The characters of Gilgamesh and Odysseus are both faced with dangerous quests and adventures in their stories. The way they face the challenges shows their heroism in different ways. Gilgamesh went to confront and kill Humbaba, who is a guardian in the sacred Cedar Forest.
Gilgamesh went to kill Humbaba to make a name for himself even though others didn’t want him to and tried to convince him not to, including Enkidu. He wanted to prove that mortals could beat the gods, seen in this quote from the poem, I want to prove.
In contrast, Odysseus had different motives for his actions. Odysseus’s adventures occur by chance when he trying to get home to his wife along with his men, rather than trying to make a name for himself or get fame.
He is clever in his battles. For example, he was trying to save his men from being eating by a giant cyclops and devised a way to trick the beast and escape with the rest of his men. He inspired his men along the way, and earned their loyalty. When he gets home, he is also able to trick his wife’s suitors and defeat them.
Gilgamesh and Odysseus are very different from one another, and both have strengths and weaknesses. Both characters possess physical strength and were courageous warriors. Gilgamesh has his beauty but is not loved by his people because of his actions.
Odysseus is clever, articulate, persuasive, and even a skilled liar, and uses that to advantage in situations. He was also trusting of his men and thought of them as companions, which is a strength in earning their devotion and instructing them, but this could end up being a weakness in his leadership.
Gilgamesh was more impulsive and eager for battle, and wanted immortality so badly he would do things recklessly. Gilgamesh and Odysseus both had companions with them during the challenges they faced on their journeys.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh had Enkidu with him who balanced out his impulsiveness and toned him down, and even tried to convince him not to kill Humbaba. In the Odyssey, Odysseus has his shipmates as his friends with him on his journey, who he trusted and had compassion with.
There were cultural differences evident between the Mesopotamians and the Greeks. While both the Mesopotamians and the Greeks believed in many Gods, Greeks didn’t rely on them as much to affect their daily lives. Gilgamesh asked guidance, approval, and help from the Gods to for what he wants to do.
The ancient Greeks also believe in many Gods but didn’t rely on them as much to interfere. Odysseus did not ask the Gods to interfere, help him, or approve of his actions, although he did have Athena, the virgin goddess of War and Wisdom, as a mentor and watching over him.
He instead faced his challenges and used his strength, and intelligence as an example for what Greek men would want to be. Odysseus’ story showed how mortal man can overcome obstacles. Another cultural difference between Mesopotamians and Greeks is shown through how the heroes Gilgamesh and Odysseus treat their men.
Gilgamesh ruled his men by oppressing them and with arrogance, which fits with the cultural characteristic of Mesopotamians to protect their kingship and leadership above all else. Ancient Greeks ruled with hospitality and by forming relationships, which is exactly Odysseus did with his men in his epic.
Gilgamesh and Odysseus both learned lessons during their journeys. Gilgamesh was seeking the secret of immortality, and the challenges along the way were met with ethically questionable actions, such as killing the Bull of Heaven.
By the time he gets to the end of his journey, he has failed to become immortal but has another chance when given the plant, which he also fails because of his distrust when he does not eat it, but takes it to test on someone else.
He loses his chance at being young again, even if it would only be for temporary periods when he ate the plant, to the snake who steals the plant while he is bathing. Odysseus learned a lot about his identity and who he is along his journey.
He learned the meaning of home, and that he belonged with his family, and he was determined to make it home even after his journey of more than 20 years. He was faced with challenges and questions to his identify, and at one point even referred to himself as Nobody.
Odysseus also learned lessons about arrogance, because his arrogance towards the God’s caused them to bring him difficulty getting home.