Representation of Heroes in The Odyssey Epic
Since its conception, the idea of a hero has undergone tremendous changes, with specific values being added to and subtracted from the list of the characteristics that a true hero should supposedly have. In the literary traditions of early epic poems, both Gilgamesh and Odysseus as the most prominent representations of heroes share the characteristics of courage, friendliness, and readiness to prove their worth as heroes, which are the values endorsed and celebrated in their societies. However, in addition, Odysseus is also distinguishably cunning and resourceful (Homer). Thus, despite sharing quite a number of similarities, Odysseus and Gilgamesh are slightly different in terms of their skills of quick thinking.
Additionally, Gilgamesh appears to be driven by the need to prove himself and be celebrated solely on eh merit of his strength and physical prowess. Specifically, he states that he wants to “to climb the mountain, to cut down the cedar, and leave behind me an enduring name” (“The Epic of Gilgamesh”). While Gilgamesh’s enthusiasm is admirable, he lacks the wit and quick thinking of Odysseus, who prefers to cut corners whenever possible and choose the shortest path to victory as opposed to the most challenging one: “Nobody – that’s my name. Nobody” (Homer).
Allowing him to fight the Cyclops successfully, this trick shows that, unlike Gilgamesh, Odysseus is capable of using the fighting strategy that offers him an advantage, especially in the situation where he is outnumbered or overpowered by the enemy. Moreover, Gilgamesh’s and Odysseus’ obligations to their society are quite similar, Gilgamesh having to be a wise king, and Odysseus promising the swineherd a better life: “Old man, you will neither get paid for bringing good news, nor will Ulysses ever come home” (Homer). However, unlike Gilgamesh, who honestly strives to meet his promises, Odysseus seeks to find the fastest yet not necessarily the most ethical solution.
Although sharing the qualities such as courage, friendliness, and readiness to fight the odds, Odysseus and Gilgamesh also demonstrate the characteristics that do not fit the concepts of a hero. For instance, Odysseus’ ability to cheat his way into a victory is quite well-known, which is the complete opposite to Gilgamesh. Representing different values and qualities, these characters have shaped people’s perceptions of what a true hero should be. As a result, a complex understanding of a hero and a hero’s journey has emerged.
Homer. “The Odyssey.” ProjectGutenberg, ca. 675–725 B.C. Translated by Samuel Butler. Web.
“The Epic of Gilgamesh.” Archive.org, ca. 12th century B.C. Translated by N. K. Sanders. Web.