Ancient Greek epic poet Homer’s work The Odyssey are fine demonstrators of what is takes to be a real hero and a leader. Odysseus, the protagonist of the epic poem illustrates strong leadership traits and heroic behaviors that can justify him as a hero of his time. However, like a man he was, there were times that he was betrayed by his flaws and portrayed a rather ego-centered attitude. If he weren’t a king and army general, his flaws would be left unnoticed; yet, in a world where kings provided a role model for societies and army alike, Odysseus’ weakness, as showcased at times, deducted points from his “heroic counter”. However, to common people, a hero was the closest to being a god, and Odysseus was perceived as one: “This is your guest gift—something to pay back the ox hoof you gave godlike Odysseus "(Odyssey, XXII 290-292).
What defines a real hero? It is a seemingly easy question that can be far more challenging than one could imagine. Heroism has as many definitions as the people that would be speaking for it. Since Odysseus lived in ancient Greek times, it should be wise to compare Odysseus’ heroism with the prevailing concept. “The hero must struggle against the fear of death, in order to achieve the most perfect death” (Harvard). With that in mind, focusing on Odysseus’ former actions as depicted in The Iliad, he was a real hero and lion in the battle field, leading his men and protecting his fellow-soldiers without fear. We could say he was among the very few that provided the Greeks with “brains” and it was his wisdom and intelligence that eventually turned the Greeks into conquerors of Troy. Taking a step back and analyzing Odysseus’ journey back home, we become witnesses of his man-like nature that lead him spending numerous years in the land of Calypso in wealth and great comforts. For a moment, we forgot he was the King of Ithaca and that he had a family waiting for him. I assume, to his wife and son’s eyes, he was not much of a hero at that particular phase in his life. However, he never lost his leadership qualities and is seen determined to take his men back home safe, no matter what. He would always find the right words to convince his crew to follow him, not that they had another choice, anyway, since they were wandering in the middle of practically nowhere, fighting with epic monsters, like the Scylla and the Charybdis, for far too long. If a hero is distinguished by a fearless attitude towards death, there have been times when Odysseus’ appears afraid to die, like when Poseidon got angry with him and raised enormous waves to bring death to Odysseus as soon as he left Calypso’s Island.
“O those Danaans,three and four times blessed, who died back thenin spacious Troy, . How I wishI’d died as well and met my Fate that day” (Odyssey, IV, 376-380).
In Book Eleven, when Odysseus went of the underworld and met another great respected hero, Hercules, the later indirectly pronounced Odysseus as a hero, since they both seemed to bare the same fate ( Odyssey, 616-629).
Of course, Odysseus’ leadership qualities had a strong personal motive: to return to his home. Judging from the fact that he had left his country and sailed miles away to defend an incompetent Greek leader’s will, even if he did not share the same concept, proves that he is a man with a strong sense of duty. That, combined with the talent to speak to people’s hearts and be just, characterizes a good leader.
In regards Odysseus’ social responsibility, he is shown to have the cast of a genuine King. In Book Ten, where Odysseus kills the suitors to restore his pride and place in society, he does so with king-like just. He took care of his people and secured them, before he proceed with the killings.
Defying a man like Odysseus as a hero, an effective leader and a socially responsible man has many parameters and truth is, answering is not easy. If we view heroism and leadership in regards prevailing notions at the time Odysseus lived, we can say that Odysseus was a good leader, but not much of a hero, except in the battle field. As for his social responsibilities, he appears very considerate towards his people’s needs, as every King should, and with just in mind, he makes his every move.
Harvard University (n.d). “The Concept of the Hero”. Web. Sep. 27, 2013. <http://athome.harvard.edu/programs/nagy/threads/concept_of_hero.html>
Homer. “The Odyssey: Translated by Ian Johnston”. Second Edition: 2006. Richer Resources Publications, Arlington, Virginia. Replika Press Pvt Ltd. ISBN 978-0-9776269-9-1 < http://www.richerresourcespublications.com/E-Books/Odyssey/The_%20Odyssey.pdf>