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Odysseus

Odysseus

Odysseus has the defining character traits of a Homeric leader: strength, courage, nobility, a thirst for glory, and confidence in his authority. His most distinguishing trait, however, is his sharp intellect. Odysseus’s quick thinking helps him out of some very tough situations, as when he escapes from the cave of the Cyclops in Book 9, or when he hides his slaughter of the suitors by having his minstrel strike up a wedding tune in Book 23. He is also a convincing, articulate speaker and can win over or manipulate his audience with ease. When he first addresses Nausicaa on the island of Scheria, for example, his suave, comforting approach quickly wins her trust.

Like other Homeric heroes, Odysseus longs to win kleos (“glory” won through great deeds), but he also wishes to complete his nostos (“homecoming”). He enjoys his luxurious life with Calypso in an exotic land, but only to a point. Eventually, he wants to return home, even though he admits that his wife cannot compare with Calypso. He thinks of home throughout the time he spends with the Phaeacians and also while on Circe’s island. Sometimes his glory-seeking gets in the way of his home-seeking, however. He sacks the land of the Cicones but loses men and time in the process. He waits too long in the cave of Polyphemus, enjoying the free milk and cheese he finds, and is trapped there when the Cyclops returns.

Homeric characters are generally static. Though they may be very complex and realistic, they do not change over the course of the work as characters in modern novels and stories do. Odysseus and especially Telemachus break this rule. Early in his adventures, Odysseus’s love of glory prompts him to reveal his identity to the Cyclops and bring Poseidon’s wrath down on him. By the end of the epic, he seems much more willing to temper pride with patience. Disguised as a beggar, he does not immediately react to the abuse he receives from the suitors. Instead, he endures it until the traps he has set and the loyalties he has secured put him in a position from which he can strike back effectively.

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