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Qualities of the Hero
In the great epics are the heroes who are god-like, set forth on a great journey, accomplish superhuman things and deal with Gods and humans alike. Homer’s Odysseus and Gilgamesh from The Epic of Gilgamesh are no different. Odyssey tells the story of the return of the great hero Odysseus after years of war and Gilgamesh’s tale is of the demigod who falls in favor with the Gods owing to his arrogance but finally manages to redeem himself. Although the two are a league apart from mere mortals in their actions as well as their achievements and have many similarities, there are also many differences beginning with their character traits, the obstacles they have to overcome as well as the cultures that they come from.
One relationship that Odysseus and Gilgamesh have in common is their status in being close to God and act as a go between or a sort of connect between Gods and humans. Gilgamesh is not only the leader as well as the ruler of his people, but being the son of a God, he is also involved in their affairs. Odysseus alternates between finding favor with Gods and being an object of their wrath. Although successful in the war, on his way home he has to incur the wrath of Poseidon because he and his men defeat and kill Cyclops. In spite of their shaky relationships with Gods they remain representatives of the Gods to the people they rule over and represent to the Gods the humans. This special status gives them an impact aht cannot be matched by others and in course makes them quite influential. Another similarity they share are the killing of messengers or people close to God. In the case of Gilgamesh, it is the killing of the Bull of Heaven sent by God Anu to destroy the crops and people. Gilgamesh kills the bull but is punished with the death of his friend Enkidu. In the case of Odysseus, he falls foul of the sea God Poseidon because he had killed his son Cyclops and as a result loses a lot of men to the sea. These two epic heroes do not only fight in their realm but also force the Gods to interfere in their fights. Both Gilgamesh and Odysseus also perform cosmic journeys and visit the land of the dead with some kind of divine help. In the case of Odysseus he goes to the land of the dead with the help of Circe. Gilgamesh reaches the land of the dead with the help of Siduri. Both Circe and Siduri are daughters of Sun Gods and live in places that border the land of the dead. This similarity in the stories is attributed to the influence of the epic of Gilgamesh on Homer while writing Odysseus (West, 1997).
The characteristics of the two heroes are quite different. Gilgamesh is all about brute force and comes across as quite arrogant which not only angers the Gods but also forces them to interfere in his life and punish him. Odysseus on the other hand is cocky as well as a cunning tactician. Gilgamesh’s use of brute force and downright arrogance leads to his downfall and also rubs the Gods the wrong way. In the case of Odysseus, even though he angers the Gods and is punished, he is cunning enough to get out of it using his brains. The incidence with the Lotus eaters is an example of how Odysseus manages to escape with his men and life. All of Gilgamesh’s misfortunes are attributed to his fault while most of Odysseus’s faults are as a result of bad luck. The ancient Mesopotamians and the Greeks have great heroes but they are different based on the times and the culture. Gilgamesh is strong, wild and straightforward. On the other hand, Odysseus not only uses his strength but also is cunning in getting things done. From the brute strength and guileless behavior of the Mesopotamian epic hero, the Greek epic hero changes into someone who thinks of other ways to get things done.
Although strength is no longer the main virtue for a hero or an idol in the current times, having a chiseled body does go a long way in sustaining a hero’s importance. And to be an idol and a role model, the present day mortal needs to be an amalgam of almost all desirable qualities. Rising expectations seems to be the norm which shapes the notions about how a role model and a hero should look like and act like.
West, Martin. (1997). The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth. London: Oxford University Press.