Qualities of the Hero: Comparing Gilgamesh and Odysseus

The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey are two very amazing epic poems in which the main characters that are faced with unbelievable challenges. The Epic of Gilgamesh was created in the 20th – 10th century BCE. in Mesopotamia and is one of the earliest known literary writings. The Odyssey was later made in 725 BCE. in Greece and was written in Homeric Greek and was sung more than read (Mastin, 2009a). The main characters in both of these epic poems the hero must embark on dangerous quests and adventures to reach their goal. Their adventures and tales tell describe what a true hero is and what characteristics every man should have.

In both these epic poems both Gilgamesh and Odysseus are required to deal with dangerous tasks that must be dealt with in order to proceed. In the story with Gilgamesh he must confront and kill Humbaba, a demon-ogre who is a guardian in the sacred Cedar Forest. While Odysseus lands in the land of the Cyclopes and is trapped in a cave and he must come up with a plan to escape with his men. Gilgamesh went to kill the guardian to make a name for himself even when he was begged not to by his friends and even mother. Odysseus on the other hand was trying to save his men from being eating from a giant cyclops, devised a plan to blind the beast and escape with his remaining men. Both men have great strengths and weaknesses such as raw strength and courage while Gilgamesh has his beauty he also is hated by his people since he would sleep with their wives. Odysseus has his cleverness and eloquence that would help him in tricky situations but he was also a good liar which he used in many situations.

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In these epic poems, the main characters had someone with them during their adventures and journeys. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh had Enkidu, a wild-man who was created by the Aruru, the goddess of creation. Enkidu was more of a wild beast than man but Gilgamesh sent a prostitute to spend time with him to turn him into a man and to stop living with the animals. They don’t become true friends until they fight one another which helps Gilgamesh change for the better. Enkidu disliked the way Gilgamesh would treat women and after a wedding party when he tried to sleep with the new bride Enkidu would stop him. They would fight but Enkidu would lose the battle and instead of taking his life Gilgamesh would spare it and learn from this experience his faults, through this he would become a better man (Mastin, 2009b). In the Odyssey, Odysseus would have his shipmates as his friends who accompanied him on his journey. These men would go on with Odysseus from adventure to adventure during some there would always be trouble and he would have to save them over and over but they would also die off. They would slowly die off from dangerous adventures or even be turned in to pigs from a witch. Needless to say, by the time Odysseus would finally reach his home he would be the last to survive from all his crew. They also had some difference between both of them especially when it came to their journey. Gilgamesh adventure with the Humbaba was one that could have been avoided and should have. This adventure was solely Gilgamesh decision to go and kill the beast with no other reason but to have his name live on in history. Even his friend Enkidu tries to stop him and change his mind since it’s no place for mortals. This is done for fame and also to show the people that the gods who forbid it could be defied by a mortal. While Odysseus goes on his adventure by chance when he is trying to get home. Many things even Gods play a role in his adventures who try and stop him on his way and forcing him to endure another adventure only trying to survive to see his family again.

The Mesopotamians believed in many Gods and was very important to them in their daily life. Even with Gilgamesh he asked guidance and help from the Gods to seek approval for what he wants to do. The Gods would make beast that would be good or evil but would be worshiped by the people. An example of this would be Humbaba the guardian of the cedar forest that Gilgamesh kills in the end which would punish him in the end. With Odysseus in the Greek culture they to believe in many Gods but didn’t rely on them as much to interfere. He would be tested and pushed further and further away from his family but he would overcome the obstacles placed in front of him showing his strengths, intelligence and even his weaknesses. This was in most Greek culture which everyman would aspire to do. It never told of him asking for help from the Gods but showed how man would overcome and prevail.

Even in today culture and ideals this is seen throughout the world. There are so many people in the world who rely on a higher power to ask for advice and think they are being tested in their own adventures. There are many heroes and role models people have who they look up to and try and want to try and have the same type of traits as they do. Strength and intelligence are not the only thing that makes a good man or women its all the other qualities that will help them overcome adversity and continue on their journey.


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Homer. (1997). The Odyssey (R. Fagles, Trans.). Wilder Publications.

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The Epic of Gilgamesh (M. G. Kovacs, Trans.). (1998). Retrieved from http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/tab3.htm

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Mastin, L. (2009b). Epic of Gilgamesh – Other Ancient Civilizations – Classical Literature. Retrieved from http://www.ancient-literature.com/other_gilgamesh.html

Sandars, N. K. (Trans.). (1972). The Epic of Gilgamesh. NY: Penguin Books.

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