Discuss the concept of heroism in 'The Odyssey'.

Length: 5 Pages 1146 Words

The concept of heroism, and how it must be applied to Greek epic, has acquired an ambiguous status, as it has become infiltrated with modern-day conceptions of heroism that are perhaps less misogynistic than the ancient. While strong women are present in ancient texts, they would not have been elevated to a heroic status in the same way as men. In The Odyssey, Penelope herself is heroic. Some merely dub her a temptress, but it is her loyalty and sagacity that bring her closer to the status of heroine. Like her husband, she is quick-witted, staving off suitors by repeatedly weaving the shroud by day, unpicking it by night; and instead of resigning herself to marrying one of them, she devotedly awaits Odysseus‘ return. Such steadfastness in the face of adversity is surely heroic, as she strives in the name of love. One must also consider Telemachus, who develops considerably throughout the narrative. It could be argued that Athene helps him to realise his full potential as a man as he sets off on the journey to find his father and prove himself a hero. However, the ambiguity lies in whether a hero is truly a hero if his heroic qualities are dependent upon the gods. Athene tells Telemachus, “I think the gods have ble Continue...


While the pursuit of these things could enhance Odysseus' heroic facets, it could also be averred that Odysseus was greedy, seeking more than the gods had given him when at home he had a lovely wife, devoted son, and people to take care of. Ancient readers would have seen Odysseus' actions as sanctified, with a kind of justice. The conflicting paradigms regarding the definition and conception of heroism will always pose interpretational difficulties for readers of epic. In the original Greek myth, Odysseus was also accidentally killed by the son that he fathered with Circe - permitting a sense of divine justice. These points should not be applied to Telemachus in isolation, however - the epic's protagonist is also aided considerably by the gods. To manipulate an old adage, perhaps heroism, too, is in the eye of the beholder. 3 Interestingly, this is more resonant of Beowulf, which ends with a heroically portrayed death, than The Odyssey, which finishes with a brutal slaughter. Jean-Pierre Vernant describes this paradox in his essay, saying that heroes accept life's brevity and "devote themselves completely and single-mindedly to war, adventure, glory, and death (53). In Homer's world, fate is inescapable. "1 This dependence probably would have been acceptable in the Greek concept of heroism, portraying Telemachus as deserving godly assistance - however, it perhaps does not work in the same way today, where allegiance to the divine is not fundamental to societal structure. 2 However, certain divine actions, such as cloaking the island with mist, initially test Odysseus' heroic qualities, rather than help him. An anti-heroic figure surely would have given up. In The Iliad, a warrior can only attain heroism and immortality by embracing early death.