Odysseus Vs. Gilgamesh
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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. Odysseuss 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 Calypsos 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 doesnt desire to be godlike. Although Calypso and Odysseus have intimate relations with one another, it is not Odysseuss 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 Sirens song. He and his men safely navigate through.
Gilgamesh has the same aspects of an epic hero, however we see