Gilgamesh and Odysseus Comparison as a Heroes Essay
Updated: Sep 6th, 2020
Odysseus and Gilgamesh are the characters of ancient myths. Gilgamesh is a hero from early Mesopotamia. This myth is priceless for the researchers of Mesopotamian culture since it mirrors the religious traditions of that period, the treatment of gods, the perception of a hero, and attitudes to friendship and death. The plot of Odyssey is set in ancient Greece. Mythology was an integral part of daily life there. It was used to interpret the events which could not be explained scientifically. Gilgamesh and Odysseus are the heroes of different periods, however, they are similar in their seeking to find the essence of life.
Gilgamesh and Odysseus: Heroic Qualities
Although living in different epochs, Gilgamesh and Odysseus were similar in their searches of the meaning of life. They both are strong legendary personalities popular in the societies of their time. The epic of Gilgamesh is described as “a heroic quest for fame and immortality, pursued by a man who has an enormous capacity for friendship, endurance, and adventure, joy, and sorrow, a man of strength and weakness who loses a unique opportunity through a moment’s carelessness” (Dalley, 2009, p.39). The Odyssey is the story that brought the familiar characters from the previous epics to please the audience (Homer, 2014).
The two characters of famous epic stories share many similar features. For example, they both demonstrate self-confidence, which is a necessary trait for a hero. They are leaders of their time. Gilgamesh is an ancient king of Babylonian Uruk, and Odysseus leads Greek Ithaca. People believed in Gilgamesh’s power to protect them from invaders.
Odysseus, although not do physically strong, also revealed the qualities of a good leader and a brave ruler during the Trojan War. Gilgamesh is aware of his strength and is ready to face the danger. He says to Ninsun, “I am extraordinarily strong (!)… I must now travel a long way to where Humbaba is, I must face fighting such as I have not known, and I must travel on a road that I do not know!” (“The Epic of Gilgamesh”). Odysseus demonstrates his wit when talking to Cyclops. He conceals his real mane, “Noman is my name,” and thus manages to escape (Homer, 2014).
One more feature found in both Gilgamesh and Odysseus is divine giftedness. Gilgamesh as a son of goddess Ninsun, possessed greater spiritual and physical power than any of the people under his rule. Odysseus was not as physically strong as Gilgamesh. However, he had more mental power if compared to the other Greek people. There are some similarities, not only in the positive characteristics of the heroes. They also make analogous mistakes. Despite the divine endowment they possess, the heroes go wrong. Fortunately, they learn those lessons and become stronger leaders.
Nevertheless, the two heroes demonstrated different behavior. Thus, Gilgamesh was focused on his power and introduction of his traditions. He did not always behave as a fair leader. Although assumed to protect the people, he was killing them and raping their daughters. Unlike Gilgamesh, Odysseus was a fair leader and did his best for the people of Ithaca. Their inclinations also differ. Gilgamesh was more concerned of his personal fame during the war while Odysseus struggled to win and unite with his family.
Mesopotamian and Greek Cultures in Ideals and Expectations of the Heroes
Both epic stories demonstrate the ideas of Mesopotamian and Greek people on the images of heroes. Thus, confidence of leaders was considered an important quality in the Mesopotamian and Greek cultures. Another similarity observed between the heroes is their divine endowment. The heroes are usually gifted by the will of gods and possess the qualities not characteristic of common people. These particular powers make them leaders and provide the trust of people. Another important concept of heroes in the Mesopotamian and Greek cultures is trust. However, Gilgamesh lost the trust of people and had to work hard to win it back. Odysseus, on the contrary, preserved his honor and reputation throughout the story.
Another similarity typical of both ancient cultures includes the traditions of guest and host relationships. Moreover, both characters have to travel far away which is related to the concept of overcoming difficulties on their ways to victory. Also, Gilgamesh and Odysseus travel to the land of the dead which was a popular location in ancient heroic stories. A typical feature of epics is mysterious help for heroes to reach the destination. Thus, Odysseus is guided by Circe, daughter of the sun-god, while Gilgamesh follows the instructions of the goddess Siduri, who is also associated with the sun.
The Impact of Cultural Ideals and Expectations on the Role Models and Heroes
Cultural concepts and traditions set the ideals and demands for the role of heroes. Thus, present-day heroes similarly to the ancient ones have to pass a quest on the way to their purpose. As a rule, they face serious obstacles and overcome the difficulties with dignity. A modern concept of a hero includes the traits of a super-person. Often a self-sacrifice is present as well. On the whole, a modern hero is a fighter for greater good of the humanity.
The image of a hero is a necessary component of any culture. It is necessary to make people feel safe and believe that in case of emergency there is a person with super-power able to protect them. The features of a hero differ in various cultures. However, the major concepts of particular abilities and leadership skills are characteristic of the majority of heroic figures.
Dalley, S. (2009). Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and others. Oxford, UK: Oxford World Classics.
Homer (2014). The Odyssey. (M. Hammond, Trans.). London, UK: Bloomsburry Publishing.
The Epic of Gilgamesh. (n.d.)
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