Heroism and cowardice in the Odyssey.
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Name: Manya Aggarwal Date: 26/12/2003 Class: 12-H Heroism and cowardice in the Odyssey. The most respected and venerated social group in Homeric times was that of the heroic warriors and kings. These were the people who lead their armies into battle and won accolades for their valor or courage displayed on the battlefield. The cowardly on the other hand, were subjected to strong prejudice. Their existence was considered a burden on the earth and they were ignored and ridiculed by everyone. This is evident in the Odyssey when Homer describes the incident of Elpenor's death. "There was one called Elpenor, the youngest of the party, not much a fighting man and not very clever. This young man had got drunk and gone to sleep on the roof of Circe's palace. Roused in the morning by the bustle and din of departure, he leapt up suddenly, and forgetting to go down the ladder and take the proper way down, he toppled headlong down the roof."
Homer thus defines a hero not only to be handsome and brave but also god fearing, hospitable and one who never takes unfair advantage of others, especially in their absence. This is also evident in the Iliad when Paris's abduction of Helen in Menelaus's absence seals both his fate and that of his homeland- Troy. Odysseus is the only character in the Odyssey who thus comes closest to the ideal of the 'hero'. He is strong, handsome, brave, and also intelligent and witty. In Homer's world, no hero is complete without being endowed with the gift of intelligence and astuteness. Odysseus displays his acumen on many occasions-the encounter with Polyphemus the Cyclops and Circe, just to name a few. Odysseus also seems to be the master of deceit as is evident from the countless tales of trickery he tells people in order to avoid detection. In Homer's eyes, this treachery on the part of Odysseus is justified as he is only trying to protect his own interests without harming anybody else's.
Hence the impartial help of the Gods was the main reason behind Odysseus's success. But this supernatural aid can be seen as a reward for past bravery and suffering on the part of Odysseus and as a punishment for cowardly insolence on part of the suitors. Hence the theme of cowardice and bravery plays a big part in the Odyssey. The book does take a certain amount of interest in the fate of the cowardly, but its primary focus rests with the heroic. Even the Gods favor the brave over the cowardly. The Gods take a supreme interest in the death of the heroic be it through noble (e.g. Achilleus fighting on the battle field) or poor means (e.g. Agamemnon killed by his wife and her lover) but as long as the cowardly are given a decent burial, the Gods don't care about them and their name is never mentioned in their premises. (E.g. Elpenor's death) People who have behaved in a way not suiting their status are also condemned to a coward's death (e.g.: the suitors) and the Gods do not lament their end.
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