Odysseus: Global Character Analysis
The Odyssey remains as one of the most well-known and important epics of the ancient European world. Following the many heroics of the titular character, the audience is taken for an adventure filled with heroes, monsters, magic and mystery. Hardship is accompanied by triumph, all rooted in a degree of relatability to the reader and human emotion. The motivations of the main character during his journey is ultimately rooted in simple desires any person can share, adding to the charm of the narrative. In this work some of Odysseus’s personal qualities will be discussed, in addition to the way the man has formed relationships with others. The demonstration will serve as proof for both the character’s dynamic nature and merits of the Odyssey as an epic narrative.
Notable Character Qualities
Odysseus is a character that displays a number of different traits throughout the story. While the modern understanding of character development rarely applies to Homer’s works, the central traits associated with the protagonist develop with his own experiences. Negative traits become less prominent while positives start to shine through more.
Pride is among one of the most prominent traits Odysseus displays, and a catalyst for many of the book’s central conflicts. In particular, pride can be named as the reason why the man’s journey home was delayed. After defeating the Trojans, Odysseus behaves like a typical Greek hero, one that considers himself to be strong and above others. This is shown most prominently when he fails to give thanks to the gods for winning the war which upsets them. As a result, Odysseus is ultimately cursed to go on a 10-year long voyage just to come back to his family. There are even specific moments in the story where the reader directly witnesses an outlook the main character has on his past actions.
“But you held fast—
Nobody but your cunning pulled you through
the monster’s cave you thought would be your death.” (20.336)
The passage, describing Odysseus’s look back on the encounter with the cyclops, shows his pride in that accomplishment.
Arrogance, while being similar to pride, is a distinct quality that should also be mentioned. In the case of the Odyssey, it refers to the constant need for the main character to boast his accomplishments, and an inability to fully consider the implications of his actions or words. For example, Odysseus’s arrogance can be seen at the end of his encounter with the cyclops Polyphemus.
if any man on the face of the earth should ask you
who blinded you, shamed you so—say Odysseus,
raider of cities, he gouged out your eye,
Laertes’ son who makes his home in Ithaca!’” (9.152)
This act of arrogance costs both Odysseus and his crew dearly, as the cyclops curses the man using his connection with the Greek gods
Cunning and Cleverness
Cleverness is one of the best qualities Odysseus, saving him and his people from trouble time and time again. His ability to navigate situations such as the cyclops’s cave, the Trojan war, and the multiple times he uses disguises throughout the story. Notably, he once disguises himself as a beggar, going against his great pride as a warrior in order to complete his scheme. While posing as a poor man, he endures abuse and violence from others. The ability to avoid fighting and instead work with one’s head remains one of the defining features of the character
Determination shines through the entire book’s narrative, as the motivational drive behind Odysseus’s quest to get home. Despite facing challenges, being cursed, having to navigate treacherous seas and great monsters, the man remains steadfast in his goal to return home. Even when his crew ends up on Circe’s island, where Odysseus’s life is safe and easy, he still wants to help his men and get back to Ithaca. Being faced with the woman that is infatuated with him, ready to fulfill most of his desires or needs, Odysseus keeps his goal the main focus and does not yield.
Consideration for Others
While not as prominent as other qualities, care and consideration are also Odysseus’s strong qualities. Despite coming into contact with challenges that endangered his people, such as the aforementioned Circe and cyclops, the man saves his crew from death and entrapment. In various other instances, he also works in order to ensure the safety of others.
Odysseus and the People around Him
Odysseus forms relationships with people he meets, and has some already-established connections with others. Many of his relationships are defined by love. However, the kinds of love that are on display in this case vary. With Penelope, the audience sees mutual love and devotion. Despite being gone for at least 10 years, Odysseus yearns to return to his wife, and she, in turn, stays true to his devotion. In comparison, the relationship between the main character and his young son, Telemakhos, is different. The child is affectionate towards his father, and has a degree of blind faith in the man, despite him being largely not present for his childhood. The third type of love is similar but distinct from a father-son relationship, and comes from the witch Circe. The woman quickly falls in love with the hero, and subsequently tried to keep him on her island. Her love, however, is completely unrequited in the face of Odysseus already having a wife. Within these tree different relationships, the audience can see that people view the main character differently, and form differing types of affection towards him. Odysseus himself also interacts with them accordingly, showing either love, care, or self-control.
Odysseus, as the main character, is a complex and interesting person that grows throughout the book’s duration. Starting off as an especially prideful person, Odysseus matures into a cunning tactician and a more patient person, being capable of navigating the challenges life presents him with.