Heroism: Odysseus from The Odyssey and Medea

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Medea is the protagonist in the play Medea which makes her comparable to Odysseus from The Odyssey in that they both have many conflicts in their way, but how they handle the different situations separates them greatly. 

Odysseus has a Homeric leader’s distinguishing traits of character: strength, bravery, integrity, a desire for glory and confidence in his authority. But his most distinguishing attribute is his sharp intellect. Quick thoughts from Odysseus gets him out of certain very tough circumstances, like fleeing from the Cyclops ‘ Cave in Book 9, or avoiding his suitors ‘ slaughter by letting his “minstrel” play a wedding tune in Book 23. He is also a persuasive speaker, who articulates and can easily win over or manipulate his audience. For example, when he first meets Nausicaa on Scheria Island, his suave, soothing approach quickly wins her trust.

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Like other Homeric legends, Odysseus longs for winning kleos (the ‘glory’ earned by great deeds). He loves his lavish life on an exotic land with Calypso, but only to a certain extent. Eventually he wants to go back home, even though he acknowledges that Calypso can not be compared to his wife. Throughout the time he spends with the Phaeacians, and even while on the island of Circe, he thinks of home. Nonetheless, often his quest for glory gets in the way of his home hunt. He sacks the Cicones land but in the end, he loses men and time. He stays in the Polyphemus Cave for too long, loving the free milk and cheese he finds, and is imprisoned there when the Cyclops return. The love that Odysseus has for glory drives him to give his identity to the Cyclops, Poseidon’s wrath is brought down onto him. 

He appears much more likely to balance ambition with caution by the end of the story. Disguises let Odysseus test his friends’ and family’s loyalty. So when he is disguised as a beggar, he doesn’t respond to the harassment he gets from the suitors immediately. Instead, he tolerates it until the traps he has put out and the loyalties he has obtained place him in a position he can eventually strike back from. With the return of Odysseus, dressed as an old beggar, he learns that Penelope stayed loyal. She has actually created strategies to try and stop her suitors, one of which is to appear to be sewing a burial gown for the elderly father of Odysseus, Laertes, and claim to select a suitor when she’s finished.

Strangely enough, the character of Medea fits the description of a heroine. Compared to Odysseus, she treated her situation very differently. She catches the chorus ‘ attention, and the chorus soon turns to her side, defending her. The chorus ignites her confidence to be more than just a wife and a mother. Medea’s accomplishments are also remarkable in a way, as she sacrifices her home and family for Jason’s survival. Later, she acts by killing Pelias to help Jason reclaim his throne. Although her actions were cruel, they were her love. Medea realizes her potential status as a heroine and puppet to the chorus and others.

The best way to address the issue of whether or not Medea is a heroine is to discuss the final sections of the play. She is depicted in the last parts as a cold-blooded maniac daunting her murders against Jason, who seems to have some reason to want his children back. I see so little goodness in this. With the depiction of Medea’s character in the play aside, she is a heroine though mainly coming from a modern viewpoint. 

It is easy to sympathize with Medea because she and her children are eventually humiliated by the husband she has done so much for. Medea’s husband informs her that the only reason he is marrying her is because of his devotion to his family. It’s not that he no longer considers Medea appealing, or that he really wants more kids. Jason only wants to have a more stable life for his family by marrying into royalty. He tells of Medea for being a ridiculous, narcissistic woman and not caring about the family’s common welfare. Jason terminates his speech by mentioning that if men could only have children on their own, they would not need to rely on women which would result in the world being better.

She would be justified in exacting revenge on those who had wronged her, based on Greek traditions. It’s close to how Odysseus defeats all the suitors. Even when Odysseus is dragging them all down we are glorifying him. Yet as far as Medea is concerned, who is too powerless to put anyone down, we see her as a villainess because of the only way she knows how to punish someone, which is sorcery.

Medea and Odysseus are two different characters to be linked, the first character is the creation of the writer Euripides from the fifth century and the latter is the development of the eighth-century epic poet Homer. Some remarkable comparisons that exist among the two, in light of the mythological and historical difference between them. Odysseus was best known for his skilfulness; his character brings this out. He was not like Achilles or Agamemnon who were powerful fighters, but he was exceptional for his ability to manage and create unique strategies. Medea has that imagination and cunning quality, too. She struggles to help Jason accomplish all the challenging tasks he had to do to acquire the golden fleece. Odysseus as well as Medea are strong and independent characters too. This is fairly unsurprising in the case of Odysseus but, despite conventional Greek gender roles, it is even more interesting in the case of Medea. 

Although, heros do not have the exact same description as it does now in a modern society as it did in greek mythology. Heros still have the same connotation to many people who have one in their life, have seen one, or have read about them. The ancient Greeks have coined the term ‘hero’. To them, a hero was a human who had done almost anything so far beyond the ordinary limits of human understanding that when he died he left an immortal legacy behind him, and so received proper respect from the gods. Currently, the idea of courage is much harder to separate from morality; we list only heroes that we respect and want to copy. Yet, the definition still maintains its original source. First and probably most important we need heroes as our heroes help to establish the boundaries of our ambitions. By the heroes we choose, we describe our values to a high degree, and our values, things like bravery, integrity and justice, describe us to a great extent. For us, our heroes are representations of all the qualities we want to acquire and all the goals we want to fulfill.   

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