Gilgamesh and Odysseus Different Heroic Ideals Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1800 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

¶ … epic poem "Gilgamesh" and "The Odyssey" by Homer. Specifically it will discuss the heroes of the two works, Gilgamesh and Odysseus, two heroes with very different ideals. Both King Gilgamesh and Odysseus are heroes; there is no doubt about their heroic natures, their bravery, and their larger than life presence. However, they do embody very different heroic ideals, and so, they cannot be compared as heroes, they must be compared as men, brave leaders, and wanderers, who both embody the heroic ideal, but do it in quite different ways that make them exactly who they are, strong men with a journey to complete, and the wits to complete it successfully.

Both King Gilgamesh and Odysseus are clearly heroic and larger than life figures in their literature. Both men take on epic journeys which change their lives, and both men exhibit heroic behavior that fit the times they lived in. However, their goals and their heroic ideals are quite different, just as the two men are quite different. No two men are the same, just as no two heroes are the same. What motivates these two men is different, and what they search for is different. Two ancient writers tell similar stories, but with very different results, and that is the most interesting thing about reading these two stories. They could have been extremely similar, and in some ways they are, but yet they are not, and that is what makes them interesting to read and compare and contrast.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Gilgamesh and Odysseus Different Heroic Ideals Assignment

First, both men complete difficult journeys throughout their stories. Odysseus takes twenty years to make it home to his wife and family, while Gilgamesh goes on a quest to seek life forever after he loses his friend Enkidu. Their journeys are similar, but they serve very different purposes. Odysseus' journey's ultimate purpose is to return home and reunite with his family, who he loves above all else. His reason for his journey is heroic but also filled with passion and deep love. Gilgamesh's journey is based on his own needs and wants, rather than those of family or loved ones. Grieving after the death of his best friend, he begins a search for everlasting life. In the end, he finds himself instead, and finds happiness in understanding himself, but his journey is far more selfish than Odysseus' journey, and has very different goals. This helps point out a major difference in the two heroic characters - their motivation. Odysseus is heroic in his journey - he saves his men, kills and defeats monsters and evil gods and goddesses, and always has his eye on his family and returning home. He is strong, but he is also motivated, and this adds to his heroism and his high ideals. Gilgamesh is motivated by his own desires, and so his heroism is self-motivated, rather than motivated by others. He is selfish and willful, and sometimes seems like a child when compared to Odysseus.

While it is true that these two men have many differences, they also have many similarities. Both authors describe their heroes as heroic from the start of the epic poems. The unknown author of "Gilgamesh" writes, "Supreme over other kings, lordly in appearance, / he is the hero, born of Uruk, the goring wild bull. / He walks out in front, the leader, / and walks at the rear, trusted by his companions" (Kovacs 4). In the opening lines of "The Odyssey," Homer writes, "Speak, memory

Of the cunning hero, / the wanderer, blown off course time and again / After he plundered Troy's sacred heights" (Homer 1). Both men are identified in the first lines of the poems as heroes, so the reader expects a lot from them at the start. Both men live up to their hero status, but in different ways and with different results.

The men also manage to allow their heads to rule their hearts at least some of the time. Odysseus refuses a comfortable life with the goddess Calypso so he can return home to his wife and family. Homer writes, "Goddess and mistress, don't be angry with me. / I know very well that Penelope, / for all her virtues, would pale beside you. / She's only human, and you are a goddess, / Eternally young. Still, I want to go back. / My heart aches for the day I return to my home'" (Homer 76). Odysseus has principles, and while he is not above sleeping with others on his long journey, he will not commit himself forever when he has a family waiting at home. Similarly, Gilgamesh rejects the goddess Ishtar, knowing she will tire of him and cast him off in the end. The editor, Sheila Murnaghan, of this version of "Gilgamesh" writes, "Gilgamesh attracts the eye of Ishtar, goddess of love. She proposes marriage, sweetening the proposal with offers of power and wealth. He rejects her, contemptuously listing the miseries she has caused her previous lovers (in reference to other myths)" (Murnaghan 50). Thus, both men have the strength of character to reject women they know are not right for them, but they reject them for different reasons.

Gilgamesh rejects Ishtar because he knows she could destroy him in the end, so his motives are purely selfish. Odysseus rejects Calypso because he longs for his home and family, and while his reason may be his own happiness, he is also concerned about the happiness of his family, too. Thus, the two men share common hero characteristics that recognize women that are bad for them, but their reasons for rejecting them point out their differing ideals. Odysseus is a true family man whose ultimate goals is to return home, while Gilgamesh is a wanderer who is not above taking what he wants, even women, but will not allow himself to be manipulated or used. They can say "no," they just do it for different reasons, showing their differing ideologies.

Both of these heroes are industrious and inventive. One critic calls them "crafty." He writes, "If Achilles is valorous, Odysseus is crafty. Gilgamesh is both; he lures the wild man of the steppe to town through the entrapment of a harlot, and then outwrestles him" (Oinas 5). Both men know just how to use their wits, but they often use them for different purposes. Always, Odysseus' ultimate purpose is to return home safely to his family. Gilgamesh has other purposes. He saves the world from a vengeful God, but he also takes his own pleasure wherever and whenever he chooses. He rapes women and kills with abandon. Both men are crafty and tricky, but they use their wits for differing reasons along their journey. As Gilgamesh matures, he begins to question life, and fear death, where he once felt he was immortal. So, his ideals do change throughout the poem, but he is not as "heroic" as Odysseus in many of his deeds, such as the lustful rape of women. Odysseus may have his faults, but he does not stoop to rape, and so, he has more ideals, especially for the sanctity of women than Gilgamesh has.

In addition, Gilgamesh is sent on his journey to grow out of his immaturity, while Odysseus leaves of his own accord to fight the Trojans, and then must find his way home. So, the men have different reasons for their travels, and different motivations. Another critic notes, "On his journey, Gilgamesh is, like Odysseus, stripped of his following, of his energies, of his chief companions, and of his ambitions. Ultimately he is brought to the extremity of the world, the Far West, the land of death and immortality" (Leed 6). Gilgamesh learns from his journey and returns ready to rule his kingdom. Odysseus, on the other hand, returns a hero and simply wants to settle down with his family. Gilgamesh still has many responsibilities when he returns, but Odysseus has left the worst of his responsibilities behind him, and once he fights off Penelope's suitors, his life can finally return to "normal."

There is another vast difference between these two heroes and their ideals. Odysseus is a father, and that is a very important aspect of his character. Editor Murnaghan continues, "In the aristocratic world of the Homeric hero, the legacy of power and prestige passed on through the male line is an essential element of selfhood. Heroes are constantly identified by patronymics, as sons of their fathers, and they become who they are by living up to their paternal heritage" (Homer xxxv). Gilgamesh is far different from this heroic ideal of father passing on his heroic nature to his son, because as he comes to fear his own death, he also comes to realize he may never be a father and pass his kingdom on to his own son.

Another idealistic difference between the two men is how they conduct their journeys. Essentially, after the loss of his men, Odysseus works alone, and manages to save himself with only some input from others, like… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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