This paper compares the epic heroes Gilgamesh and Odysseus, describes their similarities and differences and compares how each of them changes throughout their journey. The characters were both men of great power; they stood between people and gods, serving as a link from the divine beings to the mortals and vice versa. At the same time, these individuals have been created during separate epochs in distant countries and are noticeably distinct from each other.
The nature of the characters is likely the aspect where differences are the most apparent. Gilgamesh was two parts god and only one part man, he was called “the greatest of kings” (The epic of Gilgamesh, 2000, p. 197). Odysseus, on the contrary, was a mortal human without any supernatural powers. Gilgamesh was a fierce warrior that uses his strength to get what he desired, while Odysseus was most known for the sharpness of his mind. Gilgamesh did not hesitate to rape any woman he wanted with no regard for her honor and wellbeing. He was a cruel ruler who forced his people to work and continuously sought war. Even though Odysseus possessed these traits as well, he was far less prone to needless exercising of power.
As a ruler, Gilgamesh was incredibly insensitive, yet highly effective. As he was part god, his building ambition had to match his status. He built impenetrable walls and magnificent towers, but these projects were accomplished through the great suffering of his subjects. His tyranny was so oppressive that people’s cries were heard by the gods. It was because of Gilgamesh’s appalling kingship that he was sent on his journey. His leadership was rooted in fear rather than trust or admiration. Gilgamesh was beautiful on the outside, but he lacked strong morals, he was not too different from wild men like Enkidu in that regard. He did well for his kingdom at times, however, he did not act in the interest of his people.
Odysseus’s leadership was significantly more acceptable by modern standards. Like Gilgamesh, he was strong and fearless, but also possessed qualities that were foreign to the king of Uruk. From the very beginning of the book, it can be seen that this man was concerned with the wellbeing of others, as he “was longing to return to his wife and country” (Homer, 1900, p. 13). Odysseus’s every action on his challenging journey, every decision he had to make was motivated by his wish to help his family and his people. This mark of a true leader was further proven by his readiness to overcome his flaws in order to do what had to be done. He may not have been the wisest ruler at the start, but he learned to control himself, and ultimately succeeded in saving his country.
Both individuals sought the glory that could only be gained through great deeds, and both of them have entered on a path towards their goal, but have changed their course later. For Gilgamesh, the reason to abandon the quest for glory was the death of his friend Enkidu, which made him realize that he too may die someday. Deeply disturbed by this information, he began searching for a way to achieve immortality. However, he never realized that ambition; instead, he discovered a solution to another problem, his very nature. Gilgamesh finally managed to bring balance and harmony to his mortal and godly parts.
Odysseus began his adventure in the land of riches, pleasure, and glory, but he was also affected by his longing for home. When he won the approval of the gods, he had the choice to stay on an exotic island with Calypso and rejected it in favor of the life he already had. During his escape from Circe’s island, his pride clouded his judgment, which led to him being trapped in a cave with the Cyclops. Through his journey, Odysseus learned to control his desire for glory, and in the end, he was able to tolerate humiliation, as it helped him achieve his goals.
Both characters changed significantly by the end of their stories. Gilgamesh became a wiser, happier man and a more humane and reasonable king. Odysseus grew more mature, as he realized that staying faithful to his homeland and his family is far more important than having a luxurious lifestyle. Moreover, Odysseus learned to control his sense of pride and prevented it from destroying his plans. The heroes have freed themselves from the qualities that made their lives unfulfilling and became wholesome people.
In conclusion, Gilgamesh and Odysseus had far more differences than similarities. They were both kings, but one was a tyrant that exploited his subjects, while the other was a noble ruler who was ready to sacrifice everything for his people. Both were men of exceptional strength and intellect; however, they used their power in entirely different ways. Even the heroes’ journeys served different purposes, as Gilgamesh sought inner peace, which happened to save his kingdom, and Odysseus did everything in his power to protect his loved ones, regardless of his struggles.
The epic of Gilgamesh. (2000). (A. George, Trans.). Penguin Books.
Homer. (1900) The Odyssey. (S. Butler, Trans.). A. C. Fifield.