The literature and art of a given era often portray the beliefs and views of the societies. Homer’s poems, the Odyssey and Iliad, as well as an epic poem from Mesopotamia, the Epic of Gilgamesh, give the historians and scholars a notion how the ancient Greeks lived their day-to-day lives. By the reader reading the three poems, he/she will be in a position to experience Homer’s three thousand years old society. Admired through the ages by many as the ultimate epic, Homer’s Odyssey, along with its companion piece of work, the Iliad, was accepted by the ancient Greeks themselves as their civilization’s cornerstone. For centuries, the study of these epics formed the basis of all the Greek education. What is interesting is that many regard these epics as sources of morals and models.
For many, the Odyssey and the Iliad mark the start of the western literature besides representing the earliest surviving works of this literature. It is worth mentioning that many recognized both of them as great works of art, and still maintain their place in the western literature, whereas their lessons are just as applicable today as when they were written. Many epics have legendary heroes and in most cases, the main goal of these heroes is to win a name or fame. These heroes do anything to win names or fame including exposing themselves to dangers or getting themselves into troubles. For instance, in the Odysseus, the protagonist’s name that is, Odysseus translates roughly as trouble, and after reading the poem we understand that he likes getting himself into the trouble to earn a name or fame. For this reason, this essay defends Odysseus way of earning fame or a name by arguing that it is a noble way and compares him with the other ancient heroes including Achilles and Gilgamesh.
During Homer’s day, people thought heroes as a special class of aristocrats. In fact, their general attitudes as well as their situation in life placed them somewhere between the ordinary human beings and gods. To earn a name and eventually become a hero, we observe in the poem that Odysseus likes to get himself into troubles. They might experience death and pain, but they were at all times sure of themselves. Odysseus is a good example of these heroes. We can observe that despite getting himself into troubles, he is sure of what he is doing. He is an ideal hero in both spiritual and physical sense (Homer, 89). In the physical sense, Odysseus is essentially a great hero, since after putting himself into troubles to become famous; he overcomes all the extreme dangers because he is sure of himself. For instance, Odysseus is so much sure of himself that he comes out alive after wondering for a decade and facing the most very dangerous people and creatures. The question we are left asking ourselves is why he would set up this weird voyage with strange encounters, which he faced. For this reason, through endangering himself, Odysseus wants to earn fame just as was the case with all the heroes during the Homer’s day.
The other thing why Odysseus way is a noble way to earn fame is that, during the Homer’s times, dangerous adventures or wars were the normal occupations of the heroes just as it is for him in the poem. This means that these heroes had to expose themselves to dangers just as Odysseus does, to earn fame. Noble peers surrounded the heroes, and they were ruthless to their enemies and magnanimous to their followers. Apart from being prowess in battles, these heroes were resourceful as well as skillful in various crafts; they sail a boat, and if shipwrecked, they were experts in swimming. The other thing that defined heroes and justified their actions in the ancient times is characteristics of accepting challenges and at times even courting disasters. In the Odysseus, our protagonist proves all the above information, and hence all what he does to earn a name is noble (Homer, 81).
Additionally, the thirst for glory made many ancient heroes to risk their lives and that of others close to them. This is another reason Odysseus’s technique is a noble technique, since he is just acting like all the other ancient heroes. In the poem, we observe that Odysseus is wrongheaded and foolhardy, risking his life and that of his fellow men for trifles just like many other ancient Greek heroes. In the story, he does not have to confront the monster, Cyclops, but his thirst for glory makes him to do so. We understand that he had already taken on fresh water and food on his way home from a neighboring island, but because he liked looking for trouble to earn fame, he refused to consider the warning of his fellow fighters that the gigantic monster was on the island. What’s more, he further risks his life and that of his fellow fighters when he suggests that they wait the monster to return and see what will happen. His thirst for glory makes the monster to eat some of his fellow men. Despite contributing the death of his fellow fighter, Odysseus still exerts an attraction for the readers and remains a seminal influence in the literature.
The other thing why Odysseus’s way to earn a name is noble is that he fears that people of Ithaca, his home island will lack respect for him and his family. Therefore, by endangering his life and the lives of his fellow fighters, Odysseus wants to establish himself in the society and earn his respect and that of his family. This means that he has to do everything he can so as his fellow Ithacans can respect him as their hero, as well as his family members. From the poem, we understand that Odysseus and his family are individuals searching for the correct relationships with one another and the individuals around them. Odysseus and his family desire to find their correct places in life. For twenty hears, he overcame every obstacle that the gods handed to him. We observe that he encountered some unpredictable places and islands in his journey.
Moreover, Odysseus’s way to win a name is noble because his role in the poem is that of a true literary hero as well as a literary anti-hero. Odysseus way in the poem makes him to qualify as both a true literary hero and an anti-hero in the poem. This means that he has to demonstrate the qualities that define a hero in literature including courage and great strength for the poem to qualify as an epic poetry. As the main character in the poem, Odysseus has to cause troubles, overcome the troubles on his way, and achieve his main goal, which is earning a name and subsequently becoming a hero. For instance, the primary story of the poem is how Odysseus gets home by overcoming the troubles that he encounters. What is fascinating about this trouble is that he essentially gets into some of it, and some of it befalls him. In a number of instances, we observe him stirring problems himself, to advance his name.
As an anti-hero character, Odysseus faces various hardships, overcomes them, and finally finds how to control his life. For instance, Odysseus takes 12 men to Cyclops’s island. He gets all of them into trouble by not paying attention to their advice of grabbing some of the cheese and leave before the monster comes back. Cyclops traps them inside his cave and starts eating them. Thus, Odysseus finds a solution to their troubles, and they eventually escape from the cave. He continues causing problems when he mocks the blind Cyclops. This makes Cyclops to hurl a stone in their direction, and this it drives their boat back towards the island shore. After struggling and getting back into their ship, Odysseus continues mocking the monster despite the advice from his fellow men. Thus, because his troublemaking activities make him an anti-hero character in the poem as well, it is right to argue that his way to earn fame is noble.
The way Odysseus does things to earn a name is important for a poem to qualify as an epic poetry. One of the characteristics of an epic poem is that it must have a hero who is a figure of the heroic stature and legendary significance. Odysseus’s activities to win a name in the poem are indication that Homer’s goal is to make his poem qualify as an epic poem. In addition, Homer has used catalogues of ships and fighters, which make Odysseus to involve himself in troubles with a goal of becoming famous. This is a distinguishing characteristic of an epic poetry. Therefore, this convinces us that Odysseus way to win a name is noble. It is noble in the sense that he serves the purpose of both a literary hero and an anti-hero in the poem. To earn names or become famous, all the literary heroes in all epic poems like getting themselves into troubles or making troubles, as is the case with our hero, Odysseus.
On the other hand, Achilles is another Greek hero. This hero is an embodiment of people’s grief. Grief is a theme in the Iliad, which Achilles raise together with his mother, Thetis. Achilles and Odysseus are very comparable in a number of their heroic ways, but they are too drastically different. Both Odysseus and Achilles endure personal losses besides being tested by the gods. A number of heroic traits that they share include their courage, their sense of duty, their compassion, and their bravery. The two demonstrate leadership qualities in their heroic journeys. The trials that the two face lead them through numerous trails. It is through these trials that they both become real heroes.
Despite sharing some qualities with Achilles, Odysseus is a bit different. When Odysseus is faced with various trials, he is more cautious than Achilles. Albeit he likes causing troubles, he is concerned with his men safety and making it home. This is demonstrated by his ability to think out a plan to make sure that they would make it past the monsters they face. On the other hand, Achilles is too concerned with his men safety, but he is not clever as Odysseus. He is a more impulsive hero than Odysseus. The only thing that drives him is his desire for revenge. In addition, he fails to consider the things that can go wrong.
Odysseus and Gilgamesh are both historical characters that come within the realm of legend and mythology. Their reputation is attributable to legend. Many people credit the two with stories of heroism and valor. They have extraordinary physical powers that the gods gifted them and are both strong fighters. Both are superhuman, but not supernatural, though they meet the supernatural beings. In the two epic poems, there are struggles with awe-inspiring hitches while on a mission for self-discovery. Despite all the obstacles and problems, these epic heroes return from an extremity back to an ordinary lived life.
Nevertheless, the two have some different faults and virtues. After a ten-year war, Odysseus is on a voyage home to Ithaca. He faces various difficulties during his voyage. Apart from winning a name, his other goal is to reconcile with his family. On the other hand, Gilgamesh is also on an epic journey but his goals are more self-centered. He steals the trees from a prohibited cedar forest, conquers Humbaba, the forest demon, kills the Heaven Bull, challenges the gods, and then voyages to find immortality.
Among the three heroes, I prefer Odysseus, as he is concerned with making the strategic choices. Odysseus heroic characteristics make him cunning. Unlike Achilles, he is extremely persistent and motivated by the right reasons. The only thing that Achilles thinks about before acting is his inspiration for revenge. In terms of perseverance and endurance, Odysseus is above Gilgamesh. Odysseus faces all the challenges successfully and emerges the winner.
Homer: The Odyssey. Robert Fitzgerald, trans. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1961.