How Is Odysseus an Archetypal Hero?

The protagonist of Homer’s “Odyssey,” Odysseus, is an archetypal hero both spiritually and physically, being strong, virtuous and intelligent. He is an authoritative and noble leader and, despite his travels and ordeals, maintains a strong loyalty to his family and home. In physical terms, his role as a classic or archetypal hero is illustrated by his adventures, through which he wins glory, or “kleos.”

During the course of the story, Odysseus comes into contact with Hercules, another archetypal hero, in the underworld. Aside from his strength in venturing into the underworld, not to mention returning unscathed, his heroism is highlighted in this encounter when Hercules likens Odysseus to himself. This situates Homer’s character in the tradition of established mythological heroes.

In some ways, however, Odysseus is also more complex than other heroes, both from earlier Greek mythology and Homer’s other works. For one thing, his lust for glory comes across as arrogant at times, such as during his encounter with the Cyclops, to whom he reveals his name and incurs the anger of Poseidon. His glory-seeking also sometimes serves as an obstacle to his journey home.

Nevertheless, such flaws are generally introduced early in the story and are used as a benchmark for charting Odysseus’ development as a character, increasing in the heroic attributes of wisdom and good judgment.