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MARCH 10, 2012 7:25PM

Odysseus vs. Achilles

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Who is better, Odysseus or Achilles?

 These were the two major heroes in the Homeric epics. They each accomplished their major objectives and were lauded for it by their countrymen. 

That said, they each had their strengths and weaknesses. 

Odysseus was clever and intelligent, but he was also prone to lying and dishonesty. 

Achilles was brave and martial, but he was also prone to stupidity and reckless warlike abandon, not to mention cruelty. 

Odysseus favored the indirect approach, while Achilles favored the direct approach. Yet each did well when staying true to their own nature. 

 That said, which style was superior?

I am told that this was a common debate topic for students in ancient Greece and Rome. Perhaps we can recreate those ancient debates here, on this blog?

What do you guys think? 

Who's better? Odysseus or Achilles?

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Odysseus was considered wise and wily, a real conniver. His dumbshow to trick the suitors, his escape from the witch who transformed his men, there are many examples.

I think of Achilles as the great force of nature in Greek epics though. He moved whole nations to follow and respect him, and his presence was the leveling power that destroyed Troy. Achilles is the image of the Man of Action. Odysseus dies peacefully, at home, after all his adventures, but what does he accomplish really?

Maybe America is a nation of Odysseuses now, men and women, all after safety and security as ends in themselves. We even look down on those who take real risks, preferring virtual ones or safe ones: action sports and NASCAR. But, on some level, we worship Achilles, and wish that we weren't so set on being the world's fuddy-duddy.

-R-
One of the Greeks took a magical potion given to him by Athena and he was able to see that Aires the war God was fighting at the side of Hector. This did not deter Achilles he killed him anyway.
I don't have enough knowledge of Greek history for debate. I prefer Achilles style, likely because it is most similar to my own. Judgements are reflections of self.

I perceive Achilles as a more militaristic leadership style and Odysseus as a charismatic and political style.

Achilles is the masculine might makes right style and Odysseus a feminine influenced weigh the options, set a course and convince the followers style? As I said, I don't possess the detail knowledge, just a broad perception.
Odysseus wins in my book. Unless we're talking about Brad Pitt in a loin cloth. In that case, Odysseus doesn't stand a chance. ;)
I don't think one is "better" than the other. They're both larger than life characters and they embody the best and worst of humanity. Great struggles, overcoming huge obstacles, moral dilemmas, etc. And both their lives end dramatically, Odysseus killed by his own son and Achilles because of his one physical flaw. Maybe the question should be, what contemporary leaders most resemble them.
Offhand, I agree with Margaret. Interesting post!

R
Perhaps the question, "Which is better" could only be answered if it included the circumstances. One could be better in certain situations and the other better in other situations.

Maybe a "better" question might be, "Do you appreciate the qualities exhibited by each?"

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I think this is a useful debate to have, just in terms of being able to identify the habits of these two personalities, their character, and to compare and contrast the same.

Odysseus is cool. I always liked him as a kid and he seemed to be favored and pushed on us adolescents by our teachers. He used his wits to get out of sticky situations.

On the other hand, having lived life, I find such a constant resort to ruse and deception to be somewhat distasteful. Its one thing to use stratagem and guile on occasion, to win, in an absolutely necessary situation. But Odysseus seems to use it unfairly for purposes of cheating, such as with the wooden horse at the end of the Trojan War, itself an unjust war.

Achilles is a brute, but there is an honesty and directness there, is there not? He is quite honest and is, in a way, more ethical and forthright in terms of his dealings with others.

Or am I mistaken?
One was almost completely invulnerable, the other was physically a normal human being. How much do I admire a guy who was successful in battle when he had the equivalent of a suit of armor while his opponents didn't?

Not much.

Odysseus.
Sal: the legend about Achilles' invulnerability only really came about during the first century AD, from what I understand. It was a Roman invention. I don't think the Greeks used it as part of their mythology. I could be mistaken.
Indeed, the original Homeric sources reference him being wounded in various places.
Achilles was something of a brat, who got Patroclus killed, but then, as a killing machine, a Terminator, there is nothing quite like him.
Like you say, Odysseus for strategy, but in the end, Achilles often has the Last Stand and Statement.
I think I have met a few mini-Odysseus types. I do think he was brave, but it is his wiliness that stands above all else. Achilles full of righteous power and hungry to fight is exactly what scares me about politics.
r./
I prefer direct over conniving. You may not like what he has to say, but you know where he, and you, stand. Achilles.
Or which actors should play them? I'll say Sylvester Stallone as Achilles and, as Odysseus, why, John Malkovich, of course!
It's kind of an apples to oranges comparison, that is man to myth, tho both are fictional characters, at least I assume their fictional, one was the ordinary man become hero, while the other was a demigod.

In a duel, I'd obviously put my money on Achilles, but in any other sort of struggle, I'd put my money on the guy who thinks before rushing into a fight. It's a lousy comparison, but Achilles is kinda like Junior Bush in that sense -- tho since it was other people Junior rushed into battle, that makes him a coward not a hero.
Achilles was never my favorite - that I can remember, but it's been over ten years since I read the Greek mythology. In retrospect, having lived my life thus far, I would like to be able to choose the strongest qualities of each and create one ideal leader, but that isn't possible. So, I will choose Achilles because he was honest. I think genuine honesty is something that leads people to be brutal and reckless at times because they will do anything to fight for the protection of such truths, even if it puts them in harms way.
Odysseus would be the better leader. He has all the right qualities. But I identify with Achilles. He's more fallible.
how about a combo of both? neither nor
You do realize, of course, that this is a variation on a kids' game saying something like Who'd win a race, Superman or the Flash, don't you?
Sal: The ancient Greeks and Romans did this all the time, in terms of studying character. Plutarch's series of essays, in two volumes, "The Lives" consists of comparing/contrasting great a pair of great historical and literary figures and discussing their strengths and weaknesses.

Its interesting.
Good to know that the kids' game has a history.
The two of them make an interesting case study in Hellenic development. One, for his overpowering nature and his conception by an immortal god. He represents the way the Hellenes pictured their past.
The other, for their future. The mind comes into play. They mature, develop and evolve into a people who rule (in many ways through their philosophical and political forms) to this day. Even the mighty and pragmatic Roman empire realized their debt to the Hellenic people, who they named "Greek."
So I'm not sure we can "choose" either one of these characters. After all, brute force is on display every day in our world, and we always hope mind can overcome it and keep it in check. And mind, especially the political type seems to respond and be checked only by resorting to force.
Them Greeks, they were one smart people, no?
Time4change: that is a very interesting analysis.

When Roman youth were forced to debate this topic, I think that's the lesson their teachers were trying to impart in them. How the Homeric epics are a case study in the process of civilization and how wits and cleverness are a signal of evolution from the rage of Achilles.

That said, the Romans constantly tried to embrace Achilles in a way the Greeks failed to do after the Persian and Pelopenesian Wars, with the exception of Alexander. They went too much toward the Odysseus pole.

Many writers here have discussed the need for balance between the two types.

And indeed, I think Jung said that Odysseus and Achilles were both Archetypes. So discussing the merits of both, in a sense, is a way of engaging in inward reflection.

Sal: Comic book characters are 2 dimensional. Homeric literary figures are not. This is much more illuminating and intellectual than Superman vs. Batman. Of course, that too, could be intellectual.
Actually, is Superman the modern embodiment of Achilles and Batman the modern embodiment of Odysseus?

Superman is direct, sheer force and power. Batman is all brains. Brawn, too, but he uses manipulation, psychology, science and the like to succeed.

On the other hand, Superman lacks the hate/rage component of Achilles. Indeed, this seems to be imparted to the Dark Knight.
Yeah, the comic book comparison doesn't work for me either. One dimensional caricatures compared to Odysseus and Achilles. Odysseus was mortal and had to rely on his wits, think on his feet, rely on himself. Think about it - he was forced to leave his his beloved wife and newborn to go to war never knowing it would take him 20 years to get back. And he never wavered in his quest to return home. Sheer will and determination in the face of impossible odds. I love the Odyssey and what he stands for.

Odysseus is human and he's got different problems than Achilles. But to dismiss Achilles as simply a Terminator-like brute doesn't do him justice. Being indestructible sets him apart from the beginning; he doesn't have the concerns or fears of other men. Nice problem to have but it also sets him apart; he can't ever fully appreciate what it's like to be human. He can afford emotions that mortal men have to keep in check. But that's his flaw as much as his heel is. When Patroclus dies wearing Achilles' armor, he's ripped apart by grief and guilt things being immortal doesn't spare him; his friends' death fuels his rage and assures his reentry into battle - and the destruction of Troy. It's funny to think if things were reversed - if Odysseus were immortal and Achilles human, how differently it would have turned out. Odysseus could have gotten lazy and wouldn't have to have been so on top of things. Achilles may have been more humble and less rash. Interesting too that Achilles, the fierce and bloodthirsty warrior was probably romantically involved with Patroclus. He could be the poster boy for gays serving in the military. In the end they're both complicated men and one isn't better than the other.
It’s one of those quintessential questions where the long answer would be just to long. First of all we need to drop the word myth from this equation. Lets leave the word myth to people like Joseph Campbell. There should be little doubt that both Achilles and Odysseus lived and fought some great and long forgotten war. Perhaps we will one day learn to decipher Linear B but it should be enough that the actual city of Troy was unearthed by a free lancer; Heinrich Schliemann, even as the “experts” were still muttering about myths. Achilles and Odysseus were Jungian Archetypes, the fabric by which time is woven. There are templates to which everything that exists conforms to. Over and over again we play out the same dramas some on a small scale and some on as grandiose a scale as the Trojan War. Achilles the mighty brute force that could best even a God and Odysseus the cunning fox who can outwit a God, two of the most magnificent aspects of the human condition. If you must compare them to comic book characters the Hulk and Captain America would be more appropriate. I have always been a Hulk smash man myself. If Achilles was a demigod then so was Alexander the Great, all the greatest Greek hero’s were considered demigods. That is the surest measure of Achilles achievements in battle, that he achieved demigod status. Odysseus did not. They fought with swords and spears then and one great warrior could tip the scales of battle to what ever side he was on. Miyamoto Musashi author of ‘The Book of Five Rings’ did just that multiple times in front of reliable witness’s. I thought Brad Pitts portrayal of Achilles was perfect. He brought to life the sneering rage and contempt for both death and the Gods that is the essence Achilles archetype, maybe even better than Homer. Don’t forget Homer didn’t know him either. As for the cunning of Odysseus. I think we have seen enough of that from Wall Street. I am ready for “Hulk Smash!”
Odysseus--but not the strictly Homeric one. Tennyson's poem envisioning him as an old man, restless and bored, determined to seek a new adventure for himself has always captured me.

"That which we are we are/one equal temper made weak by time and fate/but strong in will/To strive to seek to find/ and not to yield."