The Evolution of the Hero Story and its Reflection in The Odyssey and The Avengers

on Wednesday, September 26, 2012
The heroes of modern day are vastly different than those of classic hero stories such as The Odyssey. Because of this, heroes have evolved with the times, and the hero stories of today still follow the archetypal pattern of the Hero’s Journey. Take, for example, the 2012 superhero movie The Avengers, which was based on the Marvel comic books. Upon analyzing both stories, it is possible to find many similarities as well as differences between the heroes and environments of the Avengers, and that of Homer’s heroes.

Odysseus, the hero of the Odyssey, has few, if any flaws – he is brave, strong, and wise. Homer wrote his heroes to be personifications of all the admirable qualities of his society. In modern stories, like the Avengers, the heroes are more often obviously flawed. Tony Stark (also known as Iron Man), one of the heroes of the Avengers, is openly known to be, “volatile [and] self-obsessed,” and all of the heroes have issues getting along with one another. In modern times this is common. By showing that even characters with superhuman abilities have legitimate faults, it makes the heroes seem human, and more relatable than those of Homer.

However, both the heroes of the Avengers and the Odyssey
have demons and inner conflicts aside from the main plot of the story. For example, while Odysseus is forced to stay on the island of Calypso, he is constantly tortured with a longing for his home and for his family. Each of the Avengers has their own internal struggle as well. Natasha (the Black Widow) feels that she has, “red in [her] ledger,” and is determined to cancel out her past wrongdoings, and Bruce Banner grapples with keeping his anger – and by extension his transformations into the Hulk – in check.

Upon closer examination, it is possible to find parallels between other major elements of the plots of these two stories. These parallels can largely be attributed to the Hero’s Journey, an archetypal pattern that every hero story follows. For example, Olympic gods and goddesses play a major role in the story of the Odyssey, as they both help and hinder Odysseus, the hero of the story. In the Avengers, the secretive council that Nick Fury (the head of SHEILD) consults with mirrors the involvement of the Greek gods in the Odyssey, with Fury playing the role of Athena, who comes to the gods pleading the case of the hero. The gods and the council look on the hero[s] of the story positively – for the most part. However, when the council doubts the ability of the Avengers (and, similarly, when Odysseus harms a relative of Poseidon), the heroes of the story fall out of their favor.

The Odyssey and the Avengers can be compared and contrasted in even more ways than those aforementioned. The eternal archetypes of the hero and the Hero’s Journey make comparing stories from different times easy and the possibilities endless. However, each story has managed to remain unique, a fact that pays tribute to the magic that the Hero’s Journey creates.


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