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Gilgamesh and Odysseus: Different Heroic Ideals

Today, we see the epic of Gilgamesh and Odysseus as pure literary pieces. However, the consideration of the world as a mythological picture during the ancient time implies that the perspective of the people at the time about these heroes is different. Perhaps, they see these men not simply as literary protagonists, but as models as well. At present, their traits cannot really be considered “ideal. ” Nevertheless, there are some remarkable characteristics of both men. In fact, there are many similarities between Gilgamesh and Odysseus. For a fact, they are both courageous rulers of their rightful kingdoms.

However, they also have their differences as heroic ideals. Introduction: The World as a Mythological Picture Gilgamesh and Odysseus are two different heroic ideals, yet, there are also similarities between them that only highlight their differences. The former’s epic is only deciphered a century ago from the clay tablets in the Middle East, while the latter has been famous through the ages, and is from the womb of the Western Philosophy, Greece. But before seeing the resemblances and dissimilarities of these two ancient heroes, one must be familiar with the idea of the world as a mythological picture.

It is from this idea that their story, their epic, or their legend that reverberates to this date is founded. Loew’s (1967) idea of creation stories is synonymous to the mythological world picture. These creation stories, he says, tell how the universe came into being (p. 26). Gaarder, (1991) on the other hand defines myth as “a story about the gods which sets out to explain why life is as it is” (p. 19). Thus, myths or creation stories refers to a kind of perspective in which gods and goddesses are regarded responsible for the natural phenomena.

For example, the rain or the typhoon that destructs the crops would be blamed for the divinities, but so shall be the spring and the warm air that helps them in cultivation. In addition, the Greeks at the time even believed that these divinities are responsible for their emotions or actions. For example, in Aeschylus trilogy, the decisions of Orestes, the protagonist is influenced by a goddess (Aeschylus, 2003). It should be emphasized that Homer and Hesiod are not only seen then as troubadours or the traveling poets in Greek. In fact, they and their accounts are also considered authority.

But the proto-philosophers, other than Plato already recognized that there must be something wrong with the Grecian perspective of life that is always influenced by these stories. For instance, Xenophanes is known to have said that if horses, oxen, and lions could makes art works like men, “they would for their gods horse-like and oxen-like, each after its own kind” (Loew, 1967, p. 213). In the Republic, Plato criticizes them, and said that, “we know of them and hear of them only from the tales and genealogies of the poets” (Plato, 1956, p. 162).

On the other hand, Loew (1967) said that the epics such that of Gilgamesh and of Odysseus already suggest a break from the myths. Instead of treating them divine, these divinities are simply used as principles of explanation. In this sense, the treacherous acts of Gilgamesh and Odysseus are justified because even the gods and goddesses are portrayed that way. This is the background of the two heroes of two great epics. How this is relevant to them as heroic ideals shall be discussed later. The Epic of Gilgamesh: A Glimpse Gilgamesh is described as two thirds god and one third man, and because of this his strength is naturally superhuman.

His strength plus his ruthlessness made the people of Uruk, in which he is the ruler, lament about it. To solve their problem, they prayed. This made the gods summon Aruru, the goddess of creation. She created Ekindu, the savage man and the equal of Gilgamesh so that they would contend, and leave Uruk in peace (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 1972, p. 62-63). Gilgamesh learnt about Ekindu, the savage and ploted to send a prostitute to humanize Ekindu, so that when Ekindu came to Uruk and challenged Gilgamesh, they eventually ended up partners (p. 69). As partners, Gilgamesh and Ekindu fought monsters and defeated them.

When they came home Gilgamesh dressed handsomely, so handsomely that the goddess Ishtar proposed marriage. However, the hero declined her offer and instead even said that: “Which of your lovers did you ever love forever? What shepherd of yours has pleased you for all time…And if you and I should be lovers, should not I be served in the same fashion as all these others whom you loved once? ” (p. 86-870). This angered the goddess. She asked permission to another god to kill Gilgamesh by sending the Bull of Heaven. However, Ekindu interfered. The bull is killed and Ekindu even tossed a part of it to Ishtar’s face.

This is blasphemy and made the gods decide to kill Ekindu. This death made Gilgamesh weep, and even more made him want to search for immortality. He was afraid for his own death. Because of this, Gilgamesh left Uruk and searched Utnapishtim, a man who gained immortality (Loew, 1972, p. 56-57). The latter told Gilgamesh to stay awake for seven days, but he failed and lost his chance for immortality. On his way home, the boatman shared that under the waters lie a plant that could bring youth back. Gilgamesh got it, but a snake stole it to him. As fated, and because he is mortal, Gilgamesh died.

The Odyssey: A Glimpse Homer’s Odyssey’s setting was just after the ten-year Trojan War. The whole adventure of Odysseus started when he blinded Cyclops, Poseidon’s son on his way home to Ithaca. This is the reason why Poseidon wanted to make Odysseus suffer (Homer, 1998, p. 5). Before coming home to Ithaca, Odysseus faced different persons and creatures that halt his homecoming. Most of the times, they are influenced by Poseidon who was seeking justice for his son. All the time, Athena was protecting Odysseus, and was intervening in the events.

Upon coming home, he hid his identity so that disguised as a castaway; he learns the situation of Ithaca and his family from his own swineherd. In that same place, Odysseus finally met his son, revealed his identity, and they both plot to kill the suitors who disgraced Ithaca. Odysseus resumed pretending that he is a tattered stranger so that when Penelope saw him, she failed to recognize that it was her husband. Penelope, after waiting for two decades for his husband’s return, finally decided that she must at last surrender to the summons of her suitors.

She proposed that who shall ever pass her test, which is to string Odysseus bow, shall win her hand. The suitors tried to string it and while they fail to pass the test, they did not agree that the beggar who is Odysseus should try it. In the end, Odysseus was able to string his own bow. He revealed his identity, and with the help of his son and two other servants proven loyal, they killed Penelope’s suitors. Gilgamesh vis-a-vis Odysseus Gilgamesh and Odysseus are both rulers of their lands. Gilgamesh is the ruler of Uruk, but he is ruthless that the men of Uruk fear him (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 1972, p. 61-62).

Uruk is located in the present day Middle East; while on the other hand, Odysseus’ Ithaca is part of the present day Greece. As a ruler and as a person, Gilgamesh is described as someone whose lust leaves “no virgin to her lover, neither the warriors’ daughter, nor the wife of the noble” (p. 62). In addition, he is also described as “the shepherd of the city, wise, comely and resolute” (p. 62). Like Gilgamesh, the traits of Odysseus described in The Odyssey are not befitting the modern-day hero. They are not virtuous in the contemporary ethical sense. In fact, both of them have traits that can be described as deceitful and treacherous.

Odysseus or “Ulysses for having blinded an eye of Polyphemus king of the Cyclopes,” makes Neptune or Poseidon furious about him (Homer, 1998, p. 5). Aurbach (as cited by Loew, 1967) even mentioned that Homer did not fail to portray that when Odysseus tried to stop the slave woman from announcing his true identity, he “takes the woman by the throat to keep her from speaking” (p. 191). Xenophanes had noticed that Homer and Hesiod portrayed gods doing things that are considered disgrace and shame among men such as “stealing, adultery, and cheating each other” (Loew, 1967, p. 213).

Because of this Odysseus’ traits are akin to those of gods. This is similar and is also applicable to the epic of Gilgamesh as gods and goddesses like Ishtar commit crimes like murder. Gilgamesh is also hated by the people of Uruk because he “left no son to its father,” even the children as he takes them all (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 1972, p. 62). Similarly, Homer (1998) did not fail to portray that when Odysseus reached Ithaca after his 2-decade journey, the men are not at all happy to see him. In fact, one lamented that: “My friend, this man has done the Achaeans great wrong.

He took many of our best men away with him in his fleet, and he has lost both ships and men; now, moreover, on his return he has been killing all the foremost men among the Cephallenians” (p. 297). That disgust of their ruler Odysseus was justified, however, when another man said that the interventions of the gods are the real cause of those persons death (p. 298). Unlike Odysseus, when the people of Uruk prayed to Anu because of Gilgamesh’s injustice to his people, the gods asked Aruru, the goddess of creation to make Ekindu.

Evidently, the gods in Gilgamesh’ epic did not justify his wrong-doings. In addition, unlike Gilgamesh, there is no significant change in Odysseus throughout the narrative. The time and the adventures of Odysseus seem not to change his character, not even his outward appearance, although Homer did not fail to describe his gestures and his exterior form. Loew (1967) concludes that after twenty years, Odysseus is the same man who left Ithaca. It would not be unfair to say that not like Odysseus, Gilgamesh experience a character and inner change in the epic.

First, the creation of his partner humanized him in such a way that he finally recognized the other’s right to life. Ekindu is the first mortal whom Gilgamesh “respected. ” While he may not be able to apply that to the citizens of Uruk, it still remains a good sign of being humane. In addition, the ruthless ruler is finally humbled because the death of Ekindu made him fear for his own death. Odysseus’ heroic feats ended up in a “they live happily ever after” as he was able to regain Ithaca. However, Gilgamesh failed in his quest as he return to Uruk from his search of immortality.

It is concluded that while Gilgamesh failed in his search, it was a clear expression of the revolt against death (Loew, 1972, p. 58). On the contrary the ending of the Odyssesy showed that the unethical acts of Odysseus are approved by the gods and goddesses as in the end, “…Minerva assumed the form and voice of Mentor, and presently made a covenant of peace between the two contending parties” (Homer, 2003, p. 300). Conclusion Gilgamesh represented the Middle East, while Odysseus the West. Their epics are classics and have been the inspiration of many others.

Unlike today, there was a time that their stories are considered not only as literary masterpieces, but even as authoritative texts. This is because their epics are created during the period when people saw the world as a mythological picture. Because of this, Plato (1956) planned to ban troubadours like Homer in his ideal Republic as they corrupt the images of gods as equally deceitful as men. There are many similarities between Gilgamesh and Odysseus. However, it could be seen that the Grecian Hero’s unethical acts, treachery and deceitfulness was justified by the gods and goddesses, while Gilgamesh’ acts were not.

In fact, it has been said that when the people of Uruk prayed to the gods to make an equal of Gilgamesh so that he would live his citizens at peace, the gods listened to them. In addition, it is to be concluded that Odysseus is a flat character, and that two decades of adventure were not enough to change him be it internally or externally. On the other hand, the death of Ekindu humanized Gilgamesh. This event made him search for immortality, and as he failed he was finally humbled upon returning to Uruk. REFERENCES Aeschylus. The Oresteia.

Trans. Alan Saphiro and Peter Burian. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Homer. (1998). The Odyssey. (S. Butler trans. ). USA: Orange Street Press Classics, Gaarder, J. (1991). Sophie’s World. (P. Moller trans. ). London: Phoenix Loew, C. (1967). Myth, Sacred History, and Philosophy. NY: Harcourt, Brace & World Inc. Plato. (1956). The Republic. E. Warmington & P. Rouse (ed. ), (W. H. D Rouse trans. ). NY: Mentor Books. The Epic of Gilgamesh (Anonymous, 1972). The Epic of Gilgamesh. (N. K. Sandars trans & intro. ). NY: Penguin Books. 10

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