If the Iliad is about strength, the Odyssey is about cunning. This difference becomes obvious in the very first lines of the epics. The Iliad is the story of rage of Achilles, the strongest hero in the Greek army. The Odyssey is about a “man of twists and turns” (1.1). Odysseus demonstrates his extraordinary strength in Book 21 by being the only man who can string the bow. But, he relies more on mind than muscle, a trait visible in the course of the book. He realises that he cannot overpower Polyphemus, and even if he were able to do so, he wouldn’t be able to move the boulder from the door. He works around his disadvantage in strength and exploits Polyphemus stupidity. He uses violence to put out Polyphemus’s single eye but it is part of a larger plan to deceive the monster. Similarly, Odysseus is outnumbered by young suitors in his palace, so he makes use of his wits to beat them. Through disguises and deceptions, he brings about a situation in which he alone is armed and the suitors are locked in a room with him.
With this setup, Achilles’ sublime skills as a warrior would help him accomplish what Odysseus does, but only Odysseus’ shrewd plotting can bring about a sure victory. Some of the episodes in Odysseus’ ordeal seem to mock the use of strength alone. No one can resist the Sirens’ song but Odysseus listens to the lovely melody by having his crew tie him up. Scylla and Charybdis cannot be overcome but Odysseus can minimise his losses with cautious decision-making and careful navigation. Odysseus’ encounter with Achilles in the underworld is a reminder that glory by sword is short-lived. Achilles won great glory during his life but that life was brief and ended violently. Odysseus, by virtue of his wits, will live to a ripe old age and die in peace.