How Have Writers Used the Character of Odysseus?
Throughout history Odysseus has been portrayed and used in different ways, by many different authors for a variety of reasons. This essay will look at some of the better known portrayals.
In the original story Odysseus is the hero of Homer’s Odyssey. The story follows on from Homer’s Iliad, the story of the Trojan War, the character of Odysseus is featured heavily in this book as well. In The Odyssey however, the Trojan War is over and the book concerns the hero’s 10 year journey home to his wife Penelope and son Telemachus in Ithaca. Throughout the story Odysseus encounters various obstacles on his journey and learns a number of lessons about himself. The descriptions of Odysseus and the way in which he deals with the various problems he encounters paints him as the archetypal Greek male. Throughout the text, Odysseus is variously described as astute, inventive, noble, nimble-witted, patient, shrewd and subtle (among other positive qualities). What I think Homer is highlighting by these descriptions is that it is not brute strength that is important in a man but intellect and humility. Further evidence of this can be found in the Iliad – it was not Achilles prowess as a warrior that ultimately brought the war to a finish but Odysseus’s Trojan Horse idea.
In contrast to Homer’s ideal male, in The Aenied Virgil twists Ulysses (the Latin name for Odysseus) and shows him in a totally different light. Far from being the standard for morality as Homer sees him, he is notorious as being sneaky, underhand and treacherous, an evil trickster. This is demonstrated when Laocoon and the Trojans are discussing the Trojan Horse left by the Greeks. Laocoon is advising caution, “….can you believe the enemy truly gone? A gift from the Greeks and no ruse? Is that Ulysses’ way, as you have known him?...even when the Greeks bring gifts I fear them, gifts and all” (The Aenied, Virgil). Virgil’s motive for depicting...