Prem Parikh, Contributor

Prem Parikh earned an Honorable Mention for his critical essay “Flawed”

As American author, Brodi Ashton once said, “Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not the powers they are graced with” (Brodi). In fact, a person does not need power at all to be considered a hero; they can be anyone from a young child to an old man. Instead, heroism stems from a person’s decisions, notably when the hero prioritizes the wellbeing of others. In Homer’s epic, The Odyssey, the protagonist, Odysseus, is often praised as the ultimate hero because of his role in the Trojan War. On his way back home to Ithaca from Troy, Odysseus and his crew got stranded. It took Odysseus ten years to finally return to Ithaca. Odysseus and his crew faced many treacherous challenges along the adventure. During his long journey, Odysseus struggles to show the qualities of a hero consistently. Though he is known for his ingenious and strategic thinking, Odysseus ultimately cannot be considered a hero because of his arrogance and inability to focus on his goals.

Initially, Odysseus’ immediate and clever thinking seemingly qualifies him as a hero. When Odysseus and his crew reach the island of the cyclops, he decides to investigate the vicinity with some crew members. They come across a giant cave where the cyclops, Polyphemus, traps them with a boulder. Odysseus quickly thinks of a plan to escape and decides to make Polyphemus drunk, so that he can stab his eye while he is sleeping. As Odysseus pours Polyphemus more wine, the cyclops asks for his name. Odysseus replies, “Nobody—that’s my name. Nobody— / so my mother and father call me, all my friends” (IX. 410-411). Clearly, Odysseus’ ability to think when he is in a predicament is unbelievable. He needed to think of something on the spot without revealing his true identity, and he quickly formulates a plan to manipulate Polyphemus. Odysseus told Polyphemus that his name is “Nobody”; thus, Polyphemus tells the other cyclops’ that “Nobody” is killing him when they are concerned about his screaming. The cyclops believed Odysseus because of his convincing tone and his mention that even his parents call him that demonstrating his remarkable ability to improvise. Additionally, Odysseus takes advantage of Polyphemus’ lack of knowledge of human names; this allowed the crew to escape, making Odysseus a hero. Moreover, Odysseus knew exactly how this scheme would play out due to his extraordinary foresight. Odysseus’ plan consequently saves the majority of his crew, and he risks his life for them at this moment as Polyphemus catching Odysseus in a lie would result in the monster killing him and his men. Odysseus’ competent ability to carry out a plan designates him as a hero.

Despite Odysseus’ ability to execute an intelligent plan, his excessive pride stands in the way of his heroism. After Odysseus and his men escape Polyphemus’ cave, they board their ship once again. When they start to sail away, Odysseus begins to shout taunts back at Polyphemus, causing the monster to throw boulders at their ship. Still, Odysseus proceeds to taunt the cyclops yelling, “Cyclops— / if any man on the face of the earth should ask you / who blinded you, shamed you sosay Odysseus, / raider of cities, he gouged out your eye, / Laertes’ son who makes his home in Ithaca!” (IX. 558-562). Odysseus’ insults demonstrate his ego consuming him. Odysseus puts his entire crew’s life in danger by angering Polyphemus; however, Odysseus chooses to provoke him even more because of his “fighting spirit,” but the fight had already concluded, and the damage was done. Moreover, the italicized “he” shows how Odysseus emphasizes the fact that he alone blinded Polyphemus without any assistance, which is untrue. A hero would never lie to boost their ego. He does not once even mention that his crew helped him. Furthermore, Odysseus tells Polyphemus his real name but does not consider the fact that the cyclops is Poseidon’s son, which risks his and his crew’s entire journey home. At this point, Odysseus is more concerned about letting the world know that he blinded Polyphemus, rather than the lives of his men when a true hero would have focused on the lives of his crew. All things considered, Odysseus’ self-obsession stands in the way of his heroism.

In addition to his pride, Odysseus fails to see his tasks through, which demonstrates his lack of heroism. Once Odysseus and his crew reach Aeaea, the island of the goddess Circe, Odysseus sends his men out to explore the area. The men encounter Circe as she turns them to pigs; however, with the help of the messenger god Hermes, Odysseus eventually forces her to turn them back to humans. After this, Odysseus decides to stay at Aeaea for a year. The crew members become upset about this and decide to speak to Odysseus. They approach Odysseus in anger, saying, “Captain, this is madness! / High time you thought of your own home at last, / if it really is your fate to make it back alive / and reach your well-built house and native land” (X. 520-523). Here, the crew’s frustration with Odysseus’ passiveness is clearly emphasized. The crew’s exclamation shows that the crew has brought this up to Odysseus before, but he has refused to do anything about it. Other readers may say that Odysseus has kept his crew safe at Aeaea; however, the crew rather advance on their trip home, and Odysseus seems to ignore their goal. In fact, the crew would be much safer, comfortable, and better fed back in Ithaca if they were just to continue their journey home. Odysseus takes advantage of his knowledge about the gods being on their side by relaxing in Aeaea with Circe by his side, where he can make all the decisions. The crew needs to remind Odysseus of their purpose in order for him to take action. In this quote, they even question Odysseus’ fate as well. Odysseus grows to be lazy after he defeats Circe, unlike a hero, who would continue to fight until they reach their essential goal. The crew’s disconcert with Odysseus indicates his deficiency in heroism. 

Odysseus’ ingenuity and strategic thinking do not make up for his arrogance and inability to focus on his goals; therefore, he cannot be considered a hero. Odysseus takes advantage of his knowledge and power multiple times, consequently standing in the way of his heroism. He uses his power for himself, selfishly, causing his men to be agitated with him. People can take note of Odysseus’ flaws and learn from them. Heroism has absolutely nothing to do with power; instead, it applies to those who make the most reliable and suitable decisions.


Works Cited

Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Viking, 1996. Print.

“Brodi Ashton > Quotes > Quotable Quote.” Goodreads, Goodreads, Inc., www.goodreads.com/quotes/

     462012-heroes-are-made-by-the-paths-they-choose-not-the. Accessed 8 Dec.