Is Odysseus a Hero? - Character Analysis

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  • 0:04 Definition of a Hero
  • 0:40 Epic Hero Characteristics
  • 2:53 Strengths
  • 4:26 Weaknesses
  • 5:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

A hero can be defined in many ways, but in Greek antiquity, a hero embodied qualities that reflected Greek culture. In this lesson, we will define the term hero and determine whether Odysseus fits the description.

Definition of a Hero

If I asked you to think of your hero, who would it be? The president? A sports legend? Batman? Your mom or dad? The answers are limitless depending on how you define the role. When looking at Greek culture and literature, we must think of the traits a hero embodied at that time: honor, loyalty to the state and family, intelligence, physical strength, bravery, respect for the gods, and wit. A hero was respected by all. This person seemed to transcend human traits and was someone who fought for good and noble purposes.

Epic Hero Characteristics

In ancient Greek culture, there are stories relating to mythological creatures and gods that ruled the people. In these stories we find the archetype of an epic hero. Odysseus is considered an epic hero for his role as King of Ithaca, his participation in the war, and his journey home. Let's dig a little deeper into the definition to decide whether Odysseus fits the epic hero profile.

  1. A hero is of mixed or divine birth: Odysseus's genealogy is unclear, but hints in The Odyssey and The Iliad say that Odysseus is the great-grandson of Hermes, the messenger of the gods, and Aeolus, the god of wind. In later recordings, it is said that Sisyphus was his true father.

  2. A hero has some type of superhuman ability, such as intelligence, physical strength, or bravery: Odysseus was known for his ability to think himself out of tough situations. He was known for being clever and highly intelligent.

  3. A hero is charged with a quest or arduous task: It took Odysseus ten years to get home from war, and his journey became ever more challenging as time passed.

  4. Evil forces/villains try to keep the hero from completing his quest: Odysseus had bad blood with Poseidon, who in turn caused Odysseus's ships trouble every time they sailed from shore. He also encountered mythical creatures such as the Cyclops, the dead, Scylla and Charybdis, and the Sirens, who tested him during his time at sea.

  5. Tragic flaw: Because the hero is not solely divine, his tragic flaw stems from the fact that he is human. Odysseus's hubris, excessive pride, caused him great trouble along the way.

  6. Supernatural help: Odysseus receives help from the gods, mainly Athena, along his journey.

Looking at these traits, it seems Odysseus fits the mold, but do these traits qualify Odysseus as a hero? Let's make a list of strengths and weaknesses to determine whether we have evidence to make an informed decision.

Strengths

Odysseus was a war hero, fighting against the Trojans as depicted in The Iliad. He led the raid once inside the walls of Troy and is also credited with the idea of the Trojan Horse. On his way home from war, Odysseus is taken on a long journey encountering mythical creatures and gods. He leads his men, never leaving anyone behind, with the goal of getting everyone home safely. Let's look at some examples from his journey.

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