Odysseus: What his Decisions Say

Essay by mdf44Junior High, 9th gradeA+, October 2009

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Odysseus, the ever-famous Greek hero of legend and protagonist of The Odyssey, is a complex and intriguing character. Obstacles and temptations face Odysseus throughout the story, but especially so in the very eventful Books IX through XII. He is most well known for his great strength, valor, and leadership, but I don't find any of these attributes to be his more memorable or noteworthy. Through his decisions in Books IX through XII, Odysseus displays his two most important traits: his great cunning and his excessive pride.

First off, Odysseus is an extremely clever, cunning man. The first example of this is his defeating the terrifying Cyclops, Polyphemus. He makes several shrewd maneuvers in this triumph. First of all, he elects to not fight Polyphemus immediately, as he realizes that he is the only one strong enough to open the rock door of the cave. Later, Odysseus tells a drunken Polyphemus that his name is "Nobody."

The genius of this is shown when Polyphemus yells that "Nobody" is killing him, confusing his neighbors so that they don't come to his assistance. Finally, he is the one to devise a plan of escape after blinding the Cyclops; he and his companions ride out on the bellies of the Cyclops' sheep.

In Book XII, Odysseus provides yet another great example of his cunning. With a little advice from Circe, he devises a plan from to pass the island of the seductive Sirens. He has his men plug their ears with beeswax and tie him to the mass of the ship. He is therefore the only one who hears the songs, and they are so tempting he begs to be released, but he had warned his men of that, and so they refuse. Going to the island of the Sirens is a famous example of a temptation, and like many times throughout the story, Odysseus outsmarts his adversity in order to avoid this.

However, Odysseus is often held back by his worst flaw- his Achilles' heel- his hubris. At first, I didn't think this was too serious of a weakness, but Books IX through XII offer a plethora of examples of Odysseus' hubristic ways. Firstly, Odysseus is greedy and prideful after sacking Ismarus, and this leads to dozens of his men dying at the hands of the reinforced Cicones. Obviously, the right decision would have been to leave immediately. By staying, he is being prideful in that he is "rubbing it in" the faces of the Cicones, and this is the first example of what that leads to.

Similarly, when Odysseus and his men come across Polyphemus' cave full of food and livestock, Odysseus again makes the mistake of lingering. His pride, perhaps, convinces him that it's his right to stay around and that nothing can go wrong, but this again costs the lives of some of his men. Even after outsmarting Polyphemus, Odysseus vainly yells out his true name to the defeated Cyclops. Again, his hubris leads him to being a braggart. This causes Polyphemus to pray for vengeance from his father Poseidon, which of course causes Odysseus a lot more trouble down the road than holding in his urge to insult Polyphemus would have been. This is perhaps the most lasting image of Odysseus' hubris, to me.

Soon thereafter, Odysseus is given a bag containing all the world's winds by Aeolus, but he doesn't tell his men that. He lets them believe that he was given a sack of treasures but still expects them to never question him. They get jealous and open the bag, setting the journey back again when Odysseus could have just been straightforward with his men instead of being smug about it. He seemed to like the idea of having something to invoke the envy of his men, though, which was a grave mistake.

Books IX through XII probably tell us more about Odysseus than the rest of the entire story. This is because Odysseus is forced to make many crucial decisions for himself and for his men. Odysseus uses his cunning and intelligence to overcome many of these obstacles, and this is certainly the most important trait he has as a hero and as a leader. The one thing that constantly gets in the way of his better senses, however, is his excessive pride. Odysseus, even with this flaw, is a good person though. He is just a complex, multidimensional character and makes decisions both good and bad on his long journey home.

BibliographyThe Oyssey by HomerSparkNotes Editors. "SparkNote on The Odyssey." SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2002. Web. 10 March 2009.