This paper was written for professor Steve Johnson here at SIT. The paper on the qualities and abilities of the "ideal leader" through the eyes of both Homer and Machiavelli. This paper was written without any resources and the ideas in the paper are entirely mine. The only citeable sources for this paper are the works being discussed which are Homer's "The Odyssey" and Machiavelli's "The Prince". Feel free to cite me as a source but please do not plagiarize.
What is a leader? A leader is a person who stands out within a group of people and can guide them to a goal. We can see that throughout history many men and women have rose to power, and lead their people to either glory or destruction. While all leaders may not have been virtuous they did possess certain abilities that allowed them to become a leader, and it is the exemplification of these abilities that allowed them to do what they did.
Homer and Machiavelli offer us two different views on what qualities the ideal leader should have and how the ideal leader should act. The witty and virtuous Odysseus ultimately strives towards good Kleos while the clever and crafty Prince ultimately strives towards power and wealth. We can see that to the Machiavellian hero the end justifies the means whereas with the Homeric hero the means justifies the end. It is this basic difference that separates these two types of leaders.
Homer’s Odysseus uses cunningness, charm, strength and some help from the gods to return home and restore his house. He utilizes these virtues along with Xenia to achieve a good character. Machiavelli’s Prince, on the other hand uses facades, trickery and power to gain more power. While these two leaders strive towards different ends they both utilize the same basic qualities, even if they aren’t used in the same ways.
Odysseus can be referred to as Polumetus, which means “the cunning one”. He deserves this title because throughout the book he manages to outwit many opponents, such as the Cyclops Polyphemos. In the case of Polyphemos Odysseus declares that his name is “Nobody”. This clever ploy allows Odysseus to escape from Polyphemos’ cave with the remnants of his crew. He is able to do this since “Nobody” is attacking Polyphemos, so therefore no one sees the need to help Polyphemos. Another example of Odysseus’ cunningness can be seen with Eumaios and a few other people that Odysseus meets. In these encounters Odysseus hides his true identity and creates a story about who he is and how he got there. He does this in order to find out about what’s going on in his current location, and to find out if he is any danger there. These tiny lies and stories allow Odysseus to survive and ultimately attain good Kleos, but are they any different from the Princes’ actions?
Machiavelli tells the Prince that no matter how he achieves power or how well he is liked, that there will always be people that he can’t please. His advise on how to deal with this is to be like the lion and the fox. I will touch on this concept in more detail later but right now I’d just like to deal with just the fox aspect of this statement. The fox is a sly and cunning animal, and to be like the fox The Prince must appear to be generous, pious, kind, and trustworthy, while in reality he exhibits none of the above virtues. This facade should be enough to fool the peasants into believing that their prince is a kind and generous man, and since only a few people actually deal with the prince directly a majority of the peasants will never know the truth, thus they will continue to support The Prince. Just like Odysseus the Prince uses a cunning trick to fool people into believing he is not what or who he seems to be. This simple trickery is used by both heroes to attain their respective goals.
Another virtue of a leader is strength. Odysseus has and shows both his mental and physical strength throughout the Odyssey. Physically Odysseus is a strong man. He fought in and survived the Trojan War, and he managed to return home after twenty years of hardship. In his meeting with Iros the beggar Odysseus knocks him to the ground with one punch proving his physical prowess. Odysseus is also the only man, amongst the suitors, strong enough to string his bow. In addition to his physical strength Odysseus is also mentally strong. One example of his mental fortitude is when he travels to find the blind prophet Teiresias. Here Odysseus is courageous enough to face and talk to the spirits who come and talk to him. He also manages to never give up hope of returning home to Penelope, despite being the captive of Kalypso, who offers him eternal life. He also doesn’t give up hope after being blown far off course by the magic bag of wind, after seeing his beloved Achaian coast. The mental strength needed to stay focused on his goal despite all of Odysseus’ hardships and problems must have been immense, but Odysseus persevered and kept his head under pressure.
Strength is also a very important part of The Prince; in fact strength is one of the major themes in the Prince. The Prince must keep a strong enough army to crush any neighboring princes or threatening powers. Through use of this army he can also gain himself new lands and property, and consequently more power. In addition to military power a prince is also supposed to rule unchallenged. A Prince remains unchallenged by eliminating any opposition to him, whether they are peasants, lords, or ministers. A prince should also use severity and fear to keep his people is line. These gruesome examples of military and political strength are used to achieve the Princes ends. They can be likened to Odysseus’ slaughtering of Antinoos and the other suitor. This display of physical strength allowed Odysseus to maintain his political power and the severity of the action sent a message to the people in his kingdom. Odysseus then killed the remainder of the opposition after he had restored his kingdom and his wife. Once again Odysseus and The Prince similarly used a quality of a leader to achieve their own ends.
Odysseus is often viewed as a virtuous hero. This is mostly because he follows the Greek ideal of the Golden Mean. He tries not to excessively use one extreme of a virtue. The Suitors, for example showed too much pride as they freely ate Odysseus’ food, drank his wine, and slept on his estate. Due to their excessive pride they can be considered to be not virtuous, and they were smitten is a glorious moment of hubris. Odysseus was cunning but he never went to an extreme of this virtue, he acted neither lazily nor overconfidently during the course of the book. Since he abided by the Golden Mean Odysseus was able to return home and dispatch of the suitors; achieving his final goal of punishing those who lacked good kleos and establishing good Kleos for himself.
Machiavelli believed in a prince being like a lion and a fox. A Prince had to know when to act, and when not to. The Prince could not be too much like the fox or too much like the lion. If he was too much like the lion he would conquer far more than he could handle and would eventually meet his match on battle or be unable to defend his lands. If he was too much like the fox though he would exploit his people too much and the people and lords would finally revolt against him and his wicked ways. On the other hand if the prince was too little like the fox or the lion he would not be powerful enough to rule his kingdom or to defend it from invasion thus rendering him useless and causing him to loose his kingdom. Machiavelli, like the Greeks, stressed the ideal of a Golden Mean. The Prince could be quote on quote virtuous if he acted like both the fox and the lion and not too much or to little of one or the other. So we can see that it is important for a leader to have a balance of virtues in order to be successful.
As I have shown, Odysseus and The Prince use similar qualities to achieve their objectives. Both leaders have and use the same qualities. These qualities are cunningness, strength, and a balance of virtues. Cunningness allowed both leaders to avoid dangers and complications through the use of some sort of lie or trickery. Both leaders also exhibited physical strength. Through the use of force both leaders are able to maintain what is rightfully theirs. Finally both leaders did not show an excess or deficiency of any one quality, but rather they found a mean between the two vices of that quality that allowed them to succeed.
Based on the fact that Odysseus and the Prince exhibited the same values to become leaders we can deduce that these are the important values of leadership. How these characters used these values to be leaders does differ though. The Prince used a more perverse version of these qualities than Odysseus did. This is mainly because The Prince and Odysseus were striving towards different goals. The Prince used military strength, fear, and slyness to crush his opponents and make himself a more powerful and wealthy man. The Prince was encouraged to trick and fool his people into following him while all along he was swindling them. Yet despite his wicked acts he still used and followed the fundamental qualities of a leader and therefore he was able to achieve his goal. Unlike the Prince Odysseus used strength, cunningness, and perseverance to get a good reputation and survive hardships; dealing out fate to those who did not possess good kleos. Odysseus also followed these qualities of a leader and was also able to achieve his goal. Since the judge of a leader isn’t directly based on how morally right or wrong he is, but rather how able he is to achieve his goals we can deduce that Odysseus and The Prince were both good leaders because they followed the qualities of a good leader and achieved their respective goals. The Prince however is given a negative connotation due to the selfishness of his goals. The Prince only wanted more power for himself; consequently though if his empire was well run his power could benefit his people. We cannot truly judge the goodness of the prince’s actions unless we know exactly how he has acted. If the Prince acted ideally based on Machiavelli’s advise and warnings he would have had a powerful kingdom and the support of most of his people.
The manner that they went about achieving their goals had to do with the difference in the goals themselves. Odysseus was striving towards the noble goal of good kleos and to determine whether or not you have good kleos all of your previous actions are looked at. Therefore to achieve good kleos Odysseus had to act “good”. The Prince however was striving towards money, land, and power. To achieve his goal only the final aim was important. How he achieved his goal did not matter. Therefore the only difference between the leadership of Odysseus and the Prince is that to Odysseus the means justified the end, and to the prince the end justified the means.
A leader is a person who possesses and exhibits the qualities of cunningness, strength, and balance. A leader must also be able to choose and follow his goal to the end, and he must remember to use these qualities every step of the way. It is through these qualities that the ideal leader can be defined and recognized for the rest of time.