English / Odysseus Vs. Gilgamesh

Odysseus Vs. Gilgamesh

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Autor:  anton  04 June 2011
Tags:  Odysseus,  Gilgamesh
Words: 1513   |   Pages: 7
Views: 1031

The epic poems The Odyssey, written by Homer, and Gilgamesh, translated by David Ferry, feature the struggles and triumphs of two epic heroes, Odysseus and Gilgamesh. Epic heroes exemplify six common traits. They are all strong fighters, complete with physical beauty and intimidation. The epic hero is dangerous yet protects ordinary people. There is always an encounter with death and the cosmos. They are superhuman, but they are not supernatural, although they come in contact with the supernatural. There are struggles with overwhelming difficulties while on a quest for self-discovery or some sort of goal, however all ordeals are overcome by quick intellect. Despite all the difficulties and obstacles, epic heroes always return from an extremity back to a normal lived life. Odysseus and Gilgamesh both attribute these traits, however both have other similarities and differences. Both have several different virtues and faults.

Odysseus is on a journey home to Ithaca after a ten-year war in Troy. During his journey, he is forced to venture through a sadistic Cyclops, angered gods, deeply obstinate goddesses, the Underworld, and determined suitors that are after his wife Penelope. His goal is to return home to be with his wife and son. In the same turn, Gilgamesh is on an epic journey as well, although his goals are more selfish. He steals trees from a forbidden cedar forest, defeats the forest demon Humbaba, challenges the gods, kills the Bull of Heaven, and then journeys to find immortality. All his journeys were some sort of way to overcome the gods and become immortal.

As we can see through their journeys, both heroes have superhuman strength and an intimidation factor. All the people in Uruk feared Gilgamesh for “there is no withstanding the aura or power of the Wild Ox Gilgamesh” (31-32). Odysseus, in the same way, was feared by the suitors who have infested his home back in Ithaca. This is evident after Eurymakhos begs Odysseus to spare their lives after he returns home. Both Odysseus and Gilgamesh are dangerous, however they serve their duty to protect their people. Odysseus does not leave his men behind when they are in the land of the Lotus Eaters. They all eat the lotus flower, which causes them to forget their homecoming and inspires them to stay on the island forever. Odysseus pulls his men from the island despite their protests. Gilgamesh is also a protector of the people in his city of Uruk. He is called “the wise shepherd and protector of the people”. Near death encounters and interaction with the supernatural is also a common trait with these heroes. Odysseus encounters gods and goddesses throughout the entire epic. Athena becomes his protector and Poseidon seeks revenge and attempts to kill Odysseus several times. Besides these encounters, Odysseus is seduced by Calypso and Circe. Gilgamesh challenges the gods as well. Ishtar becomes enraged when Gilgamesh refuses her as a mistress and sends the Bull of Heaven to kill him. The sun god, Shamash, is also a protector of Gilgamesh and assists in the killing of Humbaba. The supernatural presence is evident in almost every action inhibited by these heroes. Intellect is one final similarity between these two heroes. Odysseus trick the Cyclops called Polyphemus when he gets him drunk and stabs him in the eye, shortly after introducing himself as “Nobody”. He is able to make a quick escape from the island. Gilgamesh uses intellect as well when he challenges the beast Humbaba, only attacking when his cloaks of fear are at its minimal. Besides all these similarities between both of these heroes, both also have several differences between morals, goals, virtues, and faults.

Throughout this journey, one can see how Odysseus is the definition of a true epic hero. Besides the typical traits of an epic hero, Odysseus can exhibit humility, courage, faithfulness, and brave leadership. Odysseus’s goal of his journey is for a homecoming. He wishes to return home to his wife Penelope and his home back in Ithaca. He does not seek any other ultimate goal. This is where the virtue of humility and faithfulness is shown. One particular example is while Odysseus is trapped on Calypso’s island. He is promised immortality and a lustrous life if he were to stay with Calypso on her island. However Odysseus abandons such an idea and decides to build a raft on his own and return to his home. He remains humble doesn’t desire to be godlike. Although Calypso and Odysseus have intimate relations with one another, it is not Odysseus’s free choice. He is forced to be intimate with the goddess. Even if he is physically betraying Penelope, it is against his will and he is mentally faithful to her. Odysseus is shown as a brave leader through out his entire journey. He clearly instructs and protects his men in adverse obstacles and remains calm. When traveling the sea and passing the Sirens, he instructs his men to put bee-wax in their ears so they may not be affected by the Siren’s song. He and his men safely navigate through.

Gilgamesh has the same aspects of an epic hero, however we see these traits in a different way. Gilgamesh is the king of Uruk and is feared by all. He is not a king of good morals however. He is more of a tyrant and uses his intimidation so he may rape women before they become married. He is part god and part human, and this knowledge inflates his ego. He is selfish, egotistical, and tyrannical. He makes two journeys. At first he travels with Enkidu to the forbidden cedar forest. His goal here is to basically prove that he is better than any mortal man. He challenges the gods and defeats the forest guardian Humbaba so that he may be able to steal the forbidden trees. It is a journey to prove his ego and his greatness, which is certainly different than Odysseus’s humility. His second journey is made after the death of his friend Enkidu. He is so full of grief that he makes a journey to find immortality. The difference here is that Gilgamesh seeks immortality but he never achieves his goal. Odysseus on the other hand is given immortality in a sense, such as when the goddess Ino saves Odysseus against the sea storm created by Poseidon.

Using these examples and explanations of both of these heroes, one can see that Odysseus is a better example of a true hero. Unlike Gilgamesh’s tyrannical and egotistical nature, Odysseus is humble. He has the superhuman strength and he knows he is better than any mortal man, however he does not use his knowledge of this for some sort of selfish goal. Rather, he just wants to return home to his wife. He loves his wife and misses her, and does everything in his power to remain faithful to her. Even after he is offered a life full of lust and immortality, he denies is for his love for Penelope is too strong. The power he harnesses is used for the good of him and his crew and never once does he act selfish. Odysseus has numerous encounters with the gods, but he doesn’t directly challenge them. Poseidon attacks him n casts storms to disrupt his journey, however Odysseus doesn’t directly fight back. He may be disrespectful and fails to make sacrifices, but never once does he challenge them directly. Much like any other hero in an epic poem, Odysseus is also a liberator. The climax of the legend is with a heroic battle in which the hero emerges triumphant. Odysseus manages to kill each and every one of the one hundred and sixteen suitors, bringing his journey to an end. He liberates his home from the suitors who plagued it, and frees his servants and Penelope.

In conclusion, an epic hero has six common traits. He is a strong warrior, dangerous, protects ordinary people, encounters death, encounters the supernatural, and always returns from an extremity back home to a normal lifestyle. All of these traits are seen in the two epic heroes Odysseus and Gilgamesh, however both also differ greatly in morals and virtues. Gilgamesh is tyrannical and selfish. He uses his intimidation and strength to rape women and prove his superhuman abilities. He directly challenges the gods and looks for ways to overcome death. Odysseus on the other hand remains humble and only wishes to return home to Ithaca and his wife Penelope. He doesn’t use his superhuman strength for the wrong purposes, but rather to protect his crew. Much like every other epic hero, the legend of Odysseus ends with a heroic battle in which he emerges triumphant. For these reasons, one can see Odysseus as a better example of a true epic hero.



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