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The Fatal Pride of Odysseus

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Odysseus is known as a great war hero and leader who encounters and conquers unimaginable obstacles in his quest to return to Ithaca. This is understandable, given that Homer often uses Odysseus’ point of view in recounting his tortuous ten-year journey. However, beneath the surface is another perspective that is often overlooked, namely, that of Odysseus’ men who accompany him on this journey. Odysseus often glosses over his shortcomings as a leader and accentuates or even exaggerates his successes. If his men had been given more of a voice, it is likely that a different account of Odysseus’ leadership qualities would have been presented. For instance, Odysseus takes great pains to portray himself as an innocent victim and Homer’s readers generally accept this perspective. Odysseus’ hubris makes him careless when it comes to the safety of his men and therefore, an unreliable leader. Careful analysis of the scenes featuring Cicones, Aeolus and the Winds, and Scylla and Charybdis reveals that Odysseus often fails to transcend his own self-interest and ultimately he is the one responsible for the deaths of his men.

The events that take place on the island of Cicones reveal Odysseus’ flaws in two ways. First, in his vanity, he wishes to make an impression that will last long in the minds of men, and he therefore leads his men in a rampage against innocent people in order to plunder their wealth. The treasure could have been taken without wholesale murder and enslavement but Odysseus is accustomed to thinking of himself as a great hero and indiscriminately applies his wartime practices of kill or be killed. To be so unnecessarily violent says a lot about Odysseus and his wrong assumption that because of who he is, it is perfectly ...

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...is own benefit, both in wealth and reputation, in mind. Odysseus will do anything to protect his image as a great and wise leader, including lying and falsely accusing his own men and, in desperation, even the gods. While Odysseus and many readers of The Odyssey regard him as an admirable and selfless leader, he demonstrates that he is inconsistent with thinking of anyone besides himself. Furthermore, his hubris prevents him from recognizing his own carelessness as a leader and eventually results in the crew’s tragic deaths. Odysseus becomes blinded by his own admirable qualities and successes in war and fails to address effectively both the obstacles at hand during his journey back to Ithaca and the well-being of the men under his command. While many factors contribute to the failure of Odysseus as a leader, at the heart of them all underlies his fatal pride.
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