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Odysseus' or Penelope's (Heroism) - Essay on the Odyssey

Sep 17, 2010   #1
This is a 5 page essay.
Mętis Male and Female. In the Odyssey, whose use of mętis is more heroic, Odysseus' or Penelope's? Compare two instances when each character displays this virtue, and describe and defend your criteria for ―heroism.

Notes: This is about five finished pages. CC please and Thanks!

Though Odysseus is the more clear cut hero of the story, The Odyssey, and the hero of Troy, his use of mętis (cunning intelligence) is not nearly as heroic as that which is used by his wife, Penelope. Each display a series of heroic mętis in their encounters. Namely, Odysseus displays his in the encounter of the cyclops, Polyphemus, and the princess, Nausicaa, while Penelope reveals her mętis in her legendary feat of delaying the suitors and towards her own husband. Personally, I have to say that what is defined as heroic is not the Prince Charming seen much on today's television. The muscular, young male who swoops in to save the day along with the hot princess (as seen in most Disney movies) does not fulfill the whole idea of heroism. Heroes must have something more than just good looks and athletic ability: wiliness, endurance, and faithfulness.

No doubt that Odysseus is "the hero" so naturally, his use of mętis can be nothing short of heroic. Odysseus' heroism starts with the escape from the Cyclops, Polyphemus. He and his men are hopelessly trapped in Polyphemus' cave but Odysseus saves the survivors and the rest of his crew outside by telling the monster that their ship had been smashed on the rocks along the shoreline, giving his own name as mę-tis or nobody, offering heavy wine to get Polyphemus into a drunken stupor, and escaping the cave after blinding the monster's one eye by clutching onto the underside of Polyphemus' flock of sheep. Hope would have been lost for any means of escape had Odysseus not been enduring patiently while placing his faith on his mętis. Though these feats are heroic indeed, all can be discredited with the simple fact that it was initially Odysseus' fault that those with him were all put in serious danger. Odysseus himself admits to the seriousness of his blunder as he recounts his tale to Alcinous and the other listeners.

But I wouldn't listen. It would have been far better
If I had! But I wanted to see him, and see
If he would give me a gift of hospitality.
When he did come he was not a welcome sight.
(Book 9. 118-221)

Had Odysseus not been tempted by greed, he and the dead men would have escaped alive and unscathed with the stolen goods that they initially planned to take.

Odysseus also uses mętis when he first meets Nausicaa, he plays with her thoughts of marriage that had been planted by Athena at the time in order to persuade her into elevating him to the status of guest.

And for yourself, may the gods grant you
Your heart's desire, a husband and a home,
And the blessing of a harmonious life.
(Book 6. 183-185)

After this initial, compliment filled speech, Odysseus ends up getting what he needs most: shelter, food, and a ride home. Again, there is no doubt as to the greatness of Odysseus' use of mętis, but the heroism of the way in which he uses it here still remains questionable regarding the necessity of using it at all. Understandably, Odysseus is in a vulnerable position in which he must get what he needs at all costs so his first reaction is to trick her into providing for him. In this case, mętis is used heroicly because of the sheer uncertainty of the situation. One mistake with the contact with Nausicaa could have ended his journey. He also must appear refined in order to rid the girls of their cautiousness of him, thus the speech. Because he is nude and ghastly in appearance, he distances himself instead of falling to her feet and talks from afar. But in a world that emphasizes reverence towards the gods, mętis doesn't seem to fit into this scene. Zeus, the god of all gods, as well as the god of all supplicants is reason enough for there to be no fear of not being taken in as a supplicant. Indeed, Odysseus does not know if these are god fearing people -as was the case with Polyphemus- and should be wary, however, he has already shown with his honeyed speech that he is a cultured man and need only to wait for the reaction of these ladies in order to evaluate their current standing. And of course, Odysseus seems anything but faithful to his wife at this point. Heroic use of mętis though it may be, it is still questionable whether Odysseus should have used a straightforward introduction instead.

Penelope, on the other hand, is a sort of hidden hero in the sense that she is not the cookie cutter fulfillment of the ideal. Her heroisms are far more subtle in the sense that she is a woman and is expected to be helpless. Despite this, she manages to display her heroic use of mętis in the form of trickery with the loom for Laertes.

She set up a great loom in the main hall
And started weaving a sizeable fabric
With a very fine thread, and she said to us:
"Young men-my suitors, since Odysseus is dead-
Eager as you are to marry me, you must wait
Until I finish this robe-it would be a shame
To waste my spinning-a shroud for the hero
Laertes, when death's doom lays him low."
(Book 2. 98-109)

Here, readers see Antinous complaining of Penelope's cunning that delayed them for three years. Though the suitors complain, Penelope tricked them out of the necessity to survive and preserve herself. Sewing by day, unsewing by night, Penelope kept up the ruse until one of the maids betrayed her. Marrying off to another family seems like the better choice since Telemachus, now a man, will then be able to inherit whatever is left over from the suitors raid, but her love for Odysseus persists and calls her to stay faithful to Odysseus, whose fate -at the time- still remains unknown. The endurance and faith she has in her husband enables Penelope to continue fighting even though tradition demands that she must marry one of the suitors.

Penelope's last display of mętis occurs when she comes to battle wits and mętis with her own husband, Odysseus. Just as Odysseus tests Penelope faith in him, Penelope tests Odysseus to make sure that he too, remains faithful and not forgotten all that they have done together. Penelope, at this point, wittingly displays her own position of power in Odysseus' time of need. Readers know she wins the battle when her husband relents, loses his temper, and finally explodes.

Nurse, bring the bed out from the master bedroom...
She was testing her husband.
could bear no more, and he cried out to his wife:
"By God, woman, now you've cut deep."
(Book 23. 184-189)

After that last command, Odysseus' last straw is pulled and unleashes himself by telling the secret behind their bed, the sign that Penelope is looking for. By finally losing his cool, Odysseus admits his loss to the ever cautious Penelope. Even though Odysseus is "defeated", he passes Penelope's last test and can finally be happily reunited with her. All this time Odysseus was the one who held control over all choices. He came home, killed all the abusive suitors that harmed house and family, and just finished all that is to be completed. But when he thinks he can finally have his happy homecoming the abrupt realization that he must still get through to his wife calls for a rude awakening. In a society where men dominate and women must obey, Penelope completely flips all those ideals. Until the very end, Penelope wants solid proof to make one hundred percent sure that her husband stands before her. Here, she truly defies cultural traditions by not only overpowering her husband, a hero, Odysseus, but also by being a woman who has proven herself just as capable as men in terms of wit.

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