A hero might typically be described as a courageous person who has the strength of a warrior and a leader to triumph in battles. However, a hero may also be someone who uses his brain just as much as he uses his brawn. In ‘The Odyssey’ by Homer, Odysseus embodies the ideal human qualities that Homer’s Greek society respect: bravery, nobility and intelligence. Despite these attributes, he has a tragic flaw that brings demise and destruction over his journey and his men. Although at times his actions bring suffering to others, the courageous and assiduous Odysseus displays many admirable traits.
The one and only tragic flaw of the eminent epic hero is that he possesses an excessive amount of pride. Since his status stands as the renowned warrior of the Trojan War, he requires much dignity to support his heroic background. For example, when Odysseus escapes from the dreaded Cyclops with his men, he shouts his name and boasts in victory to have his legacy grow. This action presents his hubris because he jeers and brags that he has indeed defeated the one-eyed monster, “Kyklops, if ever moral man inquire how you were put to shame and blinded, tell him Odysseus, raider of cities, took your eye…”(IX, 548 – 551). His insults to Polyphemus eventually brings misfortunes and catastrophic disasters on his journey back to Ithaca. Odysseus lessens his heroism value by this because he puts his group and himself in danger, which contradicts the traits of a hero. He should have considered the consequences and the jeopardy of revealing his true identity to Kyklops.
A characteristic that plays an immense role in Odysseus is his courage. Throughout his journey back to Ithaca, his bravery and swiftness save him and his crew from monsters such as the Cicones, the Kyklops and the Laestrygonians. His courage is tested to the extreme when he, a mere mortal, challenges the Kyklops, an immortal giant, the son of Poseidon. Even though Odysseus fights bravely in the entire Trojan War, he experiences long years of turmoil before finally uniting with his family, Penelope and Telemachus. Despite his longing for his family, he continues to guide his homesick crew with his heroic characteristics.
Odysseus avoids many tough situations with his cunning and intelligence. He uses these skills to lead his group to victory and out of trouble from deadly monsters. For example, his crafty and clever idea of the Trojan horse directs the Greeks to a successful triumph over the Romans when they least expected an ambush. Also, with quick thinking, Odysseus rescues his loyal crew from the Lotus-eaters by tying them “down under their rowing benches” (IX,106) and ordering his men to “clear the beach and no one taste the Lotus, or…lose…hope of home” (IX,108-109).
Odysseus demonstrates his cleverness when he intoxicates Polyphemus with mellow wine and uses “Nobody” as his alias. The epic hero then blinds the giant and hides under the belly of rams to flee from the cave as soon as Dawn appears. These actions of Odysseus represent his intelligence and his abilities to defeat even the threatening monsters.
As the epic continues, the characteristics of Odysseus that make him an outstanding hero become obvious: his courage, his leadership and his sharp intellect. He always leads successful victories, disregarding the severity of the obstacles. Even with a tragic flaw, he manages to overcome his challenges and tribulations with strength and wisdom to be called indeed, the greatest hero of all times.
Throughout the Odyssey, the lead character, Odysseus, is presented as the ideal Greek leader. He demonstrates this through the treatment of his men and how he deals with problems that are presented to him. Because the Odyssey was first a spoken myth, it took on the shape of the society in which it was told. Including that society’s moral and ethical values, as well as its desires in the traits of a leader. A leader must first be defined, then set apart from other potential leaders, then the leader must be tested through his actions, only then can a definite leader be defined.
First, one must define the ideal Greek leader. An ideal Greek leader commands the respect of those being led, but also gives respect. He must be intelligent and cunning, and able to think logically with the intentions of keeping the well being of those under him. Reverence to the gods is mandatory, as they are viewed as the supreme leaders. An ideal leader must have an ability to lead a military victoriously, but also know when military action is not necessary. There are many other traits that the ideal Greek leader must possess, but none are as important as those that have been listed.
Another way of proving Odysseus as the ideal leader is by contrasting him with other leaders. Two other characters in the book that could be considered character foils are Antinoos and Alkinoos, two very different leaders. Alkinoos, King of the Phaeacians, is presented as leader who is open to outsiders, another trait that is revered in ancient Greek culture. When he provides the hospitality to Odysseus, he shows his welcoming manner by not only allowing Odysseus to stay as his guest, but also taking him back to Ithaca. “When you came here to my strong home, Odysseus, under my tall roof, headwinds were left behind you. Clear sailing shall you have now, homeward now…” (XIII, 4-7) Alkinoos can be considered a foil that shows what Homer viewed as a good leader. Antinoos, on the other hand, was almost the opposite. The suitor spent his time unsuccessfully enticing Penelope, one of many things that Homer could have considered to be a bad trait, especially when possessed by a leader, which is something that Antinoos could be considered in his relationship with the other suitors. He was also the suitor who came up with the scheme to kill Telemachus. Furthermore, Antinoos being the first to die when Odysseus returns, could be presented as Homer’s punishment of the iniquitous suitor of the hero’s wife. These two characters can be considered the two extremes in Homer’s view of a leader.
Odysseus’s actions throughout the book demonstrate the traits that make him a good leader. Through his decisions in these specific events, he proves that he is a good, but not perfect, leader. First, his decision to send men to scout out Kirke’s house was one of pleasure, not conquest. Odysseus did not need to send his men probing the unfamiliar island, but still felt it necessary. This decision is one that had to be made, but given past experiences, the reader would expect Odysseus to choose otherwise, especially when his men felt hesitant. “They were all silent, but their hearts contracted, remembering Antiphates the Laistrygon and that prodigious cannibal, the Kyklopes… But seeing our time for action lost in weeping, I mustered those Akhaians under arms, counting them off in two platoons, myself and my godlike Eurylokhos commanding.” (X, 217-224)
It wasn’t until after the first party fell prey to Kirke’s elixir that Odysseus shows his true leadership. With the aid of the gods, he is able to free his men from living as swine. Although he stays long after he has freed his men, nearly a year, he felt the obligation towards his men by undoing Kirke’s acts and freed them from her hold. Another instance when Odysseus demonstrates his leadership ability is when he is faced with the escape from Polyphemus’s cave. His quick thinking and strategic approach gave him victory over the giant, two traits Homer emphasizes in Odysseus. Odysseus is able to lead his men to blind the Kyklops, but shows how no mortal man can be perfect, no matter how heroic, by shouting back at Polyphemus and telling him who had truly blinded him.
Finally, Odysseus’s similarity to some of the known leaders of ancient Greece can be used to express how Odysseus was presented as the ideal Greek leader. The first of whom being the democratic leader of Athens, Pericles, and second being Alexander the Great. Pericles was much like Odysseus in a sense of his ability to manipulate and influence those under him, a necessary skill in any democratic society. He was able to influence the other elected officials into believing what he wanted, and stemmed his success from that ability. Although not an especially admirable trait, the ability to influence men into what is needed to be done in the eyes of the leader is most certainly necessary, especially when it involves military authority.
Alexander the Great’s decisiveness is paralleled only by Odysseus, which is another trait that all strong leaders must possess. Another element to a leader that is often present is that of arrogance, as Alexander the Great believed himself to be half immortal, and held himself in comparison with Hercules. Alexander was even known to sleep with copies of Homer’s books under his pillow, and drew heavy influence from Homer’s characters, including Odysseus.
Odysseus is considered to be one of the greatest mythological heroic leaders. Not only is he presented as the model for the ideal Greek leader, but has influenced many other leaders throughout history, including Alexander the Great. Odysseus was a model for ancient Greek leaders, and still influences our views of leadership today, although we may not even notice it.