Unlike Howard, I found the stories of R' Eliezer b. Hyrcanus compelling. He leaves an affluent, even wealthy father who has no sympathy with his desire to study Torah, and he devotes himself to study even though he does not have enough money to feed himself. He goes hungry and hides his plight from the other members of the yeshiva community. (This is reminiscent of the story of Hillel endangering his life by listening at the yeshiva skylight when he lacks the money to participate directly.)
The attribute of study in which he excels is his retention of what he's learned. He's the "plastered cistern that loses not a drop" (text 84), and he is extraordinarily reluctant to state any halacha that he has not learned from his predecessors (texts 92-93). This is a difficult attribute for us, as we are more inclined to value creativity than massive memory. (Indeed, the tradition seems biased in the direction of creativity also -- see the comparison of R' Eliezer with R' Elazar b. Arach in chapter 2 of Avot, at about mishnayot 10-12.) But even we should be able to acknowledge the value of the retentive memory, and of the dedication to his teachers. (What's puzzling in the texts is that R' Eliezer himself is described as giving a highly creative drash in the presence of his father -- he said things that none of his listeners had ever heard before. Was his creativity purely the aggadic realm, and, if not, how do we reconcile this creativity with the halachic hesitancy described in texts 92-93?)
Yes, he's impatient with those who are less dedicated to study (text 94), but Hillel himself, usually thought of as the model of patience and forebearance, had a highly demanding side -- see most of the mishnayot about Hillel in Avot ch. 1-2.
Then there's the story of Akhnai's oven and its aftermath (text 98). R' Eliezer's ruling is endorsed by all of the miraculous signs, and by the bat kol, which is understood as God's own ruling. Yet the other sages all reject his position. In other words, he is, objectively, absolutely, right, but no one listens to him. The rejection of his position on this particular issue of ritual purity/impurity (tahor - tamei) is so through that the Sages then declare ritually impure (tamei) everything that he has previously ruled pure (tahor). Further, they excommunicate him. In his excommunication, God Himself continues to be on R' Eliezer's side -- that's why the crops are struck, wherever R' Eliezer glances is burnt, and even Rabban Gamliel has to rebuke the waves that threaten his boat. How can there not be pathos in the story of the person who's right, but is ignored and rejected?
When he takes sick, his students visit him, but they have to maintain their 4-cubit distance because of his excommunication (text 102). When R' Akiva says (text 101) that sufferings are dear (to God), we sense that the story is endorsing this view, and we must be moved even if we're uncomfortable with this theology. At R' Eliezer's death, he cries that he had so much Torah to teach and did not have the opportunity to do so, and this anguish evokes our pathos. That pathos is also evoked by the anguish of R' Akiva, who mourns him with Elisha's words upon the departure of Elijah.
True, his strength was in an area that is less in favor in our time. But the stories here are profoundly saddening, by showing us someone who was loved, but who was right and was rejected.