Homers’ Epic Heroes


Homers characters are real human beings with all the strengths and weaknesses. They live, they breathe, they love, they hate. They are subject to fear and they tend, on occasion, to rise to heroic greatness. His most explored stories The Illiad and The Odyssey both have characters that exert these characteristics. Although the stories are different, both heroes share similar backgrounds, plights, and triumphs.


The heroes of the novels, thanks to the literary prowess of Homer, share similar experiences in their backgrounds. Achilles, the hero of the Illiad, was early deserted by his mother Thetis and sent by his father Peleus to Mount Pelion to be raised by Cheiron the Centaur. There he was taught the arts of manhood and when only six years old he killed his first boar. Odysseus has a similar experience in book XIX of the Odyssey during his boar hunt on Mt. Parnassus. There are similar stories as well concerning the recruitment of Odysseus and Achilles for service at Troy. Both had been forewarned that the expedition to Troy would be dangerous and both were haled off to Troy only through the trickery of the recruiting officers. The relationships that the two heroes have also contribute to their similarities. Both heroes seem to be isolated-Achilles certainly more than Odysseus, who appears, characteristically, with wife, son, father, and people in the final vision of the poem. Yet for all Achilles’ inaccessibility, the intensity of his friendship for Patroclus surpasses Odysseus’ more conventional regard for his men or attachment to his family and homeland.


Hardships seem to be the things that define a man’s life. Both Odysseus and Achilles go to extraordinary lengths to achieve their goals. Odysseus who journeys, who has a number of adventures with adversaries both terrible and beautiful, who visits the land of the dead, and who then comes to a land where he wins a bridal contest, marries the beautiful woman who is the prize and lives on as king of the country. As for Achilles, he must overcome the driving force that is the Achaean army and protect his wife Helen from the Trojans. Odysseus’ plight is much more consuming than that of Achilles. Odysseus is forced to traverse the seas for twenty years before returning whereas Achilles’ plight all occurs near the walls of the city of Troy. We see both characters however changing as their plight thickens. Odysseus comes to the realization in book XI


that all his traditional gifts are useless, making him appear seemingly somewhat less commanding when he stands alone and uncertain amidst the heroic departed. Much like Odysseus’ downtrodden thoughts, Achilles hears from the delegates what consequences his decision has entailed for the Achaean army. He is reminded of his family, of the wider contexts of his heroism, and of the mythic precedents for his situation. The war also has many adverse affects on the heroes, just as war affects everyone. Achilles is out of sight through much of the battle, sulking in his tent as Patroclus leads the Achaeans against the Trojans in an attack that is spurred by desperation. This scene, along with the journey of Odysseus from Eumaeus’ hut to the royal palace, sets the stage for two intensely dramatic scenes, Achilles’ return to the battle to avenge Patroclus, and Odysseus’ revelation before the Suitors. This represents the return of the hero in both stories, setting the stage for a climactic return.


Every Greek epic written in it’s time ended in triumph. Man’s desire to appear glorified when all is said and done shows through even in Homer’s word. What a story of a hero be without a dramatic climax. Achilles returns to battle after he sees Patroclus has been slain by Hector. Achilles becomes overcome by rage and is able to march into battle, slaying many Trojans on his way to Hector. In an epic struggle, fit for the climax of this war story, Achilles kills Hector remorselessly and thus avenging the death of his friend. Throughout history man has had to overcome adversity. When faced with the death of a loved one, men can triumph over mountains. Achilles’ triumph speaks highly of his character. He is a man of action; letting his emotions guide those actions. Odysseus is also a man of action.