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A Look at the Importance of Bonds in Greek Heroism and Superman

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Few names echo across the centuries, like the Greek heroes Achilles and Odysseus. Both share similar characteristics of being brave, loyal, and noble. In the present day, only one character stands out as having these characteristics. He has even stood the test of time, albeit in a shorter period; Superman. While the three of them are the poster boys for these virtues, Odysseus and Superman differ from Achilles in one significant way. Unlike Achilles, Odysseus and Superman realize that heroism is not worth it without the support of family and friends. They, of course, do not realize this at the offset but instead have to go through a series of trials and a long journey. 

Odysseus' journey back home took ten years, while the hit television series Smallville ran for ten seasons. During Smallville's run, Clark Kent had to learn how to use his abilities before he became known as Superman. Unlike Odysseus and Achilles, he did not start as a confident hero. In earlier episodes, Clark was often depicted as an unsure teenager- just more powerful. He often had to navigate the typical troubles of high school, like falling in love and even school work and exams. This was in addition to hiding who he was to fit in and not stand out, all the while learning to use whatever ability he had to save people. 

However, contrary to popular belief, Clark also struggled with doing what was considered suitable. Saving people was a no-brainer for him, but he often lied and gaslit the people around him. This can be seen in his relationship with Lex Luthor. While Lex had a reputation for not being the best person, the two became fast friends after Clark saved him from drowning due to a car accident. In Clark's eyes, Lex was a good person and should not have to shoulder the sins of his father. He was nice to Clark, often lending an ear and being a sounding board for his problems. Lex's relationship with Clark could be considered a brotherly one. This was confirmed in the season four episode named, 'Lucy.' According to Lex, he sees Clark as "closer to me than any blood brother."

Similarities of this relationship can be seen between Achilles and Patroclus. In the movie Troy, Patroclus is depicted as Achilles' younger cousin. However, in line 785 of the Illiad, Patroclus is “ the elder though in might he (Achilles) is the better far. Yet do thou speak to him well a word of wisdom and give him counsel, and direct him.” Thus, Patroclus and Lex share the role of being older and wiser “brothers” to men who are or will become great heroes. In the same vein, Achilles and Clark are the younger but stronger ones. However, despite being the older and wiser one, “Patroclus can also be shown to share a kind of unique like-mindedness [with Achilles] specifically about shared characteristics,” according to Celsiana Warwick in her paper “We Two Alone: Conjugal Bonds and Homoerotic Subtext in the Iliad.” This is the same with Clark and Lex. However, unlike Patroclus and Achilles, working together toward a common goal, Clark and Lex are the opposite. They both valued loyalty despite lying multiple times to each other. 

Nevertheless, this is not where the comparison of the relationships ends. While Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship ended with the latter’s death, they would be reunited in the Underworld sometime later. The same more or less happens with Clark and Lex. Lex discovered Clark’s secret that he was from another planet and felt Clark would destroy humanity without his help in the episode aptly named Odyssey. Lex then destroyed Clark’s Fortress of Solitude. They reunited briefly years later after Clark is stabbed with a blue kryptonite dagger which takes away his invulnerability (“Lazarus.”) In this limbo, comparative of the Underworld, the two did not speak before Clark returned to life. 

Lex and Patroclus both believed that they were doing the right thing. Similarly to Lex, after Achilles withdrew from the war, Patroclus was unsatisfied and wore Achilles' armor to drive back the Trojans. However, the heroes' reactions to their "brothers" deaths differed vastly. While Achilles flew into a rage and wanted revenge, Clark wrestled with feelings of betrayal and broken trust. 

It could be said that Lex’s actions resulted in Clark never fully trusting him. This is unlike Achilles and Patroclus, whose relationship defied even death. Despite Lex’s pronouncement that they were brothers, Clark still gaslit Lex in an attempt to hide his true identity as an alien. However, despite this, Clark still leaned on Lex for advice on how to navigate his relationships. While his with Lex steadily deteriorated, he realized that without Lex, he would not have become Superman. 

He also struggled with jealousy and anger like a “regular” person. 

Beyond Lex, Clark often relied on help from his family and friends. For example, in one episode, Clark lost his vision but developed super hearing (“Whisper.”) This new ability was too powerful. Clark's hearing was overstimulated, and as a result, he was often in pain. However, Clark’s mother, father, and best friend all helped him in various ways to learn how to lower the volume until his sight returned. Clark’s parents' plan was two parts. They first isolated him on their farm, away from the noise. Then his dad, Jonathan, kept whispering until Clark could focus his hearing on his voice. This training helped Clark concentrate and control his super hearing to save the day. 

Odysseus, while never having to experience blindness himself, blinded the cyclops, Polyphemus. He did this with the help of his friends and while under the pseudonym of ‘Nobody.’ He did not mind sharing the glory of taking down the Cyclops with his comrades in the heat of the moment. But he could not resist telling Polyphemus his name as they were making their escape which led to the death of several of the men who sailed with him. At this point, he knew he needed the help of his friends but could not resist the allure that fame brings.

Clark, however, was never possessed by the need to be famous. His one underlying desire was to help others because of his godlike abilities. The question of nature versus nurture can also be explored here. Martha and Johnathan Kent, two kind-hearted farmers from Kansas, found and raised Clark. They kept him grounded physically and mentally by having him grow up doing chores while hiding his abilities. They instilled in him the value of hard work and fairness. These are also virtues that the Greeks placed high merit on.

Despite all this, Clark still went through a period where he believed he did not need his friends and family's support or help. Instead, he tried to be a superhero by himself. He did not do it to hog all the fame and glory that came with saving people all to himself. This was because of a series of events where people he loved were injured, and he felt it was better to alienate himself not to feel emotions. However, his long-term partner, Lois Lane, convinced him that he was a better hero with people in his life. He learned that isolating himself to be a hero was a fundamentally wrong path of thinking. To be a better hero, he needed to live amongst the people he was saving. This meant reconnecting with his friends and family, having fun with them, have conversations. He would shine brighter as a hero and symbolize hope and the future if he was in the light instead of the darkness. 

This is a similar process that Odysseus went through. Upon returning to Thebes, he goes through a period where he is alone. The difference between him and Clark is that he has already gone through his transformative journey. He knows that his family is worth fighting for. The Odyssey uses “epic similies” to focus on the “emotional value of family-husband, wives, children” to “ reinforce Odysseus's emotional ties to the home he seeks,” according to Carole Moses, in her paper “Homer’s THE ODYSSEY.” This is a lesson that he could only have learned throughout his voyage. He realized that losing his men on that journey was a part of life. Life, after all, is an ongoing process where one loves, experiences loss, grieves, heals, and then loves again—isolating oneself from that process and going after revenge serves to hurt rather than help.

This was the case with Achilles. It was because he raged at Patroclus' death and his fight with Hector that Hector's dying words cursed him. It can be argued that Patroclus' death was the journey that Achilles went on to learn that being a hero does not mean much without friends and family. After Odysseus meets him in the Underworld and learns that he is unhappy, Odysseus becomes more cautious. So, it was because of Achilles that Odysseus became a better person and realized he needed family and friends. 

While Clark, Odysseus, and Achilles had similar experiences, how they handled them differed. Clark and Odysseus could go on a life-changing journey where they become better versions of themselves. Unlike Achilles, who realized this too late, they never let anger or loss rule them. While all three are heroes remembered throughout the ages as brave, loyal, and noble, only Clark and Odysseus could unlock the highest tier of being a hero: saving people, not for fame but because they cared. 

Edited by: Whitney Edna Ibe

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