It is surprising that Odysseus, ‘a master of stratagems,’ can also be reckless and impulsive?
Throughout the Epic, The Odyssey, Odysseus is determined to be a survivor and return to Ithaca with a status appropriate to his own sense of excellence. Odysseus is not going to make any suicidal heroic stands on the battle field and refuses to compromise a very narrow sense of integrity. On the contrary, he is ready to use any stratagem to get home. Odysseus lies, accepts insults, disguises himself, represses his emotions and even conceals his true identity in order to get through his journey. Odysseus is impulsive and reckless. The Epic, is only the story it is due to Odysseus being a character of impulse and recklessness. He creates opportunities for events and challenges and also the opportunity to return home as a heroic icon.
Odysseus was surely a ‘master of stratagems.’ Cunning, strong, skillful, courageous and patient. The King of Ithaca, leader of his people. He was both these things before he departed for Troy. Although he was a great king, admirable, and resourceful, at times Odysseus was also reckless and often acted impulsively. The roles of being a hero and a leader were always implied. In a search for glory and glamour Odysseus sought out danger, mocked death and ways prepared to accept an honorable death. He also risked the lives of his men. This was most evident in the Cyclopes saga, where Odysseus persisted in entering and remaining in the cave despite the pleas of his men to take what they could before the giant returned.
He chose to be too greedy, because of his actions six of his men died. Odysseus could not resist the temptation of boasting to Polyohemus who had blinded the Cyclops, again despite the pleas of his men. Not knowing what he was playing around with, not just his life but the lives of his crew as any one of those boulders could have struck the vessels and destroyed the lot of them.
Later, Eurylochus was to refer to this episode with the Cyclops when he virtually attempted suicide by resisting Odysseus plan to take the whole crew back to Circe’s palace.
“Why are you looking for trouble – going to Circe’s palace, where she will turn you into pigs? We have had all this before, with the Cyclops, when our friends found their way into his fold with this foolhardy Odysseus. It was the man’s reckless folly that cost them their lives”(Homer 1991, book 10, line 430)
There was a lack of trust between Odysseus and his crew at times. Odysseus’ lack of leadership and recklessness was clearly pointed out on the island of thrinacle. The crew broke their oath and disobeyed Odysseus’ commands about eating the cattle of Hyperion. This incident underlined their weaknesses and Odysseus’ iron will and self control-but also showed the limitations of his leadership.
On the other hand, there is evidence of care and concern by Odysseus for his crew. He was a man of stratagems but at times acted purely on impulse which resulted in consequences that only made himself look reckless. A man who clearly had the ability to lead by example, as a king and military leader, he had the inspiration, confidence and loyalty. This is seen throughout the text many times. On his journey, though, circumstances were somewhat different, the individualism and egotism of the hero as well as his failure to communicate effectively on several occasions created distrust.
A man of tremendous courage, although he made those impulsive decisions he did care for his crew. Without Odysseus being this character there would be no story, and The Epic probably would not exist today. This man was chosen to be a king and a leader of a crew for a reason. He may have gotten a little caught up in the glamour and glory at times, however he was appointed leader and king by the gods above. If the crew had been just as impulsive as their leader, and followed his commands then they to would have returned to Ithaca with their leader.