Monday, October 22, 2012

Anti-hero Odysseus

The story of Odysseus and his many travels is a popular theme in apocalyptic novels that hit the road.  It seems to be particularly popular with male writers on their first book, writing about their male hero.

It is interesting to note, that the Classical Greek audience reaction to Odysseus is not what we would think.  Note that the Classical Greeks were looking back at a pretty old series of tales.  The stories of Odysseus were stories of a hero during some rather unsettling times.

The good rogue Odysseus
Emily Wilson, The Times Literary Supplement, 5 October 2012 (hat tip NC)
But in the extant literature of fifth-century Athens – especially, in Athenian tragedy – there is an increasing suspicion that Odysseus’ good qualities are not really good at all. As Silvia Montiglio notes in From Villain to Hero, “in all his significant appearances in extant tragedy except in Ajax . . . Odysseus is a rogue”. Moreover, his villainy is linked to many of the same qualities for which he is admirable in Homer, such as his ability to tell lies when the occasion demanded, his cleverness, his eloquence, and his ability to keep his eye on the prize and use any means possible to get it. Odysseus in Athenian tragedy is associated with all the bugbears of contemporary society: he is a demagogue, a man with an eye only for the main chance; he favours might over right, the end beyond the means; his brains are all used in the service of self-interest…This flexibility of mind is at the root of Odysseus’ appeal in Homer, but also the reason for much later ambivalence and suspicion of the hero’s morals.
In unsettled time Odysseus seems the natural hero.  That we are in unsettled times, allows him to once again be a hero.


PioneerPreppy said...

Well he certainly wasn't the most sexually loyal of husbands that's for sure. I never thought of him as being especially moral or especially non-moral in the "Odyssey".

russell1200 said...

Pioneer: I always thought that in his own way he was rather loyal. Seems like there were many fine woman he could have stayed with if he had not wanted to get home.

Odysius was loyal to his family/kin in a general sense, and did what ever it took to survive. They were the ideals that probably came out of tales that originated in the collapse period of Dark Ages Greece. The Classical Greeks were much more organized, civilized time. My guess is that they would have preferred someone with a bit more civic nature.