To many, a hero is someone who saves something or someone else. Although Odysseus seems to be the hero in Homers The Odyssey, his name problematizes the nature of his heroism, and ultimately, of his identity. In Greek, the proper noun Odysseus also functions as a verb meaning to be against or to oppose. Paradoxically, then, the protagonist of The Odyssey is also an antagonist; the hero is also the character responsible for causing the greatest harm.
When Odysseus leaves Ithaka to fight in the Battle of Troy, he does more intimate damage than he will ever realize until he returns to find his home in a state of chaos and subsequent destruction. When Odysseus leaves, he leaves behind a son that will never have a secure understanding of who he really is until he himself takes a journey to find his true identity. For the twenty years that Odysseus is away, Telemekhos has no assurance of who his father truly is or if he really is Odysseuss son. All that Telemekhos wants is a father that will grow old in his house, will act as a father acts, and be there as a father is:
Friend, let me put it in the plainest way. My mother says I am his son; I know not surely. I wish at least I had some happy man as father, growing old in his own house— but unknown death and silence are the fate of him that, since you ask, they call my father. (Book I, 258 -264). Odysseus has caused emotional damage to Telemekhos by not being there like a father should be. Odysseus also left his wife Penelope with Telemekhos as a baby when he went to fight. He left Penelope with the intention of returning but there was no guaranty.
After so many years a wife can only imagine the horrible fates her husband may have encountered. Penelopes emotional status is in a state of suffering and depression due to the fact that her lover has left and doesnt seem to be returning. Penelope, stays in her room and weaves and unweaves a shroud in hope that he may return before she has to choose a new husband. She sits in her room all day and she weeps and weeps for Odysseuss return: Sill with her child indeed she is, poor heart,/ still in your palace hall. Forlorn her nights/ and days go by, her life used up in weeping.
Although Odysseus is out playing hero for many, within his internal environment, he is causing sever damage. The pain and damage that he has caused however, is not limited to just his wife and his child. Odysseus also has harmed his mother and his father. The emotional damage that Odysseus has done to his mother, is so extensive that she dies not of an illness but of loneliness: … not that illness overtook me—no true illness wasting the body to undo the spirit; only my loneliness for you, Odysseus, for your kind heart and counsel, gentle Odysseus, ook my own life away. Book XI, 123 – 127).
Odysseus also damaged his father emotionally. After Odysseus left, he no longer held his disposition of a king and began to fall into a state of depression. When Odysseus goes to the underworld, his mother tell him: is country bound and comes to town no more. He owns no bedding, rugs, or fleecy mantles, but lies down, winter nights, among the slaves, rolled in old cloaks for cover, near the embers. Or when the heat comes at the end of summer, the fallen leaves, all around his vineyard plot, heaped into windrows, make his lowly bed.
He lies now even so, with aching heart, and longs for your return, while age comes on him. (Book XI, 210-219). The intimate damage that Odysseus has done is so extensive that he has caused depression, and even death. When Odysseus reaches Troy, he becomes hero to one segment of the population, but will always remain a destroyer to another segment of the population. To his fellow warriors, he is a hero for his strategy in defeating the trojans: And as to stratagems, no man would claim/ Odysseus gift for those. He had no rivals,/ your father, at the tricks of war. Book III, 129 – 131).
Although he is a hero to these people, to the people of Troy, he will remain a destroyer. Odysseus, killed many people and tore down a city that took so long to build. No person from that city could ever call him a hero. On Odysseus journey home, he stops in many different lands and causes destruction in one way or another to either the people of the land or to his crewmen. When he and his crewman go to the island of the Kyklops, Odysseus has an idea to go into the Kyklops cave and wait for him with a few of his crewmen. The first damage that is done, is that the Kyklops eats the crewmen.
Although Odysseus did not intend for this harm to be done, it happened regardless. Then, after Kyklops ate the crewmen, Odysseus and the crewmen that were left, stabbed the kyklops in the eye with a stick. This is the second episode of damage that was caused by Odysseus unintentionally. Another example of the damage that Odysseus has caused, is when he stops on Aiaia, island of Kirke. Odysseus plan was to only stay two nights, however their stay ended up to be one month. Odysseus could have left whenever he wanted, but Kirkes beauty and the abundance of wine kept them there longer than planned.
Finally after one month when the decision is made to go ahead with their travels, the youngest crewman falls off of the roof and dies because he has had to much to drink. This incident may not necessarily be directly Odysseus fault, but had Odysseus and his crewman, left when they had first decided to leave, this never would have happened. The physical damage that Odysseus has either indirectly or directly caused, is contradicting his heroic stature. In addition to causing physical destruction, he also unintentionally produces emotional devastation.
When Odysseus and his crew arrive on Aiolia Island home of Aiolos Hippotades, the damage that is done is not a physical damage, but an emotional devastation. Aiolos Hippotades, the wind king, gives Odysseus a bag of winds to help him on his way. He tell Odysseus not to open it so that all of the winds don’t get out at the same time. Odysseus does not tell his crew what is in the bag so they think that Odysseus is hiding things from them and not sharing with them. While Odysseus takes one of his rare naps, they open the bag and let all of the winds out.
Odysseus totally loses Aiolos trust and respect: Take yourself out of this island, creeping thing– no law, no wisdom, lays it on me now to help a man the blessed gods detest– out! your voyage here was cursed by heaven! (Book X, 82 -85). Although Odysseus is not the one that loses the wind, the fact is that he indirectly was a part of it: He drove me from the place, groan as I would, and comfortless we went again to sea, days of it, till the men flagged at the oars– o breeze no help in sight, by our own folly–(Book X, 86 – 89).
Not only did this destroy the trust between Aiolos and Odysseus, but it caused Odysseus and his crew to be stuck at sea longer than they would have had to be. Not all of the damage done is physical, it can be in many different forms. Within Odysseus travels, everywhere he stops damage is done, whether it be physical, emotional, directly, or indirectly. Odysseus character portrays the protagonist and the hero, but his paradoxical name contradicts his heroic reputation.