Odysseus is unique among epic heroes in that his strength comes not from inhuman powers or exceptional physical ability, but mainly from his mind. Odysseus, regularly uses cunning, guile, and superiority of intellect to overcome obstacles. In this paper I will compare Odysseus to other epic heroes, both in terms of character and in terms of responses to crises, comparing his reactions with those of other heroes placed in similar situations.
The first hero I will compare him to is Jason, who had a similar adventure. His adventure was made to claim a throne that was rightfully his, just like Odysseus' adventure to get home to Ithaca and regain his throne. They both faced many perils on the sea, and both persevered to reach the end of the journey and gain the throne.
Jason's uncle Pelias had usurped the throne of Iolchus (much as Penelope's suitors threatened to do), which Jason had a legitimate claim to. Pelias wanted to get rid of him, but dared not to kill him outright. So, he agreed to abdicate the throne if Jason would journey and get the golden fleece, which was at a temple in Colchis (on the Black Sea). Pelias expected the voyage to be fatal, for it had danger at every step. However, Jason called for and received an impressive roster of heroes to aid him on his journey.
Jason set out for, and made it safely to, Colchis. Once there, he was received by the resident king,
Aeetes. Aeetes was used to getting visitors who had come for the fleece, and had devised a test for getting
rid of them. He had a standing challenge to give up the fleece to anyone who could tame two fire-breathing
bulls and then use them to plow a field with dragon's teeth.
Jason was confounded by how to pass this trial and was saved at the last moment by Aeetes'
daughter Medea, who gave him a potion of wild herbs that would protect him from the fire. With the help,
Jason easily tamed the bulls, and began to sow the field, but noticed that where he had put the teeth, soldiers
were springing up from the ground. Jason hid from them, but then came up with a plan for getting rid of
He picked up a huge stone and threw it into the middle of the mass of soldiers, killing one. A
quarrel immediately started amongst the soldiers over who had thrown the rock, and a fight broke out,
killing all but a few, whom Jason was able to easily overcome. With the help of Medea, Jason was able to
steal the fleece from its guardian, a dragon, by putting it to sleep, and escape from Colchis.
Jason's trip home, however, took much longer than the way from home, as he was blown off course
and had to overcome many obstacles to reach his home. Does this sound familiar? That sentence could be
used to describe the first half of the Odyssey, only it was Odysseus voyaging and not Jason.
These journeys are parallel, as they are seafaring trips made by a hero who is trying to get back
home. Both heroes face many dangers and are helped and hindered by divine powers along the way. Both
face Scylla and Charybdis, the Sirens, and other monsters that preyed on unsuspecting travelers.
There are many similarities between Jason and Odysseus. Both journey for long periods before
reaching their goals. They both rely more on their minds than on their muscles to overcome obstacles.
Perfect examples of this are Jason's plan to get rid of the soldiers on the field and Odysseus' outwittal of
Polyphemus. More physical heroes, such as Achilles or Diomedes, would have rolled their sleeves up and
tried to make solutions with their fists. Heroes like Odysseus and Jason, however, take the time to step back
and devise a plan.
In the present, I think it is more interesting to read stories of heroes who triumph through flexing their brains...