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Odysseus and Harry Potter

This is my internal for classics, comparing modern society and ancient greeks through literature

Grace JC

on 31 August 2014

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Transcript of Odysseus and Harry Potter

Harry Potter and Odysseus
Qualities of Heroes
Harry Potter
In Greek Mythology
Many Greek heroes have similar attributes. They are usually intelligent, brave and strong. They are generally male and favoured by a god. A hero will perform difficult tasks to gain honour. Also, a hero will have odd circumstances surrounding their birth,such as a godly parent. They receive help from a god, and they are given a magical weapon or piece of clothing. They face death, or travel to the Underworld, yet they are successful in the end.
What this says abut Greek society is that they liked to idolise their heroes. They were almost perfect people. A large part of the purpose of the hero was for entertainment, so their stories had to be interesting,which meant the Hero had to face danger. The stories had to be reasonably long, so the Hero would have to always survive.For people to listen to the stories, the hero had to be likable.
Modern Heroes
Heroes in literature these days possess different characteristics. Firstly, the hero is not always male. Modern books do not follow a set pattern as classical mythology does. Similarly to mythology, the hero is usually brave. However, heroes in modern literature are normally reluctant, they don't plan on being special or saving anybody. During the course of the story they will realise what they must do to do the right thing. This reflects back on our society because it shows that we want heroes who we can relate to. Normal people who become great. This is because we can see ourselves maybe being like that. It gives an inspirational message that anyone can be a hero, a message not found in the Greek myths.
Harry Potter
Harry Potter (from the
Harry Potter
series by JK Rowling) is a young wizard who finds that he is a symbol of hope for the wizarding world. He is known as the Boy Who Lived after unknowingly vanquishing Voldemort as a baby. Once he starts at Hogwarts he faces many challenges, both magical and otherwise. He finds that he is able to live up to the expectations put upon him by the wizarding world and becomes a hero.
His main qualities are similar to any modern literary hero. He is very brave, stubborn, modest,considerate, impulsive and loyal. At the beginning of the series he is reluctant to perform great feats of heroism, because he does not feel that he has enough skill.
Harry, like many other heroes, is one that everyone can relate to. This is because he has qualities that everyone shares and admires; love, humility, loyalty. Most importantly he is unwaveringly good, he has a strong sense of what is right
Trait 1: Perseverance
In this tale, as Odysseus tries to reach his home land, he is continually beaten back by the gods, nature, bad luck and his own foolishness. However, he is never dissuaded from his goal of reaching home
ou are a hard man, Odysseus. Your force is greater, your limbs never wear out. You must be made all of iron. (
12.279-285) This shows that he never gives up, he will always endure.
'At this time Charybdis sucked down the sea's salt water, but I reached high in the air above me, to where the tall fig tree grew, and caught hold of it and clung like a bat; ... Inexorably I hung on, waiting for her to vomit the keel and mast back up. (12.431-438)
This is an example of Odysseus' determination of nearly superhuman proportions.
This determination is a quality that the Greeks obviously admired. It shows a tremendous strength of will, and it would have been something for them to aspire to.

Trait 2: Intelligence
During the course of the story, Odysseus comes up with many clever schemes to get him and his men out of trouble. His intelligence is highlighted through out the book with adjectives proceeding his name. for example,
wise and subtle Odysseus
nimble-witted Odysseus
inventive Odysseus
and resourceful Odysseus
As a hero this is a vital quality because it seems to set him aside from the other characters, who may be as strong as him, yet Homer implies that very few can match Odysseus' mind. It was important for heroes in the classical world to be intelligent and inventive. It would make the stories more interesting when the characters thought of some clever way to get out of trouble. The Greek audience would get bored if everything that the hero thought of was obvious to them. If Odysseus could think of something that they didn't, they would look up to him, which is what being a hero is about.
Trait 3: Bravery
Odysseus is incredibly brave in the face of many dangers. Along his journey he encounters many monsters and other dangers, yet he always will stand and fight, even when he is afraid. An example of this is when he is at the Cyclops cave;
The booming voice and the very sight of the monster filled us with panic.Still, I managed to find words to answer him. (9.257-258)
As well as this, through out the books he is described as:
lion-hearted Odysseus (5.80).
Courage and bravery will always be admirable qualities any culture, probably because everyone wants to think that you can do the right thing, even if you are afraid.
It is a trait relevant to the target audience of
The Odyssey,
because they probably would have seen for themselves, great acts of courage in battle. This means that the Greek society would place a lot of value on such bravery, and therefore it is included in their stories.
Trait 4: Hubris
Perhaps the most important of all Odysseus' traits is
This is his fatal flaw, his pride. Hubris is defined by Wikipedia as:
In Ancient Greece, instances of pride were termed hubris because of the added connotation that pride was a crime against the gods and would result in fatal retribution. (from Wikipedia)
What this means is that Odysseus was too proud of himself sometimes, and thought he was better than others, which is a crime punishable by the Gods in ancient Greece. An example of his fatal hubris is when he is escaping from the Cyclops, "
But my temper was up; their words did not dissuade me, and in my rage I shouted back at him once more: 'Cyclops, if anyone ever asks you how you came by your blindness, tell them your eye was put out by Odysseus.
"(9.500-503) In this instance, Odysseus does not want his deeds to be unrecognised, so he brags to the Cyclops. He does in disregard for the safety of his crew. Later on Poseidon is angry with them, due to the fact that the Cyclops was his son.
In any case, Odysseus' hubris endangers his men and hinders their journey home. It shows that he can be very selfish at times.
Giving Odysseus the trait of pride and arrogance makes him more like a real person. This flaw means that people will be able to relate to him and see that you don't have to be perfect to be a hero. Also, it alerts the audience to the dangers of arrogance which makes it a relevant trait for a classical Hero to have.
Harry is sorted into Gryffindor House at the beginning of his time at Hogwarts. the Sorting Hat says "
Gryffindor, where dwell the brave at heart, their daring, nerve and chivalry set Gryffindors apart" (Hp 1. 7.88)
Harry chooses to be put in Gryffindor, which is symbolic of him making the decision to be brave. Throughout the series he shows this bravery on many occasions, for example,
"Harry then did something that was both very brave and very stupid: He took a great running leap and managed to fasten his arms around the troll's neck from behind. (Hp 1.10.123)
This is an example of Harry putting others before himself without even thinking, even acting a bit impulsively. This shows that courage and selflessness are part of his nature.
Bravery is a quality shared by most heroes of any era, including modern day literature. This is most likely because everyone wants to think that they would stand up for what is right, so we admire those who can. This is also why bravery is shown in classical heroes.
This is Harry's essential quality that sets him far apart from Odysseus. Although Harry has accomplished many great things, he never boasts about them. As a result of spending ten years with the oppressive Dursleys, where he was not aware of him fame, Harry is extremely modest.
"Gryffindor had won by one hundered and seventy points to sixty. Harry heard none of this, though" (Hp1.11.141)
This example depicts Harry performing very well in Quidditch (a wizarding sport), winning the match for his team, yet not staying around to appreciate the glory. This is mainly because playing Quidditch is important to him, but being a big famous hero isn't.
As well as this, Harry does not seek followers as Voldemort does, and he does not try to gain power. As Dumbledore says;
“It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.” (Hp7.35.575)
What this shows is that, although Harry would handle being in power very well, he does not wish it. For this reason he would be a very good leader. It is because of his modesty that he does not want power, he does not think he would be a successful leader, and he does not feel the need to control people.
This is Harry's best quality as it sets him apart from many others, because many would seize the opportunity to take power if they could. As the Hero of he story this makes him far more likable, and makes the reader more sympathetic towards him. Harry's humility indicates to the readers how important it is to be modest, in a society where fame and glory are valued, but personal growth and achievement is not.
One of Harry's greatest qualities is his loyalty.He is true to his friends, to Hogwarts, to Gryffindor, to Dumbledore and to his parents. He shows his loyalty to Dumbledore in
The Half-Blood Prince:
"Dumbledore's man through and through, aren't you Potter?"
"Yeah I am," said Harry. "Glad we straightened that out.” (Hp6.16.326)
As well as this he is loyal to Gryffindor. This shows in the
Chamber of Secrets
when the sword of Gryffindor comes to him with the Sorting Hat and Fawkes the phoenix. This shows that even in the face of grave danger and the monster of Slytherin (Gryffindors mortal enemy) Harry was still true to the values of his house. Afterward, Dumbledore says,"
Only a true Gryffindor could have pulled that out of the hat.
(Hp 2.18.245)
Loyalty is an interesting quality because it can be exercised on a small or large scale, from sticking up for your friend to fighting for what is right. In accordance with this, it is a quality we can all share and relate to.
Giving one of our heroes this quality says that it is valued by society. Loyalty is about being true to others and ourselves. It is important to be true to others and to not let them down, but it is vital that you are true to yourself and stick to what you believe in, as Harry does.


Odysseus follows this pattern. His story is one told by poets (Homer) to entertain people. His story is exciting as he faces many dangerous challenges, yet always comes through in the end. He is strong, resourceful, intelligent and brave, and his Father was one of the legendary Argonauts. Athena (the Goddess of wisdom) favours him and gives him help along the way. He does travel to he underworld and survive. But most importantly, he never gives up hope that he will make it home.
wish and long day by day to reach my home, and to see the day of my return
As well as this, unlike other heroes, he truly loves his wife Penelope, and is not completing his ordeals for fame or honour, but so he can get home to his wife.
Primary sources:
Harry Potter books are cited as book.chapter.page
The Odyssey is cited as book.line
Rowling, J.K.,
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
, Bloomsbury, 1997
Rowling, J.K.,
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secret
s, Bloomsbury, 1998
Rowling, J.K.,
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,
Bloomsbury, 2005,
Rowling, J.K.,
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,
Bloomsbury, 2007
The Odysse
y, (translated by E.V. Rieu), Penguin Books, 1946
Rowling, J.K.,
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,
Bloomsbury, 2003

Secondary sources:

Influences that Ancient Greece has on Modern Society
ideas and values
Definition of a Hero
A hero is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as "
A person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities."
Also, heroes are generally noble or honourable. Being noble means doing good things for selfless reasons.This means that anyone (real or fictional) who does what is right in the face of fear can be considered a hero. Society values heroes for many reasons. They are something to aspire to be; they can be a symbol of hope, showing that people aren't always bad. This is especially relevant for people living in dark circumstances, for example; war. Most importantly, they are someone to look up to.
This vase, entitled
Odysseus and the Seirenes
, depicts Odysseus tied to the mast of his ship to resist the temptation of the sirens. This is an example of his determination and his loyalty to his wife.
This shows Harry fighting the Basilisk, which is Slytherin's monster with the sword of Godric Grfindor
They are both very
. Odysseus, as he faces all the perils put in his path, and Harry, as he faces enemies such as Voldemort.

"Harry looked back into the red eyes, and wanted it to happen now, quickly, while he could still stand, before he lost control, before he betrayed fear" (Hp7.35.564)
This depicts Harry facing death at the hands of Voldemort, which he does in order to ensure the eventual death of Voldemort and the safety of everyone else. This is an example of Harry showing courage.
An example of Odysseus facing his fear is shown when Circe tells him he must travel to the
"Halls of Hades" (10.490). "This news broke my heart. Sitting there on the bed I wept...But when at last I had satisfied my need for tears... I began to question her."(10.496-500)
This highlights that, although he is afraid, Odysseus still moves forward and faces the challenge.
The reason for this similarity is that the idea of a hero, in regards to bravery, has not changed very much over the centuries. Facing fear is an important quality for everyone of every era, and this is reflected in the literature. Being brave means that anyone can do what is right when it came down to it. This is a value admired by society, and one that should be upheld, so these ideas are expressed in literature.
Harry Potter and Odysseus share many attributes, which represent the values held by the Greek society and our society. The main reason for these similarities is that they are values that are constant in humans.
As well as this they both show a lot of
determination and perseverance.
The Odyssey
, Odysseus is constantly facing challenges, but he always sees them through because he wants to make it home to Ithaca.
"Harry nodded and sighed. Leaving this place would not be nearly as hard as walking into the forest had been, but it was warm and light and peaceful here, and he knew that he was heading back to pain and fear of more loss. (Hp.7.35.579)"
This shows Harry leaving the comfort of being dead to rejoin the battle because he must finish it and end Voldemort.
As well as this, Odysseus shows his determination
"And if some god batters me far out on the wine-blue water, I will endure it, keeping a stubborn spirit inside me, for already I have suffered much and done much hard work on the waves and in the fighting."(5.221-225)
This is an example of determination because Odysseus is saying that no matter what happens he will keep going.
From this we see that determination is a value that is important in the classical world and today's world, because it is a positive, admirable trait. This means that is a similarity between classical literature and modern literature. All humans want, and always have wanted, to have perseverance so that they can keep moving forward in life.
is a theme heavily emphasised in
Harry Potter,
and not so much in
The Odyssey
. In the classical world, the code of behaviour was that men were not expected to be loyal to their wives, but women were expected to be loyal. However, a different kind of loyalty was valued, and that was loyalty to you fellow soldier or friend."
Oh, Circe, how could any man in his right mind ever endure to taste of the food and drink that are set before him, until with his eyes he saw his companions set free? So then, if you are sincerely telling me to eat and drink, set them free."(10.383-385)
Odysseus' loyalty to his comrades is shown here. He asks Circe to set them free before he will eat anything. This is an example of the loyalty value in Greek society. Commanders were loyal to there troops and vice versa. This was a cultural expectation for military men.
Odysseus differs from most classical heroes as he does attempt to remain loyal to Penelope. He ties himself to the mast of his ship so that he will not be seduced by the Sirens, and he maintains that one of his main incentives to get home is to see his wife.
Harry Potter is extremely loyal to his friends and to what is right. This is a part of his selfless nature, and is a quality shared by many modern heroes. This is because it gives them something to fight for.
Loyalty is therefore a trait that has been valued for centuries, and a common hero trait because it gives them the drive to do what they do throughout the story, and also because it shows a firm sense of morality. This is something that is important for people - they must be true to themselves - and having this quality in heroes inspires it in people. On top of all this, it is a quality that many people wish to have and would ideally have, so it is seen in literary heroes.
The main difference between Harry Potter and Odysseus is their weaknesses. Odysseus' weakness is his pride, or
, yet Harry's is his selfless impulsiveness.
Odysseus's fatal flaw is his
, he wants to be acknowledged for his achievements and for people to think highly of him. This is shown by his encounter with The Cyclops Polyphemus. After his fight and escape, he feels the need to tell Polyphemus who he is, and therefore, who to seek vengeance on. This results in Poseidon, Polyphemus' father, creating a storm to ship-wreck. Odysseus.What this suggests is that pride was a common trait among Greek men, especially commanders. Perhaps this is written into the story to show the negative effects of arrogance. This means that in ancient Greek times, pride was a relevant issue in society.
Harry Potter, however, is extremely humble, making him likable, and very different to the classical Greek hero. This also says something about society, that being modest is a good thing. Although qualities given to characters may have changed, the message given by these traits haven't changed.
Harry Potter's main weakness is, as Hermione describes it, his "
saving people thing"(Hp 5. 32. 646).
What this means is that Harry's loyalty and courage are against him. He feels that he must save people, even if it causes a danger to himself or others. An example of this is when Harry believes that his Godfather, Sirius, is being held and tortured by Voldemort at the Ministry. He rushes off to the Ministry to fight Voldemort and to save Sirius, without really considering the circumstances. For him, there is no question about putting others before himself. Upon arriving at the Ministry, he finds that it was just a trick created by Voldemort to lure Harry to him.During the fight that ensues afterwards, Sirius and other members of the Order of the Phoenix arrive, and Sirius is killed.
This shows that Harry's courage and selflessness can negatively effect others, because it cause him to act impulsively. Had he not gone to save Sirius, Sirius would have survived. The purpose, I believe, of putting this event in the novel, was to highlight that no one is perfect; everyone has faults. Also it shows the relevance of weaknesses that don't initially appear to be weaknesses. Odysseus too shares this courage and loyalty which leads to selflessness, yet this does not lead to negative consequences, because he does not act as rashly as Harry.
The reasons for these differences is that they highlight the most relevant issue in the society that they are from. The different weaknesses in the Heroes reflects what is the most relevant issue facing the society. For the Greeks, it was
, which indicates that this was an issue for them, yet in Harry Potter it is too much selflessness and bravery, highlighting the importance of thinking things through. This is an important point for young adults to pick up on, because sometimes they act impulsively, and rush into situations without much thought, so the down side of this needs to be shown.
As well as this, the heroes differ in age. Odysseus is about 40, whereas Harry is a teenager. The reason for this is that theses are the ages of the target audience,
The Odyssey
is aimed at men, and
Harry Potter
is written for teenagers and children. This shows that the group of people who are affected by "heroes" has changed over the millennia.

ideas and values
The influences of Greece on today's world can be seen through literature and literary heroes. Ancient Greece has influenced many of the values that are important to us now.
The Odyssey
, we can see that values such as courage, intelligence, loyalty and determination were important. This was because these would be important qualities in battle, and warriors, such as Odysseus, were admired. They were useful because having military power meant having a larger land area, and more resources and a more comfortable life. As well as this, men had more power in the society, and Odysseus portrays the ideal male in his society; he is strong, brave very resourceful.
Harry Potter
, we can see values that are important in today's society which have been influenced by the Greek society. Ideas such as courage, loyalty, humility as well as perseverance and determination. All of these are values that are shown in
The Odyssey
, aside from humility, but the negative consequences of pride are shown. What this says is that these are values that are still admired. One thing about these traits is that they can be exercised on a large or small scale, yet still hold the same value. For example; courage. You can fight in war for your country, or what you believe in, or you can just speak your mind to those close to you. (Consequentially, this is explained in Harry Potter,
"It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends." (Hp1.17.221)
This shows that values established, in early civilisations, for practical reasons, such as courage in battle, are still relevant today in many contexts. We have been influenced by the classical world because these traits are still admired, which is why heroes such as Harry Potter have these traits. He serves as a role model to children and young adults so that they will hopefully pick up these values and apply them. What this shows about society is that loyalty, courage, determination and modesty are important values on any scale. From this we can see how Ancient Greece has influenced the modern world. It gave us a base of values on which to build our society, which is why so many of the of values are the same. Even though the technology and infrastructure are vastly different to how it was back then, people are essentially the same.
Ancient Greece has influenced us by giving us the base values that are central in our society, and this has shown in literature.
Another link that connects Harry Potter and Odysseus is that they both face
and survive. This is more of a theme in literature than a character trait. In
The Odyssey
, Odysseus is required to travel to the underworld to consult with the soul of Teiresias.
"But first you [Odysseus] have to make another journey and find your ways to the Halls of Hades and dread Persephone, to consult the soul of Teiresias, the blind Theban prophet"(10.488-492)
Circe afterwards says to Odysseus,
"What audacity...to descend alive into the House of Hades! Other men die once; you will now die twice"(12.21-23).
This indicates that traveling to the Underworld was considered equal to death in the Greek society
Similarly Harry Potter must sacrifice himself to Voldemort so that Voldemort will be able to be destroyed.
"Harry understood at last that he was not supposed to survive. His job was to walk calmly into Death's welcoming arms." (Hp7.34.554)
Harry must go and find Voldemort so that he can be killed.
The fact that these two books have such similar themes shows something about the societies that they are from.The reason for this similarity is that we have always feared death. Both today's world and Ancient Greeks put their bravest and most admired characters into a situation where they must face death.

Odysseus and Harry Potter both survive, which could be to offer a little bit of hope. It shows that if someone has all these heroic qualities they will be able to conquer death.
Limitations of sources
The main primary sources used in this presentation were
The Odyssey
Harry Potter
. These provided very few limitations. However, one provided by
The Odyssey
is that we can never be 100% sure that it is an accurate reflection on the Greek society, because it is so old. Also, it is just one man's (Homer) account, so it could be affected by personal bias or opinions.
Another limitation of using mostly
The Odyssey
, is that there are no people who can give first-hand accounts of the Greek society because it all occurred centuries ago. For this reason books such as
The Odyssey
are very useful because it was written in the Ancient Greek society, so is probably the most accurate and detailed account we can get. What this does mean is that anything about Greek society that I have concluded, are assumptions I have drawn from
The Odyssey.
I used Wikipedia for definitions and explanations of things such as
because it is an accurate and reliable website. This is because so many people use it and update it that it always will have the correct information.
Harry Potter provided very few limitations, but one was that it is written for children, especially the earlier books (although, anyone can read it). This means that the view of humanity that it shows is simplified. For example, Voldemort is clearly the villain, he has no redeeming qualities that would make him appear more human or realistic, and therefore he is not very much like a real world villain.
Another of the limitations of
Harry Potter
is that it is fictional, so it is not clear how much we can assume from it. Thankfully, we live in the society it is reflecting, so it is easier. This is not the case for
The Odyssey
, which is also a work of fiction. We don't know how much is made up and how much is accurate information. For example, it is pretty clear that the monsters in
The Odyssey
did not exist, so I did not use this information to form a conclusion, but we can't be certain if the courage, depicted in
The Odyssey
, was real in the classical world, or if it was also made up.
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