Homer's Odysseus (or Ulysses in the Latin tradition) has had a long, convoluted history during which he underwent a metamorphosis from The Odyssey's wise, cunning, long-enduring hero to a dangerous, often shabby villain in later Greek and Roman literature. As Emily Wilson points out in the course of her favorable review of Silvia Montiglio's From Villian to Hero, whereas Ajax, Paris, and Achilles have a single role, he has many and they vary from setting to setting. Many authors found such adaptability suspect. Of course, it's easy to see why Roman authors portrayed Odysseus/Ulysses as evil: his cunning plan of the wooden horse led to the destruction of Troy from which they claimed to descend. Almost all Greek drama also presents him as more of a rogue than a hero. Unlike the negative portrayal of him in literature, “the philosophical response to Odysseus in antiquity was both more varied and more positive” (Wilson), largely because various schools saw his courageous endurance as ideal. Surprisingly, “ancient philosophers who wanted to appeal to Odysseus often downplay his intelligence,” because that had too much in common with the un-philosophical Sophists and instead “focus primarily or exclusively on his patient endurance;” (Wilson).

Related Materials


Hall, Edith. The Return of Odysses: a Cultural History of Homer's “Odyssey”. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Montiglio, Sylvia. From Villain to Hero: Odysseus in Ancient Thought. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012.

Stanford, William Bedell. The Ulysses Theme: A Study in the Adaptability of a Hero. Oxford: Blackwell, 1954. (“the landmark work” — Wilson).

Wilson, Emily. “A Good Rogue.” Times Literary Supplement (October 5, 2013): 12-13.

Last modified 9 February 2013