Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Having just finished up teaching another unit on Homer's Odyssey, the perennial questions arise as to what we as modern readers are supposed to make of Odysseus as a character and possible role model. No doubt Odysseus comes across as a noble, charismatic, larger-than-life individual, the one who is "never at a loss" and therefore "ready for any challenge" that Life may throw his way. Granted, he does carry with him his share of "baggage" when it comes to bad decisions and reckless deeds; these are somewhat mitigated by the fact that he finds himself in one extreme situation after another and always emerges with some priceless morsel of wisdom extracted at a high price. I maintain that Odysseus presents as a new kind of hero - vastly different in character from the traditional warrior heroes of which the two most famous examples were Achilles and Agamemnon. Whereas these two Greek alpha-males were "difficult" to say the least, not to mention: proud, brash, arrogant, stubborn, inflexible, vain, petty, demanding, snobbish, cruel and ruthlessly single-minded - their main focus being "victory on the battlefield" and "winning respect from their inferiors" - i.e. not the sort one would enjoy keeping company with - Odysseus, by contrast, is a kinder, gentler, more well-rounded individual - a survivor of many settings who overcomes adversity by using his wits (metis). Odysseus is concerned with homecoming (nostos) - return from a protracted struggle at Troy to a strife-filled domestic sphere; because of this, his adventures span the extremes of war and peace. Yet, while soldierly types like Achilles would prefer fighting-to-the-death to suffering any sort of slight or humiliation, and would shun manual exertions for their own sake as base and plebeian, Odysseus - like Hercules before him - is willing to undergo such "labors" for the sake of adventure, and endures all sorts of embarrassing situations. Where Achilles is a somewhat static character who never changes, never learns, never grows as a person, Odysseus is dynamic, innovative, and resourceful - someone who is always learning from his mistakes and adapting to new situations. Notwithstanding his appeal, charisma and larger-than-life status, Odysseus is nevertheless someone who has been known, on occasion, to lie, cheat, steal, pillage, maim, kill, offend, deceive, betray, threaten and exploit both men and gods alike. Comparing O's virtues with his vices (see below), the question remains as to whether and to what degree he measures up to our modern standards of heroism.
On the plus side for Odysseus, I have listed the following "good qualities":
On the minus side, I list the following "bad qualities":
Posted by T.W.S. at 11:01 AM