To what extent did Homer view Odysseus as a heroic figure?
Throughout the Odyssey, Homer emphasises Odysseus’s heroism whilst subtlety insisting on his self-sabotage. Odysseus’ heroism is shown by his being King of Ithaca and leader of his crew, alongside his divine status as champion of the gods, in his case Athene; echoing more ancient heroes like Hercules and Perseus. Yet if it was indeed Homer’s intention to present Odysseus as a hero, he is presented most peculiarly. To begin with, there is the problem of his lack of personal vigour. Unlike Achilles or Hercules, whose heroism stems from his outstanding abilities in battle, Odysseus’ heroism is based on stratagems, as seen on every occasion including his defeats. From Troy to Polyphemus’ Cave and to Ithaca, Odysseus wins by undermining the position of his enemies rather than a personal heroic confrontation, showing thus his great intelligence and cunning. Whilst at the same time alarming us with his slyness and his apparent willingness to sacrifice his men. Homer gives us many examples of Odysseus’ wiles on many occasions, such as in Book IX with the Ci-cones and in Book XII with Scylla and Charybdis. In the same way a Spartan would conceive of a bow and arrow as unmanly (which of course were the very symbolic instruments which Odysseus used to prove his worth), Odysseus’ cunning and his wit, so unique to him, is both the foundation and the main undermining quality of his heroism.
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