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Odysseus as an Epic Hero

By rachelwolf Mar 16, 2012 1222 Words
Odysseus as an Epic Hero
What is the difference between a regular hero and an epic hero? Odysseus from Fagle’s translation of Homer’s The Odyssey and Claybourne’s The Adventures of Ulysses qualifies as an epic hero based on his daring adventures and actions on his detour home from Troy. He earns this title by traveling to various settings, many of which he has never before set foot on, setting himself apart from other men based on his actions of superhuman courage and great valor, and having the gods intervene in his quest from time to time. Readers will learn how Odysseus comes to fame from his exploits after the time of the Trojan War. Primarily, Odysseus proves to be worthy of an epic hero status from being well-traveled.

On his journey back to Ithaca from Troy, Odysseus encounters new lands and discovers the new cultures of those areas. One of the first places he and his crew visits is the Land of the Lotus-Eaters, which is on the northern tip of Africa, a continent none of them has ever experienced before. There, Odysseus finds that the Lotus-Eaters feed his crew their food, which makes them lose any desire to return home. Although the stop does not help in getting the crew home, Odysseus learns not to rest in the Land of the Lotus- Eaters on future voyages. Also, Odysseus and his crew make a stop in Sicily, land of the Cyclopes. “‘Stay here, my brave fellows,’ said I, ‘all the rest of you, while I go with my ship and exploit these people myself: I want to see if they are uncivilized savages, or a hospitable and humane race…’” Odysseus, from Fagle’s translation of The Odyssey informs his troops that he wants to explore the land, showing that he not only travels to mysterious places, but also has a thirst to learn about the inhabitants and their culture. He later finds that the Cyclopes are dangerous monsters and has to use his wits to outsmart Polyphemus, the Cyclops who captures Odysseus and his men. In addition, this epic hero ventures to Hades in order to seek advice from Tiresias, the blind prophet and truth-teller. Odysseus truly proves himself to be a well-traveled epic hero from this, since he ventures to a whole other world and universe, but also sets himself apart from the average man through his actions of bravery.

Although Odysseus encounters dangerous monsters on his journey back to Ithaca, he uses his extraordinary strength and courage to get past them. One of the first stops the crew makes just after leaving Troy is Sicily, home to the Cyclopes, where they encounter Polyphemus. While venturing for food and riches on the island, Polyphemus, a towering Cyclops locks the men in his cave, and he even eats some of them for a meal. As the situation gets direr Odysseus uses his wits and strength to conjure a plan to blind Polyphemus, which would result in the Cyclops moving the boulder blocking the exit and allow the men to escape. Odysseus single-handedly creates this plan, and he is even the closest one to Polyphemus when they blind him, showing that he is the most courageous out of the crew. In addition, Odysseus chooses to listen to the Sirens, a group of singing immortal women with voices like honey, who, when heard, will make any man want to stay with them forever. “‘…First she [Circe] said we were to keep clear of the Sirens, who sit and sing most beautifully in a field of flowers; but she said I might hear them myself so long as no one else did. Therefore, take me and bind me to the crosspiece half way up the mast; bind me as I stand upright, with a bond so fast that I cannot possibly break away…’” Odysseus, from the Fagle’s translation of The Odyssey orders his crew to tie him to the ship, since he takes a risk by choosing to listen to the Sirens sing. Also, Odysseus exemplifies his courageous spirit and strength in facing the sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis alone. Scylla has six heads each with three rows of teeth, while Charybdis is a huge whirlpool that gulps the dark water down and vomits it up three times a day, and both monsters pose a tremendous threat to any passing ship, let alone a lone war hero. Eventually, Odysseus manages to single-handedly survive the wrath of Scylla and Charybdis and find his way home, even though it requires him to hang on a branch until Charybdis releases his boat. When she finally vomits the boat up, he has no oars and thus has to row away as fast as he can, using his arms, a feat no other man could probably pull off alone. Occasionally, the gods interest themselves in Odysseus’ journey and intervene, whether to help or hinder.

Since Odysseus rivals no other man in his strength and wits, the gods get involved during his journey, either aiding him or making him suffer. Primarily, Athena plays an important role in helping Odysseus and his family. Only an epic hero receives so much help from a goddess as powerful as Athena. “‘There is only one rightful ruler of Ithaca!’ she cried, ‘and he is no coward. He has done battle with monsters and murderers, witches and whirlpools, giants and the looming shadow of death itself, and he has survived to fight the insolent wretches who would have stolen his wife and destroyed his kingdom. Are these the fools you came to defend? They deserved to die; the gods ordained it…’” Athena, from Claybourne’s The Adventures of Ulysses defends Odysseus to the families of the suitors and claims that justice, not murder has been done in the city. Also, when Calypso holds Odysseus in her clutches on Ogygia for seven years, Zeus sends Hermes to tell Calypso she must let the hero go. Athena originally persuades Zeus to let Odysseus finally return to Ithaca, but it shows that Odysseus is important enough for Zeus to go out of his way and release him from Calypso. In addition, Hermes aids Odysseus while he and his crew are on Circe’s Isle. Hermes gives the hero the Moly plant, so that Odysseus can drink Circe’s poison without turning into a pig, which also gives him the chance to rescue his crew and leave the island. Without the help of Athena, Zeus, and Hermes, Odysseus would not have made his way back home to Ithaca.

In Fagle’s translation of Homer’s The Odyssey and Claybourne’s The Adventures of Ulysses, Odysseus meets the requirements of an epic hero based on his intrepid ventures during his diversion en route to Ithaca from Troy. Principally, Odysseus proves to be an epic hero, since he has traveled a vast setting, including places not on earth, like Hades. Also, this epic hero can independently survive monsters as powerful as Charybdis and then manage to row away using just his arms. Last, Odysseus receives assistance from the powerful Greek gods and goddesses, like Hermes rescuing Odysseus from Circe with the Moly plant. Despite suffering from powerful monsters and losing his entire crew, Odysseus is rewarded in the end by being able to reuniting with his wife, Penelope and son, Telemachus.

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