’ actions taken to get them into trouble in the first place. For example, Odysseus’ men plead him to steal some food from Polyphemus and then leave his cave, but Odysseus makes them stay behind to see the Cyclops which ultimately gets a lot of his men killed. His story, though, is centered around his wit and trickery leading them to escape the predicament. Furthermore, much of the situations he finds himself in are caused by storms and/or winds that are sent down from the Gods. While this is believable, it may just be a way for Odysseus to center his escapes and heroic actions to the Phaeacians. After all, Odysseus is known for his trickery, so this alternative hypothesis could totally be what the poet intended.
The idea that books 9-12 could be a lie would change the Odyssey dramatically. Coming off the Trojan War, he’s kind of a monster. He kills Astyanax, and takes Hecuba as a slave. He’s got a lot of bad karma coming his way, and arguably his struggle to get home serves as a redemption for that. The whole situation with the Cyclops, and the Lotus and Calypso are the trials Odysseus must face, but if they were all stories- then what did happen to Odysseus’s men? Arguably, Odysseus gets off easy even with books 9-12 being real. Odysseus’s men are the ones that get killed by the cyclops, and he still taunts him. Penelope’s having to deal with the terrible suitors at home. Arguably, he escapes the consequences. It seems less like the purpose of books 9-12 are about atonement, and more about showing off Odysseus’s cleverness. And he is pretty smart, but he still has the fatal flaw of hubris.
I think this translation we are reading really steers us away from thinking of Odysseus as a ‘hero.’ I think he is painted as a deeply flawed, human being that ultimately is self-serving. This notion, which is found throughout the text, is most seen in the beginning when it says “complicated man.”
If books 9-12 of the Odyssey were found to be lies, it would mean that the entire story of Odysseus’s journey home from the Trojan War was fundamentally changed. These books are significant parts of the Odyssey and contain some iconic and memorable moments of the story. Odysseus tells the story of his encounter with the Cyclops, and this episode establishes Odysseus’s cunning and intelligence, as well as his ability to outsmart powerful opponents. It also shows his brazen nature and disregard for some of his men’s lives. If this story were found to be a lie, it would fundamentally change the character of Odysseus, and his journey home would become a different tale.
Children of Artemis (Family B): Post your comments here!
One of Odysseus’ most notable characteristics is his deceitfulness. Throughout the story, the reader is reminded of this. In Book 7, Odysseus plans his words carefully as he speaks to Arete and Alcinous. The text describes Odysseus as speaking “With careful calculation” (7.207), “Planning his words with careful skill” (7.240), and “With careful tacts” (7.302). However, the most obvious indicator of Odysseus’ lies is the first line of Book 9, before he recounts his story, “Wily Odysseys, the lord of lies, answered” (9.1). He could be described this way as a juxtaposition to his true story but I think this description of Odysseus is a reminder to the reader that Odysseus is a liar and that his story is just another one of his lies. Odysseus continues to lie in the rest of the story so why would Books 9-12 be true?
I also noted how cunning Odysseus is made out to be. I think one of the main things that leads me to believe books 9-12 are untrue is that glory and making sure he looks goof through these acts of heroism are so important to Odysseus. Him revealing his true name to the Cyclops and then receiving the consequences is another example of his emphasis on pride, even if it means being reckless. Him recounting his adventures in books 9-12 in front of the Phaeacians is not be trusted trusted as he is very aware he has a reputation to create for himself.
Odysseus most definitely proves himself to be a complicated man (polytropos) through his actions during The Odyssey. As Erin noted, Odysseus is a very deceitful man; many of his actions are very calculated and clever. A great example of this is in Book 8, when Odysseus is challenged to a test of athletic prowess in front of the Phaeacians. Odysseus essentially plays down his athletic abilities, claiming to be overwhelmed by grief and suffering; in reality, Odysseus had already “thought carefully–he had a plan” (8.153). When it came time for the competition, the discus throw, Odysseus threw far beyond his competitors and won – this was to the surprise of the crowd. After this competition, I argue it is evident that Odysseus’ actions can also be easily influenced by hubris and emotion as well. Following his win in the discus throw, Odysseus proceeded to make a speech about his athletic prowess, welcoming any challenges and claiming to be angry about the doubt surrounding his abilities. This sense of hubris and emotion exhibited in Odysseus’ speech (8.203-234) could potentially be a fault of Odysseus; if it is taken the wrong way (as disrespectful specifically), then the consequences for Odysseus could be severe. I ultimately argue that Odysseus is a complicated man, as his clever and calculated ways do not always align with his ability to act out of emotion and hubris.
One moment that particularly stuck out to me during these readings was the interaction between Odysseus and Circe. The language used in this episode is particularly compelling, with vivid descriptions of her powers. The imagery of the pigs and the way in which they are described as being “human” in their movements and behavior is both eerie and fascinating. It highlights the extent of Circe’s power and the danger that Odysseus and his crew are in. I think the tension between the characters in this section is what struck me the most.
I agree, this is one of my favorite parts of the Odyssey. I think it’s interesting that with so few female characters, Circe is incredibly powerful. However, Odysseus defeats her even with the extreme power imbalance. I think this is indicative of the Ancient Greek view on gender roles.
Odysseus is seen as a leader who is powerful but has a search for glory. He is intellectual and has a strong sense of authority. He is very clever and thinks quickly on tough situations. This leads into finding out if he is a hero, in the standards of ancient times he would be seen as a hero, as he regains his own feats in the trojan war but is not truly heroic till his journey home. In modern standards he is not a hero, he is very selfish and arrogant causing himself danger. He is very much “a complicated man”, as he is confident in his own authority, he finds this intellect to be against other best interest. In book 9, he sails his man through the land of the Cyclops and Odysseus’s men end up paying the price for his actions. As Odysseus is a liar and his actions are within his best interest which often is done my manipulating others.
Odysseus is clearly a deceitful man, to the point where the validity of his entire account of his journey may be justifiably called into question. However, this only supports his characterization of a “man of many turns.” His deceit lends credence to the idea that he is a complicated person, and it is entirely possible that that much-discussed description of him could have been written with the knowledge that Odysseus’s story was nothing more than some good storytelling marketed as truth. His “complication” very well could be his lies and manipulative tendencies.
Odysseus isn’t necessarily a bad guy for his actions. Although he is a smart but selfish person. He is known for someone who gets in trouble and uses his ways to get out of trouble even though he caused it. He knows how to speak to people in a way that in the end it couldn’t have possibly been his fault. He is definitely not a hero in today’s time for his actions of blaming and causing problems but in ancient times he is one. Simply due to the fact that fought in the war and made it back home while the rest of them died. He is a good leader for leading his men and being confident but not a good leader for being careless with their lives. Odysseus is the perfect man to described as a man of many turns. You never know which side of him you’ll get and what those actions will lead to and if he’ll change to a different side of him. He changes solely based on the fact that he wanted glory and is also powerful. You can see through out the books which side of him comes out from his actions like boasting to the Cyclops about who he is specifically but then also having power of his men by telling them what to do.
Similarly, it seems that Odysseus is a good leader when it comes to navigating situations at hand, but I would not consider him a good leader in a holistic sense. As Fatoumata mentioned, Odysseus is confident in how he leads his men. He is also remarkably decisive. When in danger, Odysseus takes charge, communicates clearly, and springs quickly into action to protect himself and his men. For instance, in Book 10, Odysseus insists that he has to face Circe when none of his men come back.
“Hurry, we must escape with these men here! We have a chance to save our lives!” Odysseus responded, “I said, ‘You can stay here beside the ship and eat and drink. But I will go. I must do this.” (Book 10, 268-272).
However, like Fatoumata points out, he is careless with people’s lives like when he calls out to the Cyclops in Book 9 after he blinded him putting not only his life at risk, but also all of his men. To me, the most important quality of a leader is the ability (and desire) to put the good of the team before themselves; to lead on behalf of something bigger than oneself. It seems that Odysseus acts mostly to benefit himself like going into danger not because he cares so much about the men but because he wants to emerge a hero.
I think it is possible that Odysseus’ narrative in books 9-12 are lies. We have about as much evidence to say they are true as we do to say they are lies. It would even make sense if they were lies because one motive he would have to lie is to impress the Phaeacians. The stories he tells are about his encounters and failures of xenia, specifically with non-human and non-civilized societies. This could influence the Phaeacians to treat him well and help him home in order to preserve their own reputation. They would want themselves to be perceived as a civilized society who uphold xenia. Odysseus knows the Phaeacians want to be remembered this way and his stories make it clear that if they don’t help him then they are amongst the “uncivilized” he previously encountered. Odysseus is smart, so I find it very plausible he is manipulating or straight up lying to get what he wants.
I agree. Odysseus is more than likely attempting to lie his way out of a tough situation as he is known to do. I’m beginning to think that a “man of many turns” really just means manipulative opportunist. This is also the only part of the Odyssey that features mythical creatures that wouldn’t be a part of regular religious life for the Greeks. The rest of the epic is (slightly) more realistic. It makes sense that he would make up an epic journey to portray himself as an underdog sort of hero, as he is a pretty kleos-driven character.
I found Odysseus’ description of the stabbing of the Cyclops’ eye to be particularly disturbing. Rather than just saying that he and his crew stabbed the Cyclops in the eye and blinded him (which would have gotten the point across), Odysseus describes the scene in vivid detail. Odysseus says, “His blood poured out around the stake, and blazing fire sizzled his lids and brows, and fried the roots. As when a blacksmith dips an axe or adze to temper it in ice-cold water; loudly it shrieks. So did his eyeball crackle on the spear (Wilson, 9.388-394). The word Professor Farmer used to describe this scene was “visceral”: Odysseus’ description inspired a visceral reaction of deep disturbance. I think words like “sizzle,” shrieks,” and “crackle”—words describing sounds—made the scene especially disturbing.
You make a particularly good point about the level of detail here; why go so in depth? I believe there are two primary reasons. First, Odysseus really wants to sell the point that he is on a dangerous voyage. He is away from home, combating dangerous beasts, and this is what he’s been reduced to doing to stay alive. It actually contributes to the interpretation that books 9-12 are made up stories, as he is going into such depth in order to sell his point. The second reason is to raise his own virtue/lasting fame (kleos) by relating himself to other renowned heroes who have also defeated monsters. He wants his listeners to know that he is on their level too, rather than being the deceptive trickster that he seems to be known as otherwise.
What I find interesting about Odysseus is that his actions do not coincide with his stated intentions- he repeatedly expresses how he just wants to go home, but he really operates solely with the goal of inflating his Kleos. He’ll say he just wants to go home, but engage with every monster and distraction that comes his way. He may miss his home, evidenced by his constant weeping, but he is willing to risk his lives of himself and his crew and extending their return time for the sake of creating great stories with himself at the center. I think he is aware that he, or others, will one day be telling his story when he chooses the most dangerous, exciting path every time.
Great point! I think this is part of what makes him complicated. Odysseus does a lot of bad, or at the very least questionable things during Troy and then on his journey home, often in the name of Kleos. Yet, at the same time he appears to have the more wholesome motivation of wanting to get back to his beloved home and family. This duality between his actions and the reasoning behind it is one aspect that makes him so complicated.
I really like this point because I feel like Odysseus is an inherently selfish character. I think that a driving factor in all his decisions relate to his want for glory and praise. I think that this selfishness makes him a very poor leader. While he claims he is the protecter and fierce leader of his men, the fact that he ends his journey without any of them surviving points directly to his self-centeredness. I think that this aspect of Odysseus is actually very uncomplicated. To me, while Odysseus is a clever and clearly very successful hero, his character is ultimately defined by his selfishness and his decision making is driven by this uncomplicated aspect of his identity.
Odysseus lives up to the first lines of the poem, he is certainly a complicated man. He is both a war hero, while also being a comically bad leader. He’s incredibly selfish, but also worries about his wife and son. The best way I could describe him is an an Anti-hero, he has some heroic qualities. He has a noble goal, to get home to his family but he has some fatal flaws such as selfishness and a need for recognition (Polyphemus) that prevent him from being a “real’ hero. It also depends on who’s perspective the story is being told by, to his crew he isn’t a hero he let them all die. To Polyphemus, he isn’t a hero, he drilled his eye out. To the Trojans, he’s a monster who concocted the plans to destroy their city. It’s really all a matter of perspective, and because we only get Odysseus’s perspective we see him at his best (which is honestly not very good).
Odysseus is portrayed as a complex and multifaceted character, who is both a hero and a flawed human being. On one hand, he possesses extraordinary physical and mental abilities that enable him to overcome obstacles and challenges on his journey home from the Trojan War. He is a skilled warrior, a cunning strategist, and a persuasive speaker, who uses his intelligence and wit to outsmart his enemies and win the favor of his allies.
But on the other hand, he is also depicted as a flawed and imperfect human being, who is prone to deceit, and self-interest. Odysseus often puts his own needs and desires ahead of those of his crew and his family, and he is not always honest or straightforward in his dealings with others. In addition, his constant need for adventure and excitement often leads him into dangerous and unpredictable situations, which puts himself and others at risk.
Despite these flaws, Odysseus is ultimately portrayed as a hero, both by ancient and modern standards. He embodies many of the qualities that are typically associated with heroism, such as bravery, resourcefulness, determination, and self-sacrifice. He is also a good leader who is admired by his crew for his courage, wisdom, and fairness. In fulfilling the poem’s claim in its opening line that he will be polytropos, “a complicated man” or “a man of many turns,” Odysseus demonstrates his complexity as a character. He is not a one-dimensional hero or a simple archetype, but rather a nuanced and complex human being, who is capable of both great virtues and great vices.
The poem claims that Odysseus is a complicated man, and this is true. He is complicated because he is a flawed man trying to fit into a heroic mold. Odysseus is neither a good person nor a good leader. He is the type of person who always puts himself first or allows his arrogance to get the best of him at the expense of others. I believe that both ancient and modern standards do not view Odysseus as a hero. He is an arrogant man with luck and divine intervention who is sometimes able to appear heroic. Many of his so-called ‘heroic’ moments are heavily influenced by the gods. Although he has the willingness to face danger like many heroes, his motives make him unheroic. Instead of wanting to face danger to save his men, he often runs into danger because of his pride and stubbornness. We witnessed his unheroic behavior in the Polyphemus escape scene. Rather than prioritizing the safe escape of himself and his men, he chose to further antagonize the giant, putting his men in danger.
Children of Cerberus (Family C): Post your comments here!
I feel that Odysseus is considered a hero but might be on the path of what we today would know as an anti-hero. He demonstrates that he is courageous, loyal, and smart all values of the greek society, however his decision making and his actions don’t always add up to what we would consider a modern hero. He is ruthless in order to reach any goal he desires.
I agree with this point. I think that Odysseus has all the makings of what would be a hero, however, some of his actions cause him to stray from this title. He often acts selfishly and rashly causing potential harm to others. His arrogance is seen through his encounter with the Polyphemus and Scylla. By ancient standards I think Odysseus would be considered a hero, but his selfishness and arrogance eliminates this title in a modern perspective.
I agree with both the comments made above about how even though odysseus appears to be a hero, his selfish actions make him a flawed “hero”. Odysseus’s action are heroic, however, his decisions are often driven by revenger and anger. For example, during both the scenes where odysseus fights the Cyclops and fights Scylla, Odysseus acts very selfishly and has no regard for his crew and their lives.
Odysseus’ encounter with the Cyclops makes it evident that although he may be courageous and heroic on the battlefield, he is a flawed hero . He often allows himself to be driven by revenge and endangers his crew through rash decisions. For example, after Odysseus and his men blind the Cyclops, Odysseus insists on taunting the Cyclops for nothing more than personal enjoyment, with little regards for his crew. The text says, “My crew begged me to stop, and pleaded with me”, but Odysseus did not listen and allowed his own selfish motives to fuel his actions. Odysseus eventually even told the Cyclops his real name, an act of arrogance that resulted in him and his men being cursed by Poseidon. Although Odysseus may be a strong and courageous hero, he fails his men as a leader by acting rashly and putting them in dangerous situations for no other reason than to satisfy his own pride.
One of the encounters I read that thoroughly disturbed me was the encounter between Odysseus’s ship and the monster Scylla. The fact that going into it he was just resigned to the fact that this monster was going to consume his men no matter what, really shook me. I felt like he did not really try to fight back, or even sacrifice himself as captain to save the lives of some of his men. The language describing Scylla with many heads and necks and as some grotesque, disgusting, merciless monster who swiftly ate crew members truly shook me and painted a horrific mental picture. She is the monster that has struck me the most in learning about Greek myth and I really want to research more about her.
This scene disturbed me as well which is what led me to question Odysseus as a leader. By Greek standards, Odysseus may be a little bit of an exception, however he still demonstrates that he has many of the same values and morals as most Greek heroes. He is smart and has proven himself in battle, however, during his interaction with Polyphemus he shows us that there is still a part of himself that wants to be recognized for his glory. Additionally he has shown that he has no issue sacrificing the lives of others.
I find this encounter to be a defining moment in determining what type of hero Odysseus is. Before him and his men set sail, Odysseus learns of the horrors they’ll find along the way and thinks “I did not mention Scylla, since she meant inevitable death, and if they knew, the men would drop the oars and go and huddle down in the hold in fear. Then I ignored Circe’s advice that I should not bear arms; it was too hard for me,” (13.223 – 228). In this instance, he refuses his men the right to know what they’re getting themselves into and rejects the well-meaning advice of Circe. These actions reveal his selfishness and his belief that he knows what’s best for everyone. Then, as his men are slayed by Scylla, Odysseus watches and thinks “That was the most heartrending sight I saw in all the time I suffered on the sea,” (13.256 – 259) showing his regret and grief. These thoughts and actions demonstrate his embodiment of being ‘polytropos’ and shows how much the encounter with Scylla shaped his character.
Odysseus embodies Wilson’s chosen characterization of “complicated.” In Odysseus’ own version of his story, he is violent, charming, prideful, forceful, clever, coy, brave, and more, all roughly at the same time. While these traits certainly make Odysseus an ancient hero, I don’t think he can be a modern hero. He’s too unlikable in this modern age, I think.
In my opinion, I think Odysseus is a weak leader by modern standards, but the Greeks viewed him as a strong leader. His personal desire to have glory and fame often clouded Odysseus’ judgement as a leader and would often place his men in danger because of this. However, his poor leadership and judgement does not matter to the Greeks and their view on his ability to be an epic leader. The traits of a typical epic hero are strength, loyalty, courage, and intelligence. He is admired for his courage and cunningness by the Greeks, but in my opinion, that is not accounting for his arrogance that tends to get him into dilemnas where he displays such epic leader characteristics.
I believe that Odysseus may be embellishing or using hyperbole to recount his journey; however, I don’t interpret the entirety of books 9-12 to be a lie that Odysseus tells to explain away the deaths of his men. When Odysseus and his men are stuck in Polyphemus’ cave, he tries to save them and is the mastermind behind the plan that ultimately results in the rest surviving. Odysseus is the last man to leave the cave and ensures that the remaining men are able to flee. He genuinely seems distraught whenever one of his men dies and this allows him to be characterized as more humanized and genuine. Even though there are aspects of his character that are flawed, he seems quite moved by not being able to see his family and intent to guide him and his crew back home safely. The Odyssey as an entire text is a mythological tale, so perhaps books 9-12 are simply just another portion of the crafted narrative.
One particular instance in The Odyssey that caught my attention while doing the readings this week, was in Chapter 10, when Odysseus and the remaining soldiers stop at Circe’s house. I thought the interaction with Circe was a bit strange–she tricks them into stepping into her home, drugs them with a concoction, and then turns them into pigs, all with seemingly no good reason. It seems as though many of the goddesses in this story are depicted in as acting in a strange or erratic way, suddenly changing their minds and behaviors at certain points. It seems like the goddesses are often depicted as acting frivolously, unkindly, and at many times act out of jealously or possessiveness, wanting to destroy or do harm to men in some way. Their behavior almost seems unpredictable and erratic–they switch their viewpoints on decisions seemingly suddenly, swinging between being destructive and wanting to do harm, to then suddenly being nurturing and caring, based on a few actions or words exchanged between them and Odysseus. For example, Circe at one moment seen turning men into pigs by tricking them, and then, after speaking with Odysseus, bathing them in oil and dressing them, suddenly willing to prepare them for their journey and go out of her way to protect them. The same is true of the goddess Calypso, who, after holding him captive for several years, decides finally and seemingly suddenly, to let Odysseus go.
I think that by ancient standards, Odysseus is considered a hero. He is braved, skilled in combat, and uses his masterful wit to elude danger. However, we see some moments of shortsightedness from him, such as when he has an opportunity to return to his ships with the cheese. He declines this opportunity in favor of seeing the cyclops, which costs him over half his men in the end. I think that in the ancient setting of the poem, it is easier for the reader to forgive Odysseus for these misjudgments, given that the Odyssey is a work of fiction. If he were to be judged by modern standards of heroism, I believe he would fall short. Modern leaders are lauded for their selflessness and humanitarian contributions; in this episode with the cyclops, we see Odysseus sacrifice the lives of his men to fulfill a personal desire of seeing the cyclops, which can hardly be considered selfless.
Weirdly enough, I really liked when Polyphemus said that he didn’t recognize Odysseus because he was expecting a handsome man. I like that Odysseus is unlike our modern conception of a hero. He certainly has flaws and I personally do not think he is a good leader, considering his lack of regard and responsibility for his men. However, I don’t think this makes him an anti-hero, just a person. He cries a lot, which is human. He isn’t the most handsome or the best fighter, which is also human. I think our modern conception of a hero would be similar to a super hero, played by attractive actors/actresses, having superhuman abilities, and definite morals. Odysseus is humanized in the way his morals work. He wants to protect his men, but he’s just bad at it, and that is so incredibly human. When the cyclops says that Odysseus isn’t handsome, it all just clicked. He is deeply flawed, and probably shouldn’t be considered a hero, but there’s some kind of charm in that. If the liar and trickster and bad leader Odysseus can make a name for himself, can’t I?
I would think that Odysseus is probably an ancient hero- who don’t have to be good, but have to do tremendous things. I doubt many people would look up to Odysseus for what he is done, or consider him morally perfect, so I would not think he could be considered the traditional modern hero.
On another, but related note. I wonder what audiences made of the conflicting stories of our twisting man. Maybe not conflicting factually, but definitely in terms of how Odysesus is portrayed. It was mentioned by Professor Farmer that in Tragedy Odysseus is a clear villian. How did readers (or how do readers) balance these two interpretations of Odysseus? Were there generally “well-liked” ancient heroes, and others that were hated?
I think Odysseus is the type of person that has to do what he has to do for him and his people to survive. If that means that he has to lie to others to get back home, then I think he would do it. If most of the book is a lie, then it depends on how we as readers want to interpret Oddysseus’s actions and words. Is he lying because he needs a way to get home after everything that he’s been through, or because he’s not a good person and wants to be selfish and still find a way home? I think because of this he is considered a complicated man. Because he has to do things that may be considered morally questionable, but he does them for a morally good reason (if that makes sense)
I agree with these posts. In an ancient Greek context, Odysseus is a classic example of a hero. Capable of god-like intelligence, strength and stamina. His journey is harrowing and he faces several challenges and ethical questions. Additionally, I think that his dynamic with the gods further characterizes him as a Greek hero. However, in the modern context, heroes tend to have a more set moral code and often have to choose the “right” thing to do, which is not something Odysseus does. Also, many modern heroes depend on their friends or mentors for support throughout their journey (as in Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Superheroes, etc.). Odysseus sacrifices his crew and cannot depend on anyone else, therefore separating him from modern day heroes.
I think if books 9-12 of the Odyssey, in which Odysseus recalls the evaporation of his crewmates an allies, were lies it would make the whole scenario even more depressing. On one hand, he could be lying because he cannot face the fate of the loss of his men and is perhaps repressing it using a veneer of mythology and fantastical elements to process it better. Or it could be that he is responsible for their annihilation and seeks to shine himself in a better light by creating these stories. If it was the latter option, then it is less than successful, as my classmates have pointed out. I believe these could be reasons for him to lie about his travels. For all we know he was stuck on a deserted island for 10 years.
I think, were we to see books 9-12 as a lie, our idea of Odysseus as a hero would be further complicated and muddled, making even more relevant his description as a man of “many twists and turns.” The very idea that we do not know whether Odysseus’s stories are true reveals a potential for a mythology embedded within the mythology, suggesting the fundamental uncertainty of every story within the Odyssey and in general.
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By ancient standards, Odysseus is certainly a hero. He is a skilled warrior who fights bravely in battle and is honored by the gods. However, I don’t think I would consider him a hero by modern standards. Odysseus is a good leader in that he uses his intelligence and wit to outsmart his enemies and navigate his way through difficult situations. However, he is a bad leader in that he is prideful he expects his subordinates to obey his commands without question.
I agree with Ellie in her analysis of Odysseus. Furthermore, a key virtue of modern heroes is their selflessness, which Odysseus rarely (if at all) demonstrates. When escaping from the cyclops Polyphemus, he deliberately shares his real name, causing both immediate and future harm to the entirety of his crew. Despite their protests, he continues to place his reputation over their livelihood and wellbeing.
I agree with Ellie that although Odysseus would be considered a hero by ancient Greek standards, he wouldn’t necessarily be considered one by modern standards. We see in book 9 of the Odyssey that after escaping Polyphemus, Odysseus risks his crew’s safety because of his ego and continues shouting at Polyphemus while ignoring the advice of his crew. Even though he is clever and a great warrior, his ego drives him to make decisions that put himself and others at risk which makes him less heroic by modern standards.
I agree with Ellie! Although Odysseus appears to be a hero in some aspects, I don’t think he would be considered a “modern” hero or a hero by “modern standards.” I think that being a hero is more than just simply intelligent, fighting for victory, and being honored by the gods. In modern standards, a hero would be selfless and care for his subordinates/the people who fight with him. Since he seems to be a terrible leader in the sense that he doesn’t care for his people and is selfish.
I definitely agree with this perspective. For Greek heroes, there’s no distinction that requires the “hero” to be a good person. Odysseus meets the standards of a Greek hero because he achieves glory in battle. In the modern day standards for heroes, however, there’s an expectation of selflessness that Odysseus simply does not have. He can never seem to leave his ego or pride at the door and his goals all seem to be oriented around self-interest which is not especially in tune with the values of a modern day hero.
I definitely agree with this perspective. For Greek heroes, there’s no distinction that requires the “hero” to be a good person. Odysseus meets the standards of a Greek hero because he achieves glory in battle. In the modern day standards for heroes, however, there’s an expectation of selflessness that Odysseus simply does not have. He can never seem to leave his ego or pride at the door and his goals all seem to be oriented around self-interest which is not especially in tune with the values of a modern day hero. In terms of his abilities as a leader, Odysseus has all the qualities that could make him a good leader, but again his self-interest gets the best of him. Time and time again he puts his crew at risk just to fulfill some sense of pride.
I would say that by Ancient standards Odysseus is a hero. He is very unique to me because he is known for his wit, and yet when he runs into trouble it is oftentimes due to assistance from Athena that he survives. This is even more proof that he is a hero by ancient standards, because receiving help and favor from the gods is definitely part of the criteria. By modern standards I think he is definitely not a hero and really leaves a path of destruction in his wake.
I definitely agree with your point here. I especially agree with the fact that Odysseus receiving help from the gods differentiates him from a modern hero. This also alludes to the idea that maybe without some of this help he wouldn’t be distinguished as a hero as much as he is considered to be by ancient standards. Regardless, Odysseus has a lot of character flaws, noted by both Ellie and Keira, that do not make him a modern hero.
I agree with what Keira is saying as well. I think that Odysseus is in his own way a hero as he performs many tasks that take great skill and wit. On the other hand, he receives a lot of help from the god’s, which almost takes away from this amount of skill he had. In ancient times, he is definitely considered a hero, but by modern standards, I do not think he is one. He oftentimes would put his own men in danger and deceitful to those who were helping him, which is a selfish trait that I think does not make him a hero.
I agree with both that Odysseus would be considered a hero by ancient standards but not by modern standards. I do think however that the argument could be made that Odysseus is not entirely a hero by ancient standards because there are times where his decisions are questionable and I ultimately felt like Odysseus’s flaws made him a bit of a tragic character despite all of his other heroic characteristics. I do not really think that Odysseus can be called a good leader because he put his group in danger and did not always act in the best interests of the entire group.
I feel like Odysseus fits the mold of an ancient hero, but I also feel like he partially fits the mold of a modern day hero walking a tight rope between hero and antihero. An example of this character is Loki. Additionally, I feel like some characters in The Avengers are selfish and have similar traits including leaving paths of destruction wherever they go, yet we still consider them heroes.
An encounter that stood out to me from this week’s reading was the appearance of the blind bard Demodocus. His relatively long introduction stood out to me because not many others of King Alcinous’ court were described in such detail. Further, the fact that the Muse “took his sight away, but gave sweet song” (8.64) felt important to the overall themes of the Odyssey. For while Demodocus has never seen the world of the great battles or heroes he sings about, he is the one with the power to give them kleos and fame. To me this reveals how kleos might ultimately be less about fact and more about myth. That is, the story (much like the stories Odysseus tells about himself in this epic) is what creates honor, rather than the actual deed itself. If this is the case, then what does this mean for Odysseus? Is he really a hero, or is he merely the story of a hero?
An encounter from the Odyssey that was particularly unsettling was when Odysseus and his men enter the cave where the cyclops lives. The author describes the interaction between the crew and Odysseus: “Let us grab some cheese and quickly drive the kids and lambs out of their pens and down to our swift ships, and sail away across the salty water!’ That would have been the better choice. But I refused. I hoped to see him, and find out if he would give us gifts. In fact he brought no joy to my companions” (Wilson, 9.223). I found this upsetting because the crew members want to take supplies to the boat and leave before the cyclops arrives. However, Odysseus refuses his crew’s request because he wants to know whether the cyclops lives like a human and obeys the laws of hospitality (giving the guests a gift). Odysseus is risking the lives of his crew members just so that he can see the giant cyclops with his own eyes. Odysseus does not try to avoid trouble but instead uses his strength and cunning to escape it when it arises. This makes me think that Odysseus is not a true modern hero because he risked the lives of his crew members, some of whom died, to see the cyclops.
Odysseus’ actions in this episode is indeed very controversial… I’m still hesitant about his motive for seeing the cyclops. One could argue that he is testing the xenia of cyclops, which is actually in accordance with the gods’ will as they desire to be honored(?). But just as we discussed in class, hospitality requires the mutual respect betwen the guest and the host. And Odysseus doesn’t seem to exhibit any respect for Polyphemus’ habits, thus failing in his own definition of xenia. A kind of similiar situation took place in the play Alcestis as well, when Heracles makes himself home in Admetus’ place, not knowing that Admetus has just lost his wife. After Heracles learns about what he is going through, he immediately tries to apologize for his actions by bringing Admetus’ wife Alcestis back to life. Based on the plot, I think the respect for the host is evident and reasonable for the audience then. Thus Odysseus’ treatment of Polyphemus could be viewed as even more improper.
I found this interaction really surprising as well. You would have anticipated that Odysseus would have wanted to keep his crew out of trouble, yet selfishly puts the rest of his crew in harms way to see the cyclops. His ability to escape the dangerous situation with everyone does show his heroic quality to lead and save, however at what cost? The only reason they were put in a situation that required these acts was out of Odysseus’ selfish need to see the cyclops and lack of awareness for his crew’s safety. This does make me question his portrayal as a hero even in ancient times for situations such as the one you brought up.
I agree with Sam. Odysseus risks the lives of his army out of pure curiosity and instead of executing a smart battle strategy to minimize the death/injury toll he is self-minded and charges ahead with his foolish plan. Although, he tends to be successful at getting himself (and most of his army) out of trouble the unnecessary risks he takes don’t make him a hero. Does winning an unnecessary battle/fight make you a hero? Or does it just make you stupid and lucky? Will a hero every be blamed for putting people in a bad situation if they get everyone out of it?
Odysseus is a hero, he is brave, honorable, and a leader but he can also not be called a hero because of some of his actions like being responsible for the deaths of many of his men during his journey home and being deceitful. He is stubborn which leads him to make decisions that are not always in the best interest of his men. He is, indeed, as the poem describes him; a complicated person.
When I first realized that we are meant to wonder if all of Odysseus’s supernatural encounters are lies, I was really confused about why the narrator would do this. Escaping the cyclops, Circe, and the lotus-eaters are some of the things we associate most with Odysseus, causing us to see him as this selflessly brave, supremely intelligent, special hero. Why wouldn’t the storyteller want their story to be about this person? Then, I realized two things. The first is more practical: in stories like Trojan Women and The Iliad, while Odysseus is smart, he’s not a good guy; he kills and enslaves people. Why would Odysseus randomly become a hero when all along he’s only had his own best interests at heart? An Odysseus who makes up these stories to boost his own reputation is much more consistent with how his character is portrayed in basically any story that isn’t centered around him. Another reason the storyteller might want us to think that these tales are false is because, while this makes Odysseus less “special,” it, counterintuitively, makes the story more exciting for the listener. This is because they can relate more to Odysseus now. Probably none of the listeners have ever faced down a cyclops, but most of them probably have felt homesickness, and love for their family. Most of them have probably missed someone or some place so much that they’d be perfectly willing to fib a little to be there or with the person. The listener would probably pay attention to an exciting story about a unique hero fighting a monster, but by making it seem like Odysseus is lying because he wants to go home so badly, the listener is paying twice as much attention because, in addition to the excitement, they can connect to him through empathy as well. This way, it’s not about Odysseus doing what he is forced to endure to make it home, it’s about his desperation as he chooses whatever will bring him home the quickest, so anxious to be there that he doesn’t care if he has to lie.
I found the episode where Odysseus defeats Circe to be intriguing. I liked the initial character of Circe because it was so different from typical depictions of women in greek mythology, a sorceress who tricks men and turns them into animals, however, it was a jarring change to see her suddenly seemingly in love with Odysseus and willing to host him and his crew for an entire year. At times some of the women Odysseus encounter seem to help advance the plot rather than be fully developed characters with motive. This story could be a lesson about excess, with people being turned into pigs and the extended time that the crew spent on the island being served. This explanation still does not seem to explain the motives behind Circe’s decisions in the story and her kindness and hospitality towards Odysseus.
It’s interesting to consider the possibility that Odysseus’ story is a lie. Within the story, it makes sense because it makes Odysseus both seem like a clever warrior who bested powerful supernatural forces who refused to be hospitable to him, thus ensuring or at least encouraging his current hosts to treat him well. Outside of the story, or between the story teller recounting the Odyssey and the audience, it makes sense because it makes the audience, common Greek folk, to relate to him. The reason Odysseus may be lying is to cover up the real reason his men died. I see this less as a cover-up for his mistakes, but instead a coping mechanism to avoid trauma. He does not want to accurately recount the ways he failed his men and couldn’t stop their deaths. The audience, particularly Greek men who may have seen battle, can relate to this kind of trauma and sympathize with the hero of the story.
In the context of ancient Greek storytelling, it is evident that Odysseus is certainly a hero. He is a man who defeats monsters, is strong, is wily, and is a hero of war. Though, he is no leader. He is self centered and focused on self victory. He is haughty, arrogant, merciless, and this example that he sets allows for the same behavior in his men, leading to their deaths. It is perhaps only divine intervention that saves Odysseus from an untimely fate, yet he is cursed by the memory of his failures. In our eyes, he is not a hero, he is a selfish man who seeks only glory and some sense of toxic masculinity. Perhaps this is why he is viewed as such a cruel man in other Greek stories. Though, he does live up to his name as a man of many turns with his unpredictable and erratic thinking, constantly acting with little thought for the repercussions of his actions, while still believing he deserves mercy himself.
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The section From the Goddess to the Storm detailing their encounter with Calypso is an emotionally compelling chapter. It is an emotional struggle between happy and sad as Odysseus is stuck on the island for seven years and is unable to return home to his family, but is eventually allowed to leave. The language is particularly noteworthy as Homer uses vivid imagery to describe the beauty of Calypso and the island of Ogygia. One example of such language is, “A ripe and luscious vine, hung thick with grapes, was stretched to coil around her cave. Four springs spurted with sparkling water as they laced with crisscross currents intertwined together. The meadow softly bloomed with celeryand violets. He gazed around in wonder and joy, at sights to please even a god” (line 70).
I agree with what is said above and also found this chapter to be extremely compelling. One aspect which I would like to focus on which I think is highlighted through this chapter is a moment of more classical Heroism shown by Odysseus’ long journey and many struggles on the Island. I think this scene serves a special purpose in that it gives us a moment to empathize with Odysseus and view him in a better light. Through his struggles we come to learn much about himself and therefore are able to make him a more likable hero.
One moment in these books that I always return to is the blink and you’ll miss it description of Polyphemus taking care of his flock whilst Odysseus and his crew are huddled inside the cave. It’s such a short little passage in the Wilson, but the care Polyphemus takes with his flock really humanizes him for me (metaphorically of course). I always find myself drawn to the bits of epic narratives that may have resonated with the sort of average Joe of the Greek world and I think audiences hearing a traveling bard sing these books would find comfort and familiarity in hearing about this mythical shepherd figure milking his ewes and she goats as well as guiding the lambs to feed besides their mothers and leaving the rams and he goats outside. Of course an everyday Greek shepherd wouldn’t have the superhuman strength to use a massive rock to separate his flock, but i personally like to believe that asides from that this would be a sweet moment in the poem, grounded in pastoral realism.
I think this is an interesting detail to point out in the question of whether or not Odysseus is lying here. If he is lying, why would he include this little moment to, as you said, “humanize” the cyclops? However, it’s not really necessary for him to include it if he is telling the truth. It creates a space where the audience of his story could interpret what he did to the cyclops as unnecessarily violent and brutal. He eventually describes the cyclops as a violent, man-eating monster, but that is only after he has established him as a peaceful shepherd. If this whole story is a lie to explain the death of his crew, he may have inadvertently invented a story that paints him as the monster. He and his crew invade this shepherd’s home and then he murders him. While it is a plausible explanation for the crew’s deaths, it does not give him the image of a good leader. Maybe this line proves that this story is true–why would you humanize the villain in your story, unless you were specifically trying to remember every detail?
One of the scenes that really struck me was Odysseus’ encounter with the cyclops, specifically Odysseus tricking him. I’ve heard this story before and my takeaway from hearing it out loud is usually just about the clever word play. Reading this interaction and actually being able to visualize it on the page did something completely different to me. First of all, I’ve always heard this story told with the name “Nobody” instead of “Noman,” so I assume that was a difference in this translation. I found it funnier to read it in this language and format, and it felt more relevant to the story this time.
Similar to Zoe, I was also intrigued by the scene where Odysseus encounters the cyclops as it reveals the type of person and character that Odysseus is. Odysseus was known as a hero, so it comes to no surprise that he chose to stick around in hopes to find the Kyklopes (cyclops). Although he is known as a hero, Odysseus isn’t afraid to show and tell you that, like any man, he gets scared often too. This is apparent the first time we meet Odysseus and he is on the ground crying.
With that said, in this seen Odysseus embodied confidence, leadership, and boldness like any great leader or hero. When in the cyclops’ cave, Odysseus was the last to exit the cave and was able to do so by strapping himself underneath a ram to prevent the cyclops from noticing him. Odysseus also ensured that all of his fellow Greek warriors were able to escape in a similar fashion. By having the courage to enter the cyclops’ cave and then the wit to get himself and the other greek warriors out safely makes Odysseus a hero in my eyes.
I found it rather interesting in book 8 that after Odysseus is challenged to compete in the athletic games that he initially responds with “Laodamas, why mock me with this challenge?” (line 154, page 225, book 8) and how he is not in the mood to compete in the athletics to then some lines later say “Try to match this! If you can do it, I will throw another, as far or farther.” (lines 202-204, page 227, book 8). Where I found the sudden shift in emotional tone and towards arrogance to quite jarring after reading much about Odysseus lamenting over his troubles in trying to get back home.
Odysseus’s interaction with Polyphemus was the most interesting to me, especially towards the end when Odysseus reveals his true identity to the Cyclops. I was surprised that he did this because just moments ago he used the name of Nobody as a clever trick to escape from Polyphemus, and now he was making himself vulnerable by calling out his name. Odysseus’s hubris hinders his ability to see how Polyphemus can use his identity to cause him harm, which Polyphemus successfully does when he asks Poseidon to see to it that he never gets home.
Assuming the stories he tells are true, it is possible to argue that Odysseus is a hero and leader by both ancient and modern standards. He, for the most part, takes care of his men, even returning to Cierce’s island to bury Elpenor; is brave in the face of danger; and, embarks on dangerous quests in an attempt to return home to his wife–this is despite multiple offers by various groups to stay with them in peace, such as Cierce and Calypso. His leadership skills are the most unquestionable part about Odysseus as he does an excellent job respecting his men’s will and needs, while also doing his best to lead them home. However, his character is often called into question as a result of his actions, causing some uncertainty in his classification as a hero. Odysseus kills a cyclops in cold blood, fails to tell his men that Scylla might kill them, and loses the rest of his men to the Laestrygonians, among other transgressions. So, while Odysseus fulfills many of the classical hero qualifications, he is not a perfect “hero.” He leaves some doubt in one’s mind that maybe this powerful, mythological leader is not all he is made out to be.
I personally feel that Odysseus is not hero by modern standards and even his status as an ancient hero is questionable. Even in his own narrative, which may all be lies, he makes questionable decisions such as deciding to stay in Polyphemus’ cave or yelling at Polyphemus after blinding him in order to achieve glory, which endangers all of his men. Grant’s comment mentions also some of Odysseus’ transgressions. To me, what separates Odysseus from a modern hero is his throw away comment: “A blast of wind pushed me off course towards the Cicones in Ismarus. I sacked the town and killed the men. We took their wives and shared their riches” (Book 9, lines 40-43). This casual mention of meaningless violence puts Odysseus’ morality in question. While he is more of an ancient hero, Odysseus loses his entire crew, often lies to get support, and doesn’t always obey the rules of Xenia, which may also put that status into question.
I think Grant brings up several great points, but I do disagree with one statement: that Odysseus’ leadership skills are unquestionable and that he does an excellent job respecting the will and needs of his men while doing his best to lead them home. I disagree quite strongly. In terms of Odysseus’s skills in strategy and leadership during the Trojan war, he and his methods were rather successful. After the war, however, when placed in a situation where Odysseus does not have the support of allies and more control/agency of his surroundings, we see Odysseus & his methods fail and backfire quite spectacularly. We see time and time again, by Odysseus’s own account, of how he ignores his men and their desires, puts his own wants and desires over their needs and their safety (and even their lives, on multiple occasions), and ultimately causes them to lose so much faith in him that they eventually mutiny and eat the sun god’s herd. To lose your men again and again due to your own actions, self-serving curiosity, sacrificing your men not to save the many but to satisfy the desires of one man ,– yourself–, to the point where your remaining crew loses any and all respect and trust in you and your captaincy–that to me just screams poor leadership, and I would be surprised if that’s just by modern standards. Does his lack of leadership disqualify Odysseus from being a brilliant and cunning character, talented strategist, and (at least classical) hero? I don’t believe so. I don’t think leadership is the end-all-be-all for defining a hero, classical or modern. Odysseus is a complex, complicated, & human man & hero, even by ancient standards, and as such has several flaws, like the majority of heros and characters we see in ancient greek myths.
“The house boy brought the poet, whom the Muse adored. She gave him two gifts, good and bad: she took his sight away, but gave sweet song” (Book 8, Lines 62-64).
Though this section was very minor when considering everything that has happened in what we have read so far, It really stuck out to me. I think what captured my attention in particular was the idea of losing one’s sight but then also gaining a talent. It made me think about how some people value different things over others, and I also found it interesting how both things (taking away his sight and giving him “sweet song”) were regarded as gifts. This section made me wonder why would the muse take away the boy’s sight if she adored him so?
I do not think the best way to necessarily describe Odysseus is selfish, but I do think self-absorbed does fit him. He is a hero by most ancient standards, except for maybe the physical. He is prideful and has a large ego, and while we do read in the Odyssey that his goal is to get him and his men home to his wife, his contribution in the Iliad is to win and earn glory for Greece, just like the rest of the heroes. While his extraordinary abilities may lie in his intelligence rather than his strength, he does follow the same pitfalls of the Greek heroes before and after him, such as wanting to be remembered forever. His men seem to make many crucial mistakes, which to me is a sign of a bad leader. He is rather complicated though, as his motives shift throughout his life unlike many other heroes, whose priority sees to be focused on glory or death.
I found in Book 8 when Odysseus is challenged to prove his athletic ability to be particularly interesting. Odysseus downplays his athletic skills claiming that he is too sad and suffering to succeed; however, he states that he has a plan (8.153). This was intriguing to me because I believe it demonstrated the complexities and competitiveness of Odysseus. Further, I was struck with how dispositive Odysseus was by not discussing or bragging about his athletic abilities and instead letting them speak for themselves. Odysseus then has a monologue following his win where he states that he will take on anyone, in any sport, “except Laudamas: he is my host” (8.208). It is clear that Odysseus respects his host and would never disrespect him by competing with him. But it is evident in his speech the pride that Odysseus has for himself and his athletic skills.
I think Odysseus portrays many of the characteristics of a tragic hero, although the Odyssey isn’t a tragedy in the traditional sense because it has a ‘happy’ ending. A tragic hero is often fated to self-destruction. Even though Odysseus is reunited with Laertes and Penelope in the end, the choices he makes along the way are questionable and problematic, and many times could have led to destruction.
It’s very interesting to consider if books 9-12 of the Odyssey were lies told by Odysseus. If anything, these books being an elaborate lie makes Odysseus align more with his portrayal in the Iliad. In the Iliad, he was ruthless, cunning, and determined to win the war with Troy no matter the cost. The lies would make sense here in this context, as the stories portray him in the spotlight thus boosting his reputation. As for the book as a whole, I don’t think the story as a whole would be affect too much. Odysseus is a man trying to return home after several years at sea. Lying about his achievements and how his men died would not change that.
Initially, I assumed that the fact that Odysseus was cursed to suffer meant that he could not be considered a hero. After reading these chapters, I found the parallels between Odysseus and the Phaeacians contradicted this. When Odysseus reveals his name to the cyclops, he is cursed by Poseidon. The Phaeacians claim that Poseidon hates them for helping to bring guests across the sea and that someday they will suffer for it. Even though the Phaeacians actions are selfless, while Odysseus’ actions are selfish, they both suffer because of them. Even though Odysseus’ willingness to do things that could be considered immoral means that he would likely not be considered a hero by modern standards, the lack of punishment for them in the narrative means that it would probably not exclude him from being considered one by ancient standards.
According to The Odyssey, Odysseus is a courageous and fearless hero. I think Books 9-12 exemplify him as a hero by both, ancient and modern standard. These chapters document Odysseus’ perspective on his adventures in very action-packed detail. In the ancient sense, Odysseus makes it out of these near death experiences alive, showing that he is to some degree higher than the normal standard. But following the modern definition, Odysseus definitely has characteristics which display his heroic flaws in these chapters. References to Odysseus’ infidelity are intertwined between the details of his heroic encounters with the cyclops, lotus eaters, Circe, the cattle of the sun, and Calypso. This truly displays his selfish flaws as a modern hero and proves him to be a polytropos, or complicated, as the beginning of the poem stated. I think it is very interesting that it is possible that these chapters could be lies. Not only would Odysseus be doing this to explain the deaths of his men, but also to downplay his infidelity to Penelope and make it seem like the inevitable cost for his “heroic” adventures.
As I was reading about the decisions that Odysseus was making, I started to wonder where the line between a good and bad leader is drawn for Odysseus specifically. His ability to keep his crew alive must mean he had to have been a decent leader. However, by putting his crew in danger in the first place, is he really a good leader? Does his arrogant and rash behavior completely negate his ability to be a good leader? Does his resourcefulness in getting himself and his crew out of tight jams negate his bad leadership skills?
As I think we’ve all alluded to, Odysseus is a complex character, and his leadership style can be difficult to evaluate. On the one hand, he possesses many qualities that are traditionally associated with good leadership, such as resourcefulness, strategic thinking, and the ability to inspire loyalty and courage in his followers. On the other hand, Odysseus’s decision-making can also be impulsive, rash, and even reckless at times, putting his crew in danger. His arrogance and pride can also lead him to make decisions that are not in the best interests of his crew or his mission. Obviously it’s important to consider both the positive and negative aspects of Odysseus’s leadership style when evaluating him as a leader. His ability to keep his crew alive and his resourcefulness in getting himself and his crew out of difficult situations are certainly admirable qualities. However, his tendency to make decisions that put his crew in danger, as well as his arrogance and pride, cannot be ignored. Ultimately, I think whether or not Odysseus is a good leader depends on the criteria one uses to evaluate leadership. If one values resourcefulness and strategic thinking above all else, Odysseus may be considered a good leader. But, if one values a leader who prioritizes the safety and well-being of their crew, and makes decisions that reflect this priority, Odysseus may fall short, so I guess it really just comes down to what you’re looking for in a leader.