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Odysseus and Achilles as Greek Epic Heroes.

Odysseus and Achilles as Greek Epic Heroes.

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Published by kshithisingh
Talks about Achilles and Odysseus as Epic Heroes. Qualities of epic heroes, etc.
Talks about Achilles and Odysseus as Epic Heroes. Qualities of epic heroes, etc.

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Published by: kshithisingh on May 21, 2010
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08/11/2013

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Kshithi Bhanu SinghII EnglishSeminar Paper October 25, 2009
What are the constituent attributes of a the greek epic hero? Explicate withreference to Odysseus and Achilles.
To define an epic hero itself possess a challenge as the definition is very wide and includes alot of attributes and characteristics. A general definiton of an epic hero, however, defineshim as an important figure from a history or legend, usually favored by or even partiallydescended from the Gods, but aligned more closely with mortal figures. The hero participates in a cyclical journey or quest, faces adversaries that try to defeat him in his journey, gathers allies along his journey, and returns home significantly transformed by his journey. The epic hero illustrates traits, performs deeds, and exemplifies certain morals thatare valued by the society from which the epic originates. They usually embody cultural andreligious beliefs of the people. Epic heroes have no superpowers, but are smart, brave, andhave fears which they overcome to protect their friends, families, and countries. An epichero can also be a warrior of some sort who performs extraordinary tasks that most finddifficult. The epic hero is not only a warrior and a leader, but also a polished speaker whocan address councils of chieftains or elders with eloquence and confidence.When one talks about classical Greek literature, the epic hero is usually defined in terms of the contrasting characters of Achilles and Odysseus, the most important and central figuresin Homer's grand epic poems
The Iliad 
 
and
The Odyssesy
.
Both these characters representthe Greek notions of what constitutes an epic hero.Form the initial callousness and stubborn almost child - like temper of the demi-godAchilles in the first book of 
The Iliad 
to the eventual 'humanization' of Achilles in hisinteraction with the greiving Priam, father of Hektor, whom Achilles killed himself, the Iliadshows us what contributes to make Achilles a Greek epic hero. Achilles is a hero in the epicsense, replete with flaws and bad qualities that shape his character, but with passions andconvictions that a reader relates to.
The Odyssey
,
a journey of determination, patience, and virtue, tells the tale of Odysseus, the main character, on his voyage home to Ithaca after theend of the Trojan War. Odysseus goes through many unforeseen trials and tribulations, which exemplify his character.
Odysseus is a fully human character, and his heroismconsists more in his cleverness, boldness and cunning than his martial ability. The 'man of many ways' Odysseus rises above his purely human limitations to achieve a much greater destiny, triumphing over the dangers of war and wandering to come home to his wifePenelope, son Telemachus and his fellow Ithacans.Both these heroes depict the two sides of human nature. They are not perfect and are flawedand fallible. Achilles is at his best when he offers compassion and consolation to Priamwhihc reveals his profound understanding of the human condition. However, at his worst he behaves like a selifsh child while denying to give up on his anger to rejoin the battle and
 
acts like a brutal beast when he goes on a rampage to kill Hektor, in order to revenge hisdear companion Patroklos' death.The more unpleasant aspects of Achilles' character are brought home to us shortly after wefirst encounter him in The Iliad, when he quarrels with Agamemnon over the possession of aconcubine, Briseis. Before the assembled Greek leaders, Achilles complains that he never gets his fair share of the prizes, that the Achaians do not give him sufficient honor, and thathe is weary of fighting the Trojans, "since to me they have done nothing". WhenAgamemnon takes away Briseis from him, Achilles has a fit of temper and warns all theGreeks that they will be sorry they did not cater to his whims: "And then you will eat out theheart within you in sorrow, that you did no honour to the best of the Achaians". Then heleaves to sulk in his tent. It may be said that Achilles shows himself to be a horribly hard-headed individual, and this is obviously true. But, in this encounter with the powerful king,Achilles also shows some of his more respectable qualities; such as courage, honor, and asense of justice. Achilles does not feel that it is right that he or the rest of the soldiers should be punished for the brashness of their commander and suffer for no cause at all.These is no question that Achilles is indeed the "best of the Achaians" in combat, but sincehe is the son of a goddess and blessed with invulnerability in battle, it is hardly his heroismthat makes him a great warrior. His counterpart among the Trojans, Hektor, is in truth amuch nobler character - loving to his parents, wife and children, fearless in battle, andwilling to sacrifice everything for his people. We see Achilles crying to his mother Thetisthat the gods have not done enough for him by punishing the Greeks. Sounding like a little boy, he tells her, "I wish you had gone on living then with the other goddesses/ of the sea,and that Peleus had married some mortal woman./As it is, there must be in your heart anumberless sorrow for your son's death, since you can never again receive him/ won homeagain to his country."However, great irony exists in Achilles' obsessive desire to kill Hektor and revenge thedeath of his friend Patroklos, since as Thetis reminds him, "it is decreed your death mustcome soon after Hektor's." As a demigod, Achilles does not possess immortality, and thefatal flaw in his makeup (his mother held him by the ankle when she dipped him in thecharmed waters of the river Styx) means that he must someday die. Yet after killing Hektor in the great fight scene that concludes his struggles, Achilles does not hesitate to defy thegods and sneer at the threatened curse of Apollo: "Die: and I will take my own death atwhatever time/ Zeus and the rest of the immortals choose to accomplish it". In achieveingrevenge for the death of his dear friend, Achilles shows us that he truly does feelcompassion for humans and reveals to us one of his more endearing qualities; loyalty.Achilles is over the edge with the death of Patroklos and it has brought out a rage that canonly be quenched with the blood of Hektor. Achilles is in the same sense both utterly un-human and the essence of humanity in these actions. His treatment of the noble warrior Hektor goes beyond the bounds of normal war customs at the time to quite barbaric levels.Achilles, it seems, draws satisfaction from the defiled corpse of his enemy. Yet, all of thishatred is derived from the very human emotions of sadness, grief, and especially love.Achilles does retain his human side which makes him a truly great hero. It is not his fighting prowess or brawn but the essence of humanity and humanizing values is what actuallymakes an epic hero out of Achilles.
 
Like Achilles, Odysseus also has weaknesses of character, but behind them lie a keenintelligence, wit and steadfastness of purpose. In the Trojan War, Odysseus has been asecondary character, notable mainly for his role in the episode that deals with the TrojanHorse.In The Odyssey, however, Odysseus assumes the dimension of a true epic hero, surviving along string of adventures and calamities before finally making his great homecoming toIthaca and his Penelope. Odysseus is reffered to by many names, such as "Odysseus of themany designs", "Resourceful Odysseus" and others which tell us that he is to be admired asmuch for his native cunning as for his strength and bravery. In nearly every way, Odysseusis a more complete and likeable figure than Achilles, and we cannot help admiring him evenwhen he misbehaves. As the goddess Calypso, whom he encounters on one of the manystops on his voyage home, says to him affectionately, "You are so naughty... you will haveyour own way in all things". Yet Odysseus tells his next hosts, Arete and Alkinoos, thatneither Calypso nor any other woman could ever win over his heart, which remains withPenelope and the home he has not seen in almost twenty years. As an epic hero, Odysseuscan best be described as a brave and cunning figure who conquers with his brain when hecannot win with his brawn. Odysseus manages to make himself beloved not only to women, but also to men; Alckinoos' response to him is characteristic; the knig and father of Nausicatells him shortly after they have met, "...how I wish that, being the man you are and thinkingthe way that I do, you could have my daughter and be called my son-in-law, staying herewith me."Odysseus has his tender side, too, and we often see him in a sentimental and homesick mood in spite of the many pleasurable incidents of his travels. In parting from Alkinoos, hereminds us of his fondest wish: "May I return to my house and find there a blameless wife,and all who are dear to me unharmed". We finally see the warrior in him when he rid shishouse of the suitors that wish to marry Penelope. The struggles of his journey had merelyinvolved beating men in trials of sport, outwitting demons and temptresses, and battling theelements; now Odysseus shows that in the business of killing his enemies and reclaiming hisauthority, he is at least as proficient as Achilles.It can escape no one's notice that there is a sharp contrast between Achilles and Odysseus asepic heroes whihc suggests that for the ancient Greeks the true greatness of a man laymainly in the ability to overcome injuries and insults, so as to triumph over enemies andredeem one's honor. For Achilles, this meant forgetting his wounded pride and jealousy, andreturning to the battlefield to avenge his slain companion Patroklos. Although he never doubts for moment that he can vanquish Hektor, there is real courage and determination inhis decision, since he knows that his own death will shortly follow that of the man he kills.It is difficult to admire Achilles personally after we have seen him sulking and snarling athis companions, but every reader must respect the loyalty and devotion he shows his friend,and the bravery of his final decision to come out of seclusion and avenge his friendswrongful death.In contrast, Odysseus is a many-sided character whose commitment and devotion to hisfamily represents all that is best in a man. His sufferings are more serious and deeply-feltthan those of Achilles, whose only fully human attachment lies with his friend Patroklos.The main difference between these two epic heroes, ultimately, is that Achilles' storyinvolves the death of many better men than himself, and ends unhappily in spite of hisvictory. The story of Odysseus ends most happily with the hero telling Penelope, "Dear wife, we both have had our full share of numerous trials now, yours have been here as you

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