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Three Heroes in Focus: Gilgamesh, Joseph and Odysseus

Tales of heroes have come down to us throughout history. Some of them we read in the Bible and other great works of literature from all over the world. Each hero would have similarities and differences. Usually these heroes have done something good for their community and society. They can either be historical or purely mythical. Nonetheless, the principles and the kinds of lives lived by heroes are still looked up to by people in contemporary times. This essay compares and contrasts three heroes: Gilgamesh, Joseph the Dreamer, and Oddyseus.

In order to be able to effectively compare and contrast these heroes, there should be a set of criteria in which to look at their lives and what they did. Hence, the criteria include the hero’s character, the external conditions he is subjected to such as his society, the involvement of God, gods or the supernatural in general and the impact of their actions to their society. The Epic of Gilgamesh is a Babylonian epic celebrating the life and exploits of Gilgamesh, considered as the greatest king of the world.

It was said that he was two-thirds god and only one-third human. In looking at the character of Gilgamesh, his love for his friend Enkidu is noticeable. He also sought glory for himself and for his kingdom by proposing to go to the Cedar forest and slay the demon residing there. Throughout the journey he had with Enkidu, he had several dreams. This is a similarity he shares with Joseph. They both had dreams related to warnings and messages about the future of their land.

Gilgamesh also showed courage and integrity by resisting the sexual advances of the goddess Ishtar. However, because of his resistance, the goddess became angry with him and the land was plagued with drought and. Because of this, Gilgamesh had to make sacrifices and slay the cause of the plague (Stephen, 2004). The supernatural was very much a part of Gilgamesh’s exploits—they had the power to either help him or harm him such as Utshanabi who gave him several instructions regarding recovering his youth. Joseph (Sweeney, 1997) shares several traits with Gilgamesh.

He was also tempted by a woman—his master’s wife and he had to spend time in the prison just to atone for the wrongful accusation. When he was a child, he dreamt about being great. But when he was already in Egypt, he became the interpreter of dreams. Because of his skill and wisdom in interpreting dreams, he became second in command to the Pharaoh. Although he did not slay any bull as source of the plague, he figuratively killed the drought by establishing storehouses and making sure that Egypt had more than enough stock of food during the drought.

Perhaps his difference from Odysseus and Gilgamesh is the way he forgave his brothers who sold him to captivity in Egypt. Moreover, instead of him going back to his family, he brought all his family to Egypt. The involvement of the supernatural in the story of Joseph is minimal. Odysseus is a tale of a warrior whose homecoming was delayed because of the whims of a god, particularly Poseidon. Along the way, he was ensnared by a demigod and tempted him to stay with her and enjoy immortality.

He refused, however, and made designs for his escape. He also displayed amazing courage in his journey home. Odysseus’ hands however are smeared in blood because of his involvement in the Trojan War. Odysseus seems to be the quintessential hero—cunning, intelligent, fierce and physically fit. The epics of Odyssey and Gilgamesh shares much in common because both heroes had to travel through different places in order to achieve their goals.

Odyssey’s goal was to go home while that of Gilgamesh is for his friend Enkidu to continue living. Of the three epics, Joseph’s story is perhaps the most different because his story did not involve his own journey but that of his kin. The common thread however is the role of dreams in foretelling, the temptation posed by women and the strength of character of the heroes.

Works Cited

Mitchell, Stephen (2004). Gilgamesh: A New English Version. New York: Free Press. Sweeney, Emmet J. The Genesis of Israel and Egypt. (London, 1997).

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