What does it take to be an epic hero? To be an epic hero you are required to have five specific qualities. These consist of being human-like, being a confident and courageous solider, nobility, and being in a poem containing supernatural beings that has setting is vast in scope. In the poem the Odyssey, the main character fits the criteria. Odysseus is an epic hero.
An important trait to being an epic hero is that the character is involved in a poem complicated by supernatural beings. To sail home in book 12, Odysseus has to navigate through the straits between two monsters, Scylla and Charybdis. As he is coming up on Scylla, he describes her:
Her legs-And there are twelve- are like great tentacles, unjointed, and upon her serpent necks are borne six heads like nightmares of ferocity, with triple serried rows of fangs and deep gullets of black death. (12. 46-51)
These lines prove that the creature Odysseus is facing is not a human being. It shows that Scylla has 12 tentacles, six heads, and three rows of teeth. No human would have any these characteristics.
Not only does an epic hero have to be involved in a poem with supernatural characters, but a poem with a setting vast in scope that involves more than one nation. Odysseus tells the Phaeacians the tale of his wanderings in the beginning of book nine:
My home is on the peaked sea-mark of Ithica under Mount Neion’s wind-blown robe of leaves, in sight of other islands- Dulichium, same, wooded Zacynthus- Ithica being most lofty in that costal sea, and northwest, while the rest lie east and south. (9. 10-15) Odysseus explains that he is from Ithica. He also explains that there are other nations around him. They are different than Ithica; like being “wooded” or “lofty.” This proves that he is part of a setting that includes a setting vast in scope.
Another important trait is that the character has to be of noble birth, high position, and legendary. Many people rely on Odysseus and trust him. He explains to the Phaeacians in book nine, before he begins his big adventure, “Men hold me/formidable for guile in peace and war:” (9. 8-9). He proves that he has confidence in his authority. He knows his power; how strong and relied on in society. This gives the Phaeacians an idea of how noble and legendary he is.
Despite being legendary, an epic hero is also the same as any ordinary man with longings, desires, and weaknesses. When Odysseus arrives at the land of the Cyclopes, his men advise him to snatch some of the food and leave, but to his and his crew’s detriment, he decides to stay, “Yet I refused. I wished/to see the caveman, what he had to offer-/no pretty sight, it turned out for my friends” (9. 130-132). Though he knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, Odysseus decided to stay. It is a very human-like characteristic to make mistakes. Humans do the things they want sometimes; even if they know it’s not the right thing to do. It shows he can be very much like a normal person at times and though he is trusted to always do the right things, he messes up too.
Although epic heroes have human-like features, they are trained warriors and perform courageous and super human deeds for the benefit of others. In book 12, Odysseus knows that the wrath of the monsters, Scylla and Charybdis, lie ahead. Not wanting his men to be afraid and cowardly when they see the monsters, he prepares a speech to prepare them:
have we never been in danger before this?
More fearsome, is it now, than when the Cyclops
penned us in his cave? What power he had!
Did I not keep my nerve, and use my wits
to find a way out for us? (12. 143-147)
Odysseus proves how heroic he is. He is a strong and intelligent when it comes to dealing with danger. By saying this, he prepares his men not to be afraid and to trust him that everything will be okay, just like all the other times he’s gotten them out of troublesome situations. When they finally reach the monsters, his men don’t chicken out and go forth with what he told them to do.
Odysseus is stated to be an epic hero due to the characteristics he demonstrates in the poem the Odyssey. He reveals each of the five requirements needed. He shows he has human-like characteristics, strength, nobility and confidence in his authority throughout his adventures in the Odyssey. With all these features, any character could be an epic hero, just like Odysseus.
Homer. “The Odyssey.” The Language of Literature. Eds. Arthur N. Applebee, et.al.
Evanston, IL: McDougal Little, 2002. 894-937. Print.
Odysseus is an Epic Hero
- Length: 850 words (2.4 double-spaced pages)
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People are heroes in different ways for different reasons. American soldiers are heroes because they fight boldly for their country. Corrie Ten Boom is also a hero because she took risks and saved hundreds of Jews. Abraham Lincoln is another example of a hero because he fought for what he thought was right and helped free all slaves. Similarly, Odysseus, the main character in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, possesses all of these characteristics and many more, making him a true epic hero.
First of all, Odysseus is brave and courageous, giving him the initiative to fulfill his goals. One example is when Odysseus confronts Skylla. Odysseus purposely “made [his] way along to the foredeck—thinking to see her first from there” (Homer 217). If he was scared, he would have hidden underneath the deck. But instead, Odysseus goes out to face the beast. Odysseus knows that Skylla is immortal and cannot die, yet he is brave enough to confront her. Next, Odysseus fights the suitors, who are courting Penelope in his palace. The suitors greatly outnumber Odysseus, but Odysseus still chooses to fight even though the odds are against him and he is able to win. He stands up against those who do wrong. Having the courage to fight, Odysseus defeats the suitors and fulfills his goal of regaining his palace. If Odysseus was a coward and did not fight, then the suitors would have eventually won Penelope, resulting in Odysseus losing his palace and his wife. Many people have bravery and courage, but not many use it, as Odysseus does, to achieve their purpose.
Secondly, Odysseus has great self-control, which allows him to deeply contemplate his decisions. Moments before Odysseus falls asleep, he spots a “covey of women laughing as they [slip] out…to the suitors’ beds” (Homer 375). Seeing this, Odysseus is angered and wants to kill every one of the suitors right then and there. But Odysseus retains his self-control and does not strike yet. At that moment, if he did strike, he would have lost because he would not have been prepared. He retains all his anger for the final battle with the suitors. In that battle, Odysseus is fully prepared and ready to fight, resulting in all the suitors’ deaths. Next, when Antinoos throws a footstool at Odysseus, “Odysseus only [shakes] his head, containing thoughts of bloody work” (Homer 326).
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That was not the opportune time to attack Antinoos. After all, Odysseus has no protection, and the other suitors would attack him should he attempt to kill Antinoos then. But Odysseus contains himself. Instead, he waits for the right moment, the final battle, where he kills all the suitors, including Antinoos. An epic hero cannot let his emotions take control of him, but he has to carefully consider his decisions. Finally, Odysseus is a master strategist, which allows him to carefully plot and strategize each component of his plan to defeat the enemy. Before his big battle with the suitors, Odysseus thinks ahead and takes several precautions to seal his victory. The first thing Odysseus does is to move all the weapons from their current location and lock them up. That way, the suitors cannot retrieve their arms when Odysseus attacks them. It really does help in a battle when one side has all the weapons and the opposition has none. Right before the battle begins, Odysseus tells his goatherd Philoitios to lock and bar the outside gate. So when the battle begins, the suitors will have no place to run and have to fight. No one can get in and no one can get out. Odysseus also tells his loyal maid Eurykleia to lock up all the maids. In this manner, the disloyal maids cannot run and help the suitors when Odysseus kills them. After the battle is over, the master strategist conceals the suitors’ deaths by having the musicians play joyful music. When people walk past, they will think that Penelope has finally chosen a suitor and they would never suspect that the suitors had been killed. This distraction gives Odysseus and his men enough time to escape to the home of Odysseus’ father, Laertes. If Odysseus’ palace is too quiet, people walking past might suspect something is amiss and investigate. Odysseus’ strategizing and taking actions to achieve his goal shows why he is a true epic hero.
All in all, Odysseus possesses many character traits that make him a true epic hero. Odysseus is courageous, has self-control, and is a master strategist. These qualities make him a true epic hero because Odysseus uses them to achieve his goal, contemplates and makes wise decisions, and strategizes on what actions to take next. True epic heroes are simply ordinary people who use their talents to help others. People today can be true heroes by just using their gifts for the benefit of others and not themselves. This selflessness makes them heroes. They are willing to sacrifice personal gains so that others can benefit. This is a necessary ingredient to become a true epic hero. And Odysseus has these qualities, making him a true epic hero.