John Cassell 9/13/08 Mauch Pledge Gilgamesh versus Odysseus When one is attempting to compare characterizations from aged epic poems they should examine both the characters and story designs of the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Odyssey. To clarify, both of these stories have similar distinctiveness despite being told at different stages in time; Gilgamesh’s tale being told approximately two thousand two hundred B.C.E and Homer’s Odyssey around eight hundred B.C.E. They do share one important common theme, that they were both discussed orally amongst an audience; only to be put into writing after they were told time after time again. However, even though these poems share a few traits, the majority of information given to the audience is dissimilar between the two narratives. One can look at the main characters, story plots, roles of women, gods, use of sex, and the use of punishments and rewards to see how both yarns contrast one another. Before one looks at the in depth aspects of the characters in the poems, they should first look at the story as a whole. The Epic of Gilgamesh talks of a king of ancient Mesopotamia who tries to find recognition by obtaining immortality. Gilgamesh had everything handed to him, he slept with whomever he wanted, ruled over many servants and was part god so no one could match his strength. The coming of Enkidu as his equal made the two brothers and they went on a quest for meaning by dispatching the giant demon Humbaba and falling the Cedar trees. The gods’ wrath killed off Enkidu and Gilgamesh sought immortality, which he eventually found in a plant. But ultimately the plant was stolen by a serpent and our so-called hero in time dies. The tale of the Odyssey is after the Trojan War and converses how the hero Odysseus spends over ten years to return home to his wife and son, who were overrun by suitors on the property. During his great journey, many divine beings intervene by either helping him or creating obstacles to prevent his passage home. In the end he does return home, disguised as an old beggar, in order to outdo the suitors in Penelope’s trial for a new husband. He defeats and kills every last suitor and reveals his true identity to his wife after a final test. The story ends with Odysseus exposing his identity to his father Laertes and the city’s civilians almost killing the hero if the goddess Athena, disguised as Mentor, didn’t intervene and proclaimed him as the new king of Ithaca. Overall, just by reading the text, one can see how both poems have unique settings, plots, themes, gods, nature and characterizations within the story. For Gilgamesh, the roles of women in his story play a small yet central role while in the Odyssey the females presence are more important to the plot. For instance, the main role of women was through sexual appeal in the Epic of Gilgamesh. It was a prostitute that turned Enkidu from a savage beast to a civilized person; a very import part of the poem because that leads to the two friends meeting up in the future. Gilgamesh has sex with many women before they are married and at least twice there were exotic dances used in the book. The majority of the mortal women seen in Gilgamesh’s story reflect these acts of nothing more than servicing the men due to lack of gender freedom in that time period. The female gods like Ishtar, Ninsun, Aruru and Enlil are also used with some roles of womanhood because many are seen with fertility and have more trivial powers than the male gods. However, these goddesses impact Gilgamesh’s life to a degree of non-sexual performances. The first would be the creation of Enkidu to rival the hero or the prayer before going to the Cedars forest. Even the release of the Bull of Heaven from Ishtar’s wrath is important because it showed how the female’s level of dominance over men can occur on a supernatural scale. In contrast, Odysseus’s tale tells of many women who provide help for him while some still have evil or sexual deeds. An important factor to this is that Penelope is one a few true mortal human females the readers can identify in the story; the majority of the females Odysseus meets are gods, nymphs or monsters. As with Gilgamesh, Odysseus’s journey is altered by the women he meets or what goddesses alter his path; such as staying with Calypso for seven years as her hostage. Many characters like Calypso are revered as beautiful people that almost no man can resist, showing how their roles in sexuality change little since Gilgamesh’s poem. Other goddesses like Athena helped him along his travels home and at the end of the story; made the townsfolk forget about being mad for him slaying the suitors. The mortal women have a more direct role with being respectful spouses or wives besides the sexual appeal. Many young girls are often depicted to wash the clothes and bath the men even though they weren’t married. Even the king Aeolus used his own daughters to marry his sons, displaying how women’s rights weren’t even truly regarded with non-mortal beings. Penelope even challenges him after he returns home, disguised as an old man, because she upholds her faith to being the good wife. Overall, the roles women play on the male protagonists show how both these epic poems constitute similar with different aspects, including the common topic of sex. Sex has a large influence within the poems of the Odyssey and the Epic of Gilgamesh due to how it is used to create both important events within the stories and how they shape the main characters. For example, if Enkidu did not have sex with the prostitute for six days after his creation than he would not have become civilized and met Gilgamesh. Here we can see that sex can separate man from savage beasts; yet it also reveals how women are viewed as the use of sexual appeal. For Odysseus, sex was used in some cases as both a form as pleasure but also torture. Calypso, although a beautiful being, had her way with the hero for seven years despite his marriage vows, causing him to cry every night. With Circe she became his lover for a year when he spent that time on her island of Aeaea. Overall, sex is used in a few circumstances in both novels to bear punishment or pleasure to the main characters, similar to how they are treated by the diving beings. One topic that is shared with both stories is how each character is punished or treated by the gods and goddesses. An example is how Odysseus is treated by Zeus at the beginning. In the Odyssey, Zeus is head of the other gods and therefore is law. Although Poseidon is Odysseus’s enemy, Zeus was originally against having him return home to Ithaca, until the goddess Athena persuaded him otherwise. Instead, he was forced to endure another ten years of travel before going home. Poseidon also punishes him for his son the Cyclops Polyphemos by creating heavy waves and maelstroms. This is how the protagonist arrives on Calypso’s island where he is also punished, to a degree, by spending seven years with her. Gilgamesh has similar trials with the gods and goddesses because of his actions in the story. One is how the goddess Ishtar got her father to release the Bull of Heaven for not agreeing to become her husband. This cost many people there lives, just as in the Odyssey the whole crew dies along the journey from events caused by higher beings. The gods also punish him by internally poisoning Enkidu for killing Humbaba, which is a brutish creature like the Cyclops was in the Odyssey. Overall the gods impact the lives of both characters significantly, which can help the readers interpret their characters as a whole. The main characters themselves are also important for one to see how they contrast with one another. Both are revered as god-like due to how Gilgamesh is two thirds god and Odysseus for all of his heroic and impossible deeds. They both are impacted heavily by the superior beings who control their mortal realms and both go through quests to reach certain goals. However, the two characters are more different when looked at with their personality. For instance, Gilgamesh was not liked by his followers at the beginning of the tale, even though he was their king. He slept with the women, made their sons part of his army and demanded many servants to do his biddings. Odysseus on the other hand was praised by many even though he was a rich land owner who was told to go to war. Gilgamesh is greedy. For instance, he only went to the Cedar Forest with Enkidu because he was bored and wanted to be known for accomplishing what no one else could do. Gilgamesh is foolish and can’t rule over his people. He lost many assets that he desired like immortality and Enkidu. Many of his servants died from his course of actions. Odysseus however did not go on a quest for meaning; he just wanted to go home to Ithaca but was delayed by the gods. His wise and cleaver attributes got his men out of danger, like that from the Cyclops by blinding him and saying his name was “Nobody”. He was able to out trick the suitors in his home and is able to keep his men in check relativity. A few cases show how his men did not have as much restraint as he did and due to his falling asleep a lot, many people died. In the end, only one of the protagonists even had a happy ending in the poem; Odysseus was reunited with his family while Gilgamesh eventually dies from losing immortality. Therefore, the two main heroes in the stories are really polar opposites of one another even though their tales have similar aspects. Overall, the two oral stories share key similarities between the story plots and the hero protagonists. The two heroes of the tales are complete polar opposites of themselves; however, many circumstances like the roles of women, gods and sex reveal that they both have similar qualities the readers should consider. These diverse personas allow the viewers to realize how the time periods promote change within these traits and how they interpret the two main characters.
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