The Odyssey

Elements of an Epic & The Hero's Journey

Elements of an Epic

1. Plot Centers Around a Hero of Unbelievable Stature

Odysseus is able to overcome obstacles that ordinary men only attempt with the help of Athena, Zues, Hermes, and his own wits. During the story his encounter with the cyclops Polyphemus, son of Poseidon, shows us his intelligent and quick planning skills. After being trapped in the cyclops cave and losing six men Odysseus forms the plan to stab the cyclops in the eye and blind him. Hearing the sound of Polyphemus, the neighboring cyclops rush to his cave asking who troubles him. Odysseus had previously lied and told the cyclops his name was Nohbdy, so when Polyphemus replies "Nohbdy, Nohbdy's tricked me, Nohbdy's ruined me!" (358) it sounds as though "nobody" was causing him harm and he was just screaming to hear himself. After blinding the cyclops Odysseus provides a masterful plan on how to escape his cave for good. For many days Odysseus and his crew watched the cyclops rub his goats on their back before letting them leave the cave. The next morning Odysseus ties himself and his men to the underside of the goats, where the cyclops does not rub, and is able to ride them out of the cave and to safety. In the Odyssey, Odysseus's wits help get him out of several sticky situations portraying his unbelievable stature as a hero.
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2. Involves Deeds of Superhuman Strength or Valor

Odysseus continually proves himself a true hero by overcoming the many obstacles thrown his way. On his ten year journey home Odysseus is challenged by many dangerous trials. Using his cunning words and daring personality, Odysseus is able to overcome several dangerous tasks that anyone other than a true hero would definitely perish under. During his encounter with Scylla and Charybdis he is able to stay calm and direct his crew between the colossal sea monster and dangerous whirlpool. Being able to complete this great task, with few fatalities, shows Odysseus's great sense of valor as a hero during difficult times.
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3. Vast Setting

The story of Odysseus's journey takes place in several different locations. Not only does the setting include the vast land and sea of the ordinary world that we live in, but it also includes the dark underworld.
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4. Involves Supernatural and-or Otherworldly Forces

Throughout his journey Odysseus is both helped and hindered by the gods. After blinding Poseidon's son Polyphemus, the cyclops prays that his father never let Odysseus see his home on Ithaca again. His father responses to his son's prayer and makes Odysseus's journey home even worse than what it was before. Athena, goddess of wisdom, is always on Odysseus's side during his long voyage home. Even after he gets back to Ithaca Athena is there to help him. One way she did so was by disguising him as beggar. She did this to keep him safe from the suitors attempting to court his wife, in order to take his place as king. She was also there when Odysseus decides to get his revenge on every suitor who dared to take his queen and his spot as king. Without the help of the goddess Athena, Odysseus would have had a much harder time getting back to his family on Ithaca and an even harder time getting his wife Penelope back.
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5. Sustained Elevation of Style

The Odyssey was written as an epic, better known as a long narrative poem that tells the adventures of a hero. Throughout the story Homer uses homeric similes to describe events in depth. During Odysseus' revenge on the suitors, Homer describes every detail of the death of the arrogant suitor Antinous.

Odysseus' arrow hit him under the chin and punched up to the feathers through

his throat. Backward and down he went, letting the winecup fall from his shocked hand. Like pipes his nostrils jetted crimson runnels, a river of mortal red, and one last kick upset his table knocking the bread and meat to soak in dusty blood. (1419-1425)

By using this simile, Homer is able to give the reader what seems like a front row seat to Antinous's death. This is something only a truly epic writer can do.

6. Poet Remains Objective and Omniscient

The Odyssey was narrated by the great war hero Odysseus. Homer does a wonderful job of telling the story in an omniscient way so that the reader believes they are actually hearing Odysseus tell the story of his adventures. Homer wrote The Odyssey from Odysseus' point of view, therefore that is who he introduces himself as in the beginning of the story. Homer did a great job of writing The Odyssey in a way that makes the reader feel as though they are listening to the great Odysseus recount the dangerous trials he overcame to return home.
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The Hero's Journey

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  1. The Call to Adventure- The Trojan War was Odysseus' call to adventure. His cunning actions during the war and in his journey to get home shows us Odysseus' heroic qualities.
  2. Supernatural Aid- During the Trojan War, Athena was beside Odysseus to keep him safe. On his long journey home Zues, Athena, and Hermes were able to convince Calypso to let Odysseus go after holding him captive for seven years. When Odysseus finally returned home to Ithaca, Athena was there to help him get revenge on the men courting his wife to get his place as king.
  3. The Crossing of the first Threshold- After the Trojan War the long and treacherous journey home began. During this ten year journey Odysseus shows true qualities as a hero. He is able to accomplish several feats that most would coward away from. Odysseus uses his smarts and is able to take on cyclops, sea monsters, whirlpools, and other complications that only a true hero could defeat.
  4. The Road of Trials- During Odysseus' long return home he was put through many trials. These trials include his encounter with the cyclops, Syclla and Charybdis, the Lotus-eaters and the Sirens. Odysseus also experienced many other hardships like the loss of some of his best men, temptations along the way, and the consequences of his curiosity.
  5. Woman as Temptress- If it was not for the nymph Calypso Odysseus could have made it back to ithaca seven years earlier. The love she had for Odysseus drove her to hold him captive on her island. During this time Odysseus thinks of his wife Penelope and how it is important for him to stay loyal to her. He believes that although he had an affair with Calypso no harm was done because he was always loyal to Penelope in his heart.
  6. Atonement with the Father- The Land of the Dead is where Odysseus learns what the road ahead could have in store for him and his crew. Although he does not meet his father here he learns from Tiresias what effect poor actions can cause. Tiresias tells Odysseus when they encounter Helios's cattle to leave them alone if he wanted his crew to survive. If Odysseus and his men were to kill and eat the cattle everyone but Odysseus would die. When they reach the cattle the men do not follow Tiresias's instructions and they kill them. Odysseus is then left alone to encounter the many hardships on his journey back to Ithaca.
  7. The Ultimate Boon- After ten years of war and ten of dangerous trials at sea, Odysseus finally made it back to his home and family on Ithaca.
  8. The Magical Flight- Even after Odysseus made it back to Ithaca one last trial awaited him. More than one hundred suitors are in his home with the intent to become king. The one place he longed to be was not safe for him. Athena is there for Odysseus, and disguises him as a beggar to hide his true identity and keep him safe. He is now able to talk to his son and wife Penelope without anyone being suspicious of him. With the help of Athena he is also able to get his revenge on those who dared to take his wife and spot as king.
  9. Rescue from Without- When Odysseus got back to Ithaca, Athena was there to help him get his wife back. Even though he had reached his goal of returning home, he still faced challenges in order for him to get his old life back. Athena helped Odysseus slay all the suitors, which is something he definitely would not have been able to do alone. After the suitors were gone the gods granted Odysseus safety from the families of the suitors and he was then able to truly say he had returned home.
  10. Freedom to Live- With more than one hundred strong and healthy men dead, Odysseus has many families unhappy with him. With the help of the gods Odysseus is granted safety from the families' whose sons he has killed, and is now safely home at last with his wife and son.

Works Cited

"Six Elements Of the Epic." Six Elements of The Epic. N.p,n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.

"Writeworld." WRITEWORLD. Web. 11 Dec. 2015.

Homer. "The Odyssey." Prentice Hall Literature. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2013. 1089-1114