Throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer’s use of the epithet in describing Odysseus becomes essential as a means of characterizing the hero. Homer uses several epithets, or nicknames, along with the name “Odysseus” as the story unfolds in both tales. Three of these include the descriptive epithet “wily Odysseus,” the laudative epithet “Odysseus, the great tactician,” and the patronymic epithet “Odysseus Laertiades.” Besides their obvious descriptive qualities, each of these epithets function to amplify, enhance, or characterize the hero.
Although the epithet “wily Odysseus” serves a descriptive purpose, it also serves other purposes as well. Actually, this epithet also amplifies an important characteristic of this hero in each epic. Odysseus was known throughout the ancient world for his cunning, and this comes into play quite often in both The Iliad and The Odyssey, as he demonstrated in devising the scheme of the Trojan Horse. Just as the Greeks’ cause seemed utterly hopeless, it was Odysseus whose wits were able to save them with his masterful plan. Indeed, Menelaus, for example, when recounting the story to Telemachus, stated plainly: “I have met…foresight and wit in many first rate men, but never have I seen one like Odysseus” (Odyssey 61). This is only one of several examples of Odysseus’ wit and wisdom, and by the use of the epithet “wily Odysseus,” Homer emphasizes this character trait time after time, thus pressing it home to his listeners.
However, the laudative epithet “Odysseus, the great tactician,” besides serving to describe, also emphasizes Odysseus’ mastery of negotiation. This character trait is essential to the plot in both...
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...rocky land; but he is master of intrigue and stratagem” (Iliad 69). These words of Helen, a queen among the Greeks and the Trojans, demonstrate her great respect for Odysseus.
In conclusion, it becomes evident throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey that the epithets are used as more than just simple description or praise. Each epithet listed here was not only used to describe or praise, but also to emphasize and amplify the outstanding characteristics, which were essential to the Greek’s victory at Troy and the completion of Odysseus’ voyage home. Without these traits, the outcome of both epics could have been quite different. Homer made sure we, the readers and listeners, know this by his use of epithets.
Homer. The Iliad. Trans. E. V. Rieu. England: Penguin Books, 1950.
Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. Vintage, 1969
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