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Competition in "The Odyssey" and Today

Updated on February 25, 2014
A statue of Odysseus from Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey.
A statue of Odysseus from Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey. | Source

In Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, heavy emphasis is placed on competition, strength, and attractiveness. Throughout the poem, Odysseus is portrayed as a strong, brave, clever, and handsome hero who can do no wrong. Odysseus’ reputation is elevated to a level higher than his peers because of his strength, intelligence, and success with women.

Odysseus is depicted as both good looking and charming. Athena, a goddesses who looks favorably upon Odysseus and assists him countless times throughout his journey, even uses her immortal powers to make Odysseus more attractive: “Athena lent a hand, making him seem / taller, and massive too, with crisping hair / in curls like petals of wild hyacinth” (VI.243-245). Using both his natural characteristics and his newly acquired physical traits, Odysseus uses his appearance to his advantage. Nausikaa, a princess, helps him after he washes up on the shore of her island. Nausikaa even describes Odysseus as a “handsome stranger,” and seems to be fond of him (VI.294). In addition, he is seduced by and sleeps with various women, most of whom are immortal goddesses, such as Kalypso and Kirke. Since the amount of women a man can date or sleep with is typically seen as an indicator of how successful he is, Odysseus’ popularity among women implies that he is both more powerful and successful than his peers.

Another aspect of Odysseus’ popularity is his strength and cleverness. Seareach insults Odysseus and his mother during the track and field games: “You must have been the skipper of some tramp / that crawled from one port to the next” (VIII.170-171). Seareach claims that Odysseus is not an athlete and that he cannot keep up with the rest of the men. Odysseus proceeds to win the discus event with ease, making Seareach look like a fool and regaining his positive reputation. Not only does Odysseus’ strength boost his popularity, but his quick, shrewd thinking also impresses those around him. When the Kyklops was devouring his crew, Odysseus crafted an elaborate scheme to blind and trick the Kyklops, enabling him and his men to escape. Both Odysseus’ intellect and brawn are important traits that contribute to his hero-like status.

In modern times, individuals equated with heroes have traits similar to Odysseus. Intelligence, might, and charm are prized characteristics in men today. Men are given god-like status based on the number of women they attract, such as Hugh Heffner, who materializes women and uses them to his own means. Witty individuals and comedians, like Will Ferrell, are glorified for their clever retorts and jokes. Sylvester Stallone epitomizes the ideal of strength in a society where physical power is overvalued, analogous to The Odyssey. Odysseus is a model character according to his society’s standards and values, and would probably be powerful in our society today as well.

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© 2012 ReverieMarie

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