Epic vs. Tragic – Macbeth and Odysseus

August 26, 2020 by Essay Writer

When different literary works are examined similarities and differences are noticeable. This remains true in The Odyssey by Homer and The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare. The Odyssey’s main character is a courageous soldier named Odysseus who faces many obstacles on his journey home. The Tragedy of Macbeth includes a power obsessed king with the name of Macbeth. Homer’s Odysseus and Shakespeare’s Macbeth compare in their ambitions and their positions in society, but they also contrast due to the fact that Odysseus is an epic hero and Macbeth is a tragic hero.

Odysseus and Macbeth’s similar ambitions drive them to get what they want. In Odysseus’s case it help him to return to his home, “All hands aboard;/ Come, clear the beach and no one taste/ The Lotus, or you lose your home of home” (Part 1, 52-54). Odysseus’s ambition leads him to understand that getting home is the most important thing to focus on.

This ambition keeps Odysseus’s mind on his goal and drives him to eventually return to Ithaca. Macbeth has the same ambition when it comes to him reaching his goal of forever being king, “We have scotched the snake, not killed it” (III. ii. 13). Macbeth is explaining how killing one man has not completed his plan to ensure his reign as king. Macbeth’s ambition drives him to kill anyone that stands in his way of the throne. These men have opposite overall goals but the ambition that drives them to their goals is virtually the same.

Odysseus and Macbeth also have great importance in their societies. Odysseus a king and a brave soldier holds much importance to the people of Ithaca, “Odysseus my lord among the rest./ If he returned, if he were here to care for me,/ I might be happily renowned!” (Part 3, 116-118). Here Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, is making it clear how this hero of the Trojan War and great king of Ithaca is a great lord to his people. He is a courageous soldier as is Macbeth and they both are kings over their people. Before Macbeth’s downfall, he kills the Thane of Cawdor in a heroic battle, “What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won” (I. ii. 67). Macbeth is the king of Scotland and starts off as a heroic and brave soldier. He is not the best leader but he still holds great importance. Both men share their standings in society and the heroic acts they perform for their people.

Odysseus and Macbeth are also different because one is an epic hero and the other a tragic hero. Odysseus, an epic hero, protects his men throughout The Odyssey and continues to grow as a character, “My faithful company/ Rested on their oars now, peeling off/ The wax that I had laid thick on their ears;/ Then set me free” (Part 2, 59-62). At the beginning of the story you can see Odysseus’s crew is faithful and they stand by Odysseus showing that he starts out as a great man and continues to progress.

Odysseus and Macbeth are opposite because Odysseus grows throughout the work while Macbeth falls. Macbeth starts out as a great soldier but by the end he slowly fades into an evil man, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/ Clean from my hand?” (II. ii. 60-61). This marks the beginning of Macbeth’s downfall as he commits his first selfish murder. Macbeth only falls farther as he continues to commit these murders only to get him farther in life. This difference is one of the most significant as one character rises to become a better man and the other falls to his death due to his lack of moral compass.

Both of these important characters, Odysseus and Macbeth, have their similarities and their differences. Their ambition drives them to reach their overall goals and their importance to their people remains similar, yet they are different because one is a tragic hero while the other an epic hero. Comparing these to seemingly different works has allowed for many similarities and quite a few differences to come to light.

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