Reassessing the Virtue of Andreia in the Odyssey and the Greek Novel

By Brittany Coffman

512px odysseus und penelope %28tischbein%29

"Oddyseus and Penelope" by Johann HW Tischbein, Public domain

Ancient Greek culture and literature often emphasize the importance of heroic virtues, among which andreia - 'courage' - plays a key role. While Greek literature contains expressions of andreia from its beginning in the eighth century BC, the first definitions of this virtue appeared only in the fifth and fourth century BC, when both Plato and Aristotle defined andreia as male physical courage, both in war and athletics. Throughout ancient Greece, this masculine definition of andreia became the most traditional one since it lies at the core of the most popular ancient Greek texts, the Homeric poems, in which male soldiers fight for honor and glory through displays of bravery.[1]

On closer examination, however, the definition of andreia further expanded with the development of ancient Greek society. In the fourth century BC, Aristotle extended the meaning of andreia to male endurance and strength of will, and then in the first century CE Musonius linked andreia to the female ability to preserve cocnjugal fidelity. Most scholars now acknowledge that female andreia differs from the male one and consists of the preservation of the woman's social roles or expectations, starting from the fidelity to her husband.[2][3] In light of all these developments, andreia seems to have transcended its original nature and lost its gendered and exclusively masculine definition.

Despite these developments, however, scholars of ancient Greek literature still tend to look at andreia as a masculine warlike virtue. This is conveyed in the titles of two recent studies which focus on andreia, namely Rosen and Sluiter's book Andreia: Studies in Manliness and Courage in Classical Antiquity, and Meriel Jones's monograph Playing the Man. Performing Masculinities in the Ancient Greek Novel.

In this paper, I will use two important texts from both an early and late stage of ancient Greek literature, namely Homer's Odyssey and the Greek novels, to challenge this narrow view of andreia and argue that ancient Greek literature did reflect the developments of andreia throughout the centuries and made it a multifaceted notion that resisted any gendered and exclusive association.

In order to lay the foundations for this new appreciation of andreia, I will begin by defining traditional male andreia and analyzing its expression through the Homeric Odysseus and selected male characters of the Greek novels (I). Next, I will focus on the presence of non-traditional male andreia in the same texts, in which male characters express an intelligence and strength of will that go beyond the basic courage of traditional andreia (II). Finally, I will show that both the Odyssey and the ancient Greek novels illustrate examples of the non-traditional female andreia in the form of both courage and cunning used to maintain conjugal fidelity (III).

I chose to focus my analysis on Homer's Odyssey and the ancient Greek novels not only because they are located at different stages of ancient Greek literature, but also because most scholars still associate them with the traditional view of andreia. Therefore, I will use these texts as test cases for my reassessment of andreia within ancient Greek literature as a whole. Finally, the Odyssey is also traditionally deemed to be the model of the ancient Greek novels.[4] Although this is not the goal of my paper, my comparative study of andreia will reinforce the intertextual relationship between these literary works.

(I) Traditional Masculine Andreia

In this section I will focus on the traditional male andreia displayed by Odysseus in Homer's Odyssey which lays the foundations of expressions of the same virtue in later Greek literature, including Chariton's Callirhoe and Longus' Daphnis and Chloe. Odysseus, the main hero of the Odyssey, is driven by a need to prove his manliness and obtain glory[5], and therefore embodies the common denotation of andreia as courage leading to victory within an "agonistic context."[6] In his embodiment of andreia, Odysseus parallels the Iliadic Achilles, the soldier among the Greeks fighting at Troy who is most renowned for his ruthless courage.

Although the Odyssey begins to focus on Odysseus' life in Book 5, in Book 4 this poem already gives him features of masculine andreia, as his friend Menelaus likens the return of Odysseus to a "lion coming back," and compares the arrogant suitors of his wife Penelope to "fawns" that will "die an ugly death" at his hands (Od. 4. 362-363). This comparison between Odysseus and a lion characterizes the former as a physically powerful predator: this is an attribute expected of a man endowed with ­andreia and foreshadows Odysseus' display of strength later in the poem. Then, in Book 9, Odysseus accounts his own feat of andreia in which he wins over the monstrous and terrifying Cyclops. Here Homer highlights Odysseus' physical power as he stakes the Cyclops' eye, "[driving] the sharp point right into his eye … putting [his] weight behind it" (9. 381-382). After Odysseus has led his men bravely and escaped the Cyclops, he describes his own "hero's heart" as he brags about his bravery to the Cyclops (9. 498).

Odysseus displays the same kind of andreia when he returns home and the suitors encourage a fight between him and Irus, the town beggar and a merciless fighter. In this scene, Odysseus exhibits an unparalleled strength, since he does not even allow Irus one hit before he "caught him just beneath the ear, crushing his jawbone" and knocks Irus out with a single punch (18. 103-104). Finally, Odysseus' ultimate embodiment of manliness and violence comes when he slaughters the suitors at his home. Homer accentuates the importance of andreia in this scene by comparing Odysseus to a lion once again, an embodiment of violence and masculinity (22. 426-428). Then, Odysseus is able to string a bow no other man could string and send an arrow through the twelve axe heads in an impeccable display of strength (21.432-450). He then turns the weapon onto dozens of suitors and succeeds in killing then all, using arrows, spears and a sword (22.1-401). In this feat, Odysseus is assisted by the goddess Athena, who first "made [the suitors'] shots all come to nothing," and later "did … hold up her overpowering aegis / from her high perch" to scatter the terrified suitors (22.272, 22.316-317). This attribution of godlike strength and aid reinforces Odysseus' quality of andreia, since in the ancient Greek world heroic virtues were the result of both human endeavor and divine support. To conclude, Odysseus' success in his war against the suitors exemplifies a traditional display of andreia.

Many centuries afterwards, in the Imperial era, this same model of andreia is exploited by the Greek novelists. In Chariton's Callirhoe, Chaireas, Callirhoe's first love, embodies traditional andreia when in Book 7 he joins the war between Babylon and Egypt and promises revenge on the Persian King for taking Callirhoe away from him (Char. 7.1). When the war starts, Chaireas climbs up the ranks of the Egyptian army, "for the young man showed both prudence and courage, loyalty as well…with an excellent nature and training" (7.2).[7] After this direct attribution of andreia to Chaireas, Chariton describes his successful attack on the previously impenetrable city of Tyre. Chaireas' initial announcement that he would invade Tyre includes the claim that he has "come with a god on [his] side" (7.3).[8] This description of Chaireas as having a godlike quality in battle reinforces his display of traditional andreia, and also creates a parallel between him and Odysseus on account of their shared divine support.[9] This parallel is reinforced immediately after, when Chariton describes Chaireas and his men as "lions falling on an unguarded herd of cattle" just as Homer compares Odysseus to a lion in his slaughter of the suitors (7.4). Overall, this repeated comparison between Chaireas and Odysseus reinforces the latter's possession of traditional andreia.[10]

In Daphnis and Chloe, Longus attributes traditional andreia both to Daphnis and Dorcon, one of Chloe's suitors. Daphnis' display of male courage is limited to Book 1. At the beginning of the novel, Daphnis is characterized as passive and childlike until he is captured and his andreia is revealed: after falling into the ocean, Daphnis displays physical strength when he is able to swim home by grabbing the ox's horns in order to avoid tiring and drowning (Lon. 1.30). On the other hand, Dorcon displays traditional andreia through his violent attitude. After Chloe rejects his offer of affection, Dorcon decides that he must "catch Chloe alone and ravish her" (Lon. 1.20). This decision turns into a traditional display of andreia when Dorcon decides to attack Chloe disguised as a wolf. When dogs notice and attack him savagely, Dorcon exhibits courage in withstanding their onslaught in silence until he is dragged into sight (1.21). In this scene, Longus describes Dorcon as a man able to sacrifice himself in battle, and his physical bravery confirms his possession of traditional masculine andreia.

(II) Non-Traditional Male Andreia

Homer's Odyssey exhibits the standard masculine view of andreia through Odysseus, but this display constitutes only the beginning of the tradition of andreia: physical strength and bravery cannot and do not fully describe andreia due to the large variety of situations to which andreia is applied.[11][12] As I argued in the Introduction, Aristotle extended the meaning of andreia to male endurance and strength of will, and in this section I will show that both the Odyssey and the Greek novel Daphnis and Chloe exploit this non-traditional form of male andreia.

In the Odyssey, Odysseus' display of traditional andreia is often accompanied by a strength of spirit, which consists of his determination to survive and return home. Odysseus' mental endurance is first exposed in his response to Calypso's alluring promises of luxury and immortality (Od.5.203-224). In this scene, Odysseus overcomes her temptation and says: "Still, I want to go back. / My heart aches for the day I return to my home / … I've suffered and had my share of sorrows / … I can take more if I have to" (5.219-224). Odysseus' strength of will is a clear example of non-traditional male andreia. In his return home, Odysseus displays this same virtue through his cunning and enduring patience. Once in Ithaca, he strategically disguises himself as "an old, broken-down beggar, leaning / on a staff and dressed in miserable rags", so that he can evaluate the state of his household and discover which of his people have remained loyal to him (17.218-219). Although the suitors persistently provoke and maltreat him, Odysseus displays andreia by "control[ing] himself" and maintaining the disguise (17.260). Later, just before he kills the suitors, Odysseus waits patiently for them all to fail his tests of loyalty: he locks the doors of the room while they are distracted, before he dramatically reveals himself and murders them (22.66-463). This clever strategy further proves his enduring cunning and patience.

In Daphnis and Chloe, Longus introduces non-traditional male andreia through Daphnis' strength of will. From Book 3 onwards the protagonist is determined to overcome all obstacles, both tangible and intangible, in order to be with Chloe. During an especially cold winter, Daphnis cannot stand to live apart from Chloe, and therefore, moved by his strong desire to see her again, he decides to leave his home and make a hard trek through the snow and ice to reach Chloe (3.4-7). In this scene, Longus emphasizes Daphnis' determination, which is moved by his profound love for Chloe: "Now, although Dryas' farm [where Chloe lived] was not more than ten stades distant, the snow was lying as deep as ever, and it made Daphnis toil hard. But Love can go anywhere - through flood, through fire - and Scythian snow! So Daphnis was positively running when he arrived outside Dryas' yard" (3.5). Throughout Book 3, Daphnis continues to display his strength of will as he grants gifts, learns about love, and persuades the people around him to let him marry Chloe. His conviction, although appearing to be naïve and more subdued than the traditional andreia, is unmistakable proof of his andreia as a strength of spirit.

(III) Non-Traditional Female Andreia

In Section 2, I have discussed evidence of some deviations from traditional male andreia. In this section, I will complete my exploration of this virtue within ancient Greek literature by arguing that both the Odyssey and the ancient novels show examples of another non-traditional form of andreia, the one that in the first century CE Musonius linked to the female ability to preserve conjugal fidelity.

While Odysseus embodies the traditional masculine andreia, as well as the non-traditional version of it, his wife Penelope displays female andreia through her resolve to preserve her chastity. At the beginning of Odyssey, Homer characterizes Penelope by her courage in keeping the suitors at bay:[13] for the first three years of their presence in Odysseus' palace, Penelope tricks them into waiting until she finishes making a shroud, which she then subtly weaves during the day and pulls apart at night (2.104-139). Since this scheme, if discovered, would provoke the suitors' anger, here Penelope is taking a serious risk in order to preserve her fidelity to Odysseus. Later in the poem, Penelope's andreia reveals itself again when she cunningly devises a bow contest in order to create the context for Odysseus' victory over the suitors. Here Penelope manipulates their pride by offering marriage to the winner, promising that "with him [she] will go, leaving behind this house," and, at the same time, being certain that no suitor would be able to string Odysseus' bow (21.74). In the protagonists' reunion scene, Homer also briefly acknowledges Penelope's strength, giving her credit for what she had to endure at home (23. 308-313). As a result, in the Odyssey Penelope repeatedly displays her courage and cunning in maintaining her fidelity to Odysseus. This empowerment of a woman creates a character that later authors – especially the Greek novelists – could build upon, therefore marking the beginning of female andreia in Greek literature.[14]

In Callirhoe, similarly to the Odyssey, the protagonist Callirhoe exhibits non-traditional female andreia through acts of cunning and quick thinking which allow her to overcome obstacles and preserve her fidelity to her husband Chaireas. Throughout the novel, Callirhoe is an intelligent character with an authentic voice:[15] this characterization makes her both a dynamic and empowered female character and creates the possibility for a display of female andreia. Callirhoe first displays this virtue when in Book 2 she finds herself in the impossible situation of carrying her first love's child and yet being engaged to another man, Dionysius. There, her intelligence allows her to consider her predicament carefully, weighing the positive and negative aspects of multiple solutions, and choosing between two values, either her child or her fidelity to Chaireas, her first love. Callirhoe realizes that if she pretended that her son was Dionysius' child, her child could survive and find his true father later in life, and in this way her familial bond with Chaireas could be maintained (Char. 2.11). In this example Callirhoe demonstrates an exceptional intelligence that allows her to maintain her fidelity to her first husband. Later in the novel, when Callirhoe is stuck at the palace in Babylon awaiting a trial that could possibly reunite her with Chaireas, the Persian king falls in love with her. However, Callirhoe immediately plays dumb at his advances and remains "cultured and coolheaded": in this way, she not only refuses the king's advances but also avoids blatantly disrespecting his authority (6.5). Callirhoe's quick thinking shows a savviness and intelligence in handling a potentially dangerous situation: this is another display of female andreia that ensures both her desired chastity and survival. Her final exhibition of intelligence comes when in Book 8 she and Chaireas have reunited and are victorious in the war on the sea. Callirhoe's compassion and smarts compel her to have Chaireas send the Persian queen and other women home safely (8.3). Here Callirhoe sees an opportunity that the men of the army did not: the queen is now in her debt and favor, and Callirhoe has therefore created a significant alliance with a dangerous and capable monarchy (8.4).

Callirhoe's intelligence is also emphasized by Chaireas' frequent lack thereof throughout the novel: his display of traditional andreia, which I have discussed in Section 1, is limited to book 7, where Chaireas undergoes a sudden character development, while Callirhoe's cunning and strategy is consistent throughout the novel. Since the beginning of the novel, Chariton highlights Callirhoe's andreia as a significant aspect of her characterization and contrasts it with Chaireas' passivity.[16] With concern to her love for Chaireas, Callirhoe is described to be "full of spirit" (Char. 1.3), and her "strength of character … amazed" Dionysius (Char. 2.5). In Book 7 of Callirhoe, Callirhoe displays a strength of will comparable to that of Odysseus, as she expresses a preference for death over the possibility to marry anyone besides Chaireas, and Chaireas himself acknowledges her andreia by saying that "the woman's spirit seems quite impressive" (7.6). To conclude, the passivity that characterizes Chaireas for the majority of the story functions as a foil to Callirhoe's displays of female andreia,[17] and this contrast suggests that in some sections of this novel Callirhoe becomes as important - if not more important - than her male counterpart.[18]

In An Ephesian Story, Anthia exhibits an andreia similar to that of Callirhoe in her determination to maintain her fidelity to her beloved Habrocomes. Throughout the novel she successfully fights against a great number of unwelcome suitors by using her intelligence and determination. In Book 3, when a barbarian named Psammis buys Anthia as a slave and attempts to force himself on her, she strategically lies, claiming she has been "dedicated to Isis" as a baby and therefore could not be touched until she is an adult (Xen. 3.11). Moreover, remembering that "barbarians are naturally suspicious," she uses her calculated intelligence to keep Psammis distant from her: "if you violate a woman sacred to the goddess…she'll be angry with you, and her retribution will be harsh" (3.11). Finally, Anthia's cunning manifests itself again when later in the novel she is sold to the owner of a brothel: there she manages to avoid infidelity by "imitate[ing] those who suffer from the so-called 'sacred disease'" (5.7). Through this very creative stratagem, Anthia proves to be an embodiment of female andreia.


This paper has offered a reassessment of andreia in the Homeric poems and the ancient Greek novels, arguing that while this virtue began as strength and courage representative of traditional masculinity, it has also developed into a multifaceted and diversely expressed quality. Evidence from ancient Greek authors reveals that andreia resists any simple definition, since it represents not only courage, but also strength of will, intelligence, and preservation of chastity, the latter one being usually associated with women. As a result, ancient Greek literature confirms the complex development of the definition of this virtue which I discussed in the Introduction of my paper.

If this is indeed the case, why do scholars often insist on adhering to more conservative definition of andreia?[19][20] In the limited space of this conclusion, I would like to offer my answer to this crucial question: gender is at stake in this scholarly discussion. Most scholars still maintain that andreia is solely masculine, but the truth, as proven by this paper, is that andreia is no longer and arguably never has been an exclusively male virtue. As I have shown in my paper, both genders share expressions of this virtue, including courage and cunning, yet the strength of will associated with this quality reveals itself differently in male and female characters: heroines like Penelope, Callirhoe, and Anthia most often express this andreia with the goal of preserving chastity, while heroes like Odysseus, Chaireas, and Daphnis show their mental strength through their performances in war and their struggle to reunite with their beloved.

My paper calls for a non-gendered approach to andreia: while ancient Greek society was patriarchal and gave some privileges to the male gender, most scholars regard this assumption as the whole truth and therefore read andreia, one of the most important Greek heroic virtues, from an exclusively masculine perspective. However, these scholars fair to address and consider the whole truth of the attribution of andreia. Thanks to my new approach, we are able to endow female characters with andreia despite its traditional reference to masculinity, as well as emphasize more aspects of this virtue in male characters.

The reassessment of andreia in this paper reveals that women of ancient Greek literature need more voice and attention, and if we listen to these characters more carefully, we could discover that in ancient Greek society women also played a more important role than what was previously thought. But this is the argument of another paper.

[1] Felson and Slatkin 2004, 101.
[2] See Jones 2012, 116.
[3] Felson and Slatkin 2004, 103.
[4] See Jones 2007, 111-112.
[5] See Clarke 2004, 78.
[6] Jones 2012, 95.
[7] De Temmerman 2009, 249.
[8] De Temmerman 2009, 254.
[9] De Temmerman 2009, 254.
[10] De Temmerman 2009, 249. The importance of this acquisition is stressed by Chaireas' marked character change within this section of the text.
[11] Jones 2007, 122.
[12] Connolly 2014, 315-316.
[13] Felson and Slatkin 2004, 107.
[14] Felson and Slatkin 2004, 107 and 112.
[15] De Temmerman 2007, 249-250.
[16] De Temmerman 2009, 249.
[17] De Temmerman 2009, 249.
[18] Connolly 2014, 294.
[19] Jones 2012.
[20] Connolly 2014, 296.