Heroic Qualities


Heroic Qualities Essay, Research Paper

Ancient civilizations pass on their contributions to society through oral traditions now written down. They felt the best way to continue their livelihood was to create fabulous stories that encompassed the general ideal of the people. These stories were used as tools for teaching societal standards, displaying consequences, and modeling expectations. Today new look back at these most famous stories and try to derive a consensus of how the people of the past thought and believed. The main characters in these stories were usually described as the hero. People idealized this person and used him as an example for general reference. Two of the most prominent heroes were Odysseus the Homeric epic hero, and Oedipus, Sophocles’s tragic hero. The immediate nature of both Odysseus and Oedipus displays heroic characteristics in each of their stories; they both struggle with imperfections, but each deals with his weakness differently.

Both heroes begin each story as a good leader or leader. Odysseus can be best described as an embodiment of the ideal of the people. He displayed great strength and creative wit, but he was subject to his own character. Odysseus was a heroic man coming home from a long war. While he was gone his wife’s suitors had turn his home and its surroundings in to shambles. The people recognized Odysseus’s importance to the organization of the town. He was the strong ruler that they turned to in times of need. He was also known as a strong and clever warrior. Odysseus was known for helping create the Trojan horse and the down fall of the city of Troy. The horse was presented as a gift to the Trojans. Inside the hollow horse, Achaean troops were waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting Trojan’s. After the victory of the war, Odysseus tried to journey home only to be delayed continually. When he and his shipmates encounter the Cyclops who traps them in his cave, Odysseus devises a plan to help them escape. The Cyclops, Polyphemos, let his prized sheep out graze during the day, so Odysseus decided they should hang on the bellies of the sheep when he let the out, Odysseus saved his men from certain death.

However, as Odysseus was escaping from Polyphemos he disclosed his name to the giant, which he had earlier tried to keep a secret. He wanted to pridefully exclaim that he was the man who had tricked the awful Polyphemos. He did not realize the consequences of this disclosure made him in particular responsible for his actions. It happed that Polyphemos was the son the sea god Poseidon. Throughout the rest of the journey, Poseidon works against Odysseus and his crew. Odysseus allowed pride to get the best of him; this becomes a common occurrence of epic heroes. He feels he can accomplish all things on his own, forgetting to honor the gods. This character flaw seems to appear later in the epic when Odysseus arrives home to find his home in the middle of a terrible ordeal. He allows anger to engulf him and vows to get revenge on the suitors and their accomplices. He kills the handmaidens of the suitors; they are given an offensive and dishonorable death “by hanging rather than by the knife or sword, as in the ritual sacrifice of an innocent animal” (Wilkie and hurt 571). This dishonorable death showed Odysseus lack of respect and extreme anger, which he took out on the maids. They were not allowed a proper burial, which dishonored their families and all that knew them.

Oedipus is another famous hero who served as the Theban king. Oedipus became famous when he solved a riddle and rid the city of the monstrous Sphinx. The Theban people had just lost their king and so the hero Oedipus was crowned as their new leader. He then married the queen and ruled over the city. A terrible plague later haunts the people of Thebes, Oedipus vows to find the cause and later vows to avenge the death of the past king of Thebes. Oedipus tries to be an honorable king and defend the welfare of his people, yet he is unaware that he is the cause for his city’s affliction. As a prime example of the tragic hero, Oedipus experiences a quick change in his luck. Aristotle said that a tragic hero would “ change fortune from prosperity to adversity” (Wilkie and hurt 972). Oedipus is described as humanely intelligent and a vigorously active leader”(Wilkie and Hurt 735).

Slowly Oedipus begins to realize his fate; the fate that he has lived his life to avoid. He has spent his life trying to avert the oracles that declared he would kill his father and marry his mother. After running away, Oedipus kills a traveler on the road to Thebes. He would later find out that this traveler was his father. Often times Oedipus would act in order to avoid his fate before thinking about what he was doing. His flaw is that he believes he can run away from or alter the effects of fate. Fate was guarded by the gods and so Oedipus is suggesting that he is capable of functioning without the help or intervention of the gods. His life displays an awkward possibility that one could kill his father and marry his mother. “Nothing is improbable in the life of a tragic hero”(Wilkie and Hurt 975). The story of a tragic hero is suppose to warn people that even the most pious can have a downfall. Oedipus finds his wife (and mother) hanged and stabs his own eyes out. This depicts Oedipus’s metaphorical blindness throughout the play and now after the realization his physical blindness. Oedipus begins as an extraordinary man and falls by some fault or frailty.

Both characters are strong willed leaders who often times try to take control of too much at one time. They both display strengths and heroic characteristics. Odysseus is the embodiment of the ideal as the epic hero. On the other hand, Oedipus is a good man tested by fate and later comes to his downfall as a tragic hero. Both heroes is told of to teach a lesson to the people, the epic hero gives people a standard which to idealize and the tragic hero gives an example of how fragile life is and how much fate rules our lives. Most of all these characters display the abilities of humans even with imperfections and frailties.

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