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Odysseus and Creon Comparison Literature Analysis Essay


The beginnings of human history are saturated with war and fight for power and fame: skillful, witty men, fit both physically and mentally were the ones to get social recognition. Naturally, ancient literature could not ignore that fact and therefore reflected the importance of such people in every possible way. The typical characters of Ancient Greek epos and drama are main heroes which differ in their personal qualities and are alike in their leadership potential.

Among the most renowned leaders of Ancient Greece was Odysseus, immortalized in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey describing the hero’s long and arduous journey back to his native Ithaca from the Trojan War. Another example of a leader can be seen in the figure of Creon, the tyrannical ruler of Thebes in Sophocles’ drama Antigone.

Both those characters are at the head of risky and challenging situations: Odysseus leads his crew home through the hazards of the sea, and Creon manages a state heavily misbalanced after a civil war. One of the heroes succeeds in his undertaking, the other bitterly fails, and the outcome is shaped not so much by the unchangeable predestined fate as by the personal qualities of Odysseus and Creon.

The common circumstance that allows for equaling Odysseus and Creon as leaders are the confrontation each of the faces. Odysseus finds himself on a long journey back home, where he has not only to overcome the rage of insulted Poseidon but also to make use of all the people he meets on his way in order to bring closer the day of his homecoming. In addition, Odysseus has to vanquish the suitors who invade his house and threaten his family happiness.

Creon’s task is the maintenance of order in the state destabilized by war, and Creon sees the solution in establishing a rigid dictate of law. And although the Greek gods are one of the significant driving powers for the situation, the key difference between the two heroes is their reaction which defined further development of events.

Despite the fact that Odysseus’ escape from Calypso’s embrace would have been hardly possible without the intervention of his tutelary goddess Athena, there is a special trait of character that allowed Odysseus make use of all the favorable circumstances provided to him by gods.

Already from the first lines of the epic poem, Odysseus is characterized as a very flexible personality, “the man of twists and turns” (Homer 77). Throughout all the difficulties, he always knows the final purpose he is striving for, “his heart set on his wife and his return” (Homer 78). Following his objective, Odysseus uses his wit to work out the best solution in any situation, however dubious this solution might seem in the short-term perspective.

Having learned from his mistaken disobedience towards the gods, Odysseus gains a kind of “practical wisdom” that includes three crucial components: “the clear perception of the end sought; identification of the best means to that end; and control of conflicting passions” (Prior 20). A clear example of all the three aforementioned qualities can be found in the situation when Odysseus disguises himself as a beggar at his own house.

Despite his initial impulse to kill the ridiculing servants, he restrains himself, “… he struck his chest and curbed his fighting heart” (Homer 411). Odysseus realizes that if he gives way to a momentary passion, the whole plan will be ruined and he would never defeat the suitors. Such quality for reasonable and objective assessment of the situation is characterized by Madrid and Ton as “judgment-in-action” and is peculiar to successful leaders who use rather their intelligence than pure bravado in order to reach well-balanced decisions (11).

In contrast to Odysseus’ flexibility and adaptability, Creon in Antigone demonstrates an opposite quality of thinking, which leads him to failure. Single-mindedly pursuing the objective of keeping his state in order, Creon locks up in the delusion that only his understanding of the law is the most correct and applicable. Concentrated on executing law the way he imagines it, Creon remains oblivious to the unwritten laws of gods and thus, in fact, places himself higher than gods.

On the one hand, Creon seems to be guided by a just and fair idea of neglecting the traitors and not honoring them in order to teach his citizens a lesson of patriotism. On the other hand, the ruler forgets about the venerable traditions and duties towards the dead, and the gods’ wrath does not take long to appear.

Mislead by his own ideas about justice, Creon is mistaken in his assessment of the situation: “… it is truly terrible when the one who does the judging judges things all wrong” (Sophocles 75). Following one standard of behavior, he lacks “the ability to discern the right thing to do in a concrete situation” (Prior 30). Therefore, he fails to use his wisdom for resolving the conflict between the claims of the state and those of the gods.

“Conventional and conservative”, Creon persists in his one-sided view of the confrontation and causes a tragedy to happen that teaches him the lesson of wisdom (Madrid and Ton 14). Not accidentally the final chorus proclaims “reverence towards the gods” as a part of wisdom which, if failed to understand, is punished severely by the “mighty blows of fate” (Sophocles 128).

Although fate and divine providence occupy a significant place in the lives of Greek heroes, in the case with Creon his destiny is defined rather by his behavior. Creon has a choice between respecting his duties towards the gods or neglecting them, and by choosing the latter he provokes all the fearful events that turn him into a wreck. By choosing the wrong side in the moral conflict, Creon commits a mistake that in Aristotelian terms is described as hamartia, or a “tragic flaw” (Aristotle 26).

Creon’s stubborn obsession with his own ideas on justice prevents him from realizing the truly significant aspects of the situation, and this erroneous delusion has disastrous effects. Not only do Creon’s arrogance and pride prevent him from admitting the true condition of things, but they bring about his downfall and lead to the death of innocent people.

The comparison of Odysseus and Creon as leaders who should decide in critical situations reveals a crucial difference between the two characters. Odysseus possesses the necessary flexibility of thinking that allows him to judge each situation reasonably and take corresponding decisions.

On the contrary, Creon locks up in his one-sided view of events and does not demonstrate enough wisdom to resolve the conflict. The practical wit of the one and the obsessive narrow-mindedness of the other are the main factors defining their success or failure in the hardships they undergo.

Works Cited

Aristotle. Aristotle’s Poetic. Trans. George Whalley. Eds. John Baxter, Patrick Atherton. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1997. Print.

Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1996. Print.

Madrid, Richard, and Tammy Ton. “Political Leadership in Ancient Greece.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Western Political Science Association, Hyatt Regency Albuquerque, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 2006. Web.

Prior, William J. Virtue and Knowledge: An Introduction to Ancient Greek Ethics. New York, NY: Routledge, 1991. Print.

Sophocles. The Three Theban Plays: Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1984. Print.

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