Odysseus vs. Gilgamesh

Character is built in several different ways. Some may view character as how one handles a certain hectic situation or how well one person treats another. A true definition character contains these elements, but ones character is built and developed mainly on how one picks and chooses his time to act and his time to wait. This definition refers to restraint and discipline. Gilgamesh and Homers The Odyssey uses many instances in which the main characters must use incredible restraint to protect not only themselves, but also the ones they care for and love. Although both stories use this theme of self-control and discipline to develop certain personalities, each one tells a different account of how these characters are viewed by their fellow men and women and the rewards that come from showing the traits of restraint and self-will. In Gilgamesh, the character that holds back and exhibits patience is viewed as a coward, as Gilgamesh believes, and is a sign of a lack of bravery and confidence. The way that patience is portrayed in Gilgamesh reflects how the society of the time feels about everything in their lives. The author of this story wants the reader to believe that one must not hesitate and must act decisively and quickly. Opposing this belief, Odysseus holds back emotions of rage and homesickness in order to complete the task at hand. Homer, living in Greek society, understood that his people thought more about the problem before coming to a quick conclusion and then acting on it impulsively. So, although both stories repeat the concepts of self-restraint and discipline as character building qualities, they differ in the way that these attributes build or weaken a personality.

The story of Gilgamesh begins in the ancient Middle East, a land that was mainly war-faring and used take by force tactics to gain leadership, power, and fame. Since this was the prevailing opinions, the authors, few may it be, tended to define their heroes as men of quick, vicious action. Those who hesitated were run over by those who didnt. Character was built based on ones ability to act quickly and without uncertainty. Gilgamesh was involved in several situations in which he could choose to wait and act later or push forward and complete the task at hand. Gilgameshs brother, Enkidu, also did not use restraint in several of his performances. The very first instance of Enkidu doing such is when he is tempted by the harlot. Enkidu is half man and half beast when this happens. There he is. Now, woman, make your breasts bare, have no shame, do not delay, but welcome his love She was not ashamed to take him, she made herself naked and welcomed his eagerness (Gilgamesh 20). Enkidu did not refrain in the least from leaving his animal ways to go to the tempting woman. When he tried to return to the beast after his six days of passion, they rejected him, for he was now fully human. Because of his lack of will-power, Enkidu lost his life in the wild, but he also gained his life in the manly world. His character as a human was reinforced and was now stronger and wiser than before. A second example of a lack of patience comes from Gilgamesh in his decision to travel into the Cedar Forest and fight the terrible Humbaba. One day, he decides to fulfill his destiny and make a name for himself, and the next day, he is on his way. Gilgamesh does not think of the recourses of his actions and does not plan his adventure carefully and wisely. Even the elders tell him, you are young, your courage carries you too far, you cannot know what this enterprise means which you plan (Gilgamesh 25). As they continued to warn him of Humbabas strength, Gilgamesh paid no attention. Gilgamesh continues on with his plans, and Enkidu and Gilgamesh slay Humbaba. They are welcomed home with great appreciation by the people of Uruk, and all know that there character cannot be topped. Here, as the story is told, the elders doubted him and warned him, Gilgamesh paid no attention, and Humbaba was defeated. The characters of Enkidu and Gilgamesh were made stronger by this act, even though they showed little restraint in acting upon it. A third occurrence of character building comes after the death of Enkidu. Gilgamesh is so distraught with the loss of his brother, and his mind is not clear, for he has grieved for days and days. He has only thought of his brother and not of his duties as the ruler of Uruk. After several days of unclear thought, Gilgamesh decides that the only thing he can do is make an extremely long and dangerous voyage across the mountains to find Utnapishtim, the only man who can put Gilgameshs despair to rest. Instead of showing discipline and leading his people, he picks up and takes off on a long trek across the Mashu Mountains. One instance during his journey thats shows a terrible lack of discipline happens when Siduri tells him that he probably wont be able to cross the Ocean. He becomes enraged and shatters the tackle of the boat of Urshanabi; the same boat that will secure his trip across the Ocean. Your own hands have prevented you from crossing the Ocean; when you destroyed the tackle of the boat you destroyed its safety (Gilgamesh 39). Because of Gilgameshs complete disregard for sensible thought, he had to go into the woods and cut down trees to repair the boat. Gilgameshs complete absence of restraint in controlling his emotions did nothing more than cost him time. The story does not speak of Gilgamesh as a bad person for acting on such quick impulse. Instead, he is praised wherever he goes for his courageous acts and quick, yet sometimes unreliable, thinking. The group of people who put this story together let the listener or reader know that Gilgameshs lack of good judgment does not cause his character to be hurt. He is only strong for what he accomplishes and not how he accomplishes his heroics. The Odyssey also uses self-restraint and discipline to build character, but unlike Gilgamesh, the characters in The Odyssey show restraint and build their characters in this way.

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The Odyssey show several instances of self-restraint that help build the individuals character, not because he didnt show restraint and get the job done, but because he did exercise patience and discipline and still accomplished his goals. In the time that this story was written, the Greeks were well developed people with magnificent cities and education in the arts and sciences that surpassed all civilizations before them. They were a more thinking and intuitive people. The Greeks found character in careful thought and planned decision-making, rather than quick and sometimes unsuccessful action. Homer recognized this, and he told the story of The Odyssey keeping this in mind. The characters that Homer develops, those that are determined to be good and honorable, are able to display these qualities of precise thought and vigilant action. Although these characters do make mistakes because they do not show good judgment, they are punished for their actions and learn from their mistakes. But these mistakes are used only to build the character of the individuals, and Odysseus especially, learns from these mistakes in order to succeed in the future. One incredible illustration of Odysseus having good self-will is when his men and he are trapped in the cave of the Cyclops. Instead of giving up and deciding to die at the hands of Polyphemus, Odysseus uses his wits to devise a plan to help them escape. It works, but after they escape, pride overcomes Odysseus, and he does not hold back. He yells from his ship at the Cyclops, screaming How do you like the beating that we gave you, you damned cannibal? (The Odyssey 314). He almost caused his entire crew their lives as Polyphemous threw huge boulders which narrowly missed his ship. After this scare, Odysseus would never use such reckless abandon again. His character had been developed after this situation, but not because he succeeded, but because he had escaped with his life. Several more instances occur threw his telling of his journey, where Odysseus shows great will-power in making decisions, but some of the most important character-building occurrences happen as he re-enters his home city of Ithaka. Disguised as a beggar, Odysseus must first take a verbal and physical assault from one of his own workers, Melanthios. He is cussed for being a dirty beggar and then kicked in the hip. It takes Odysseus all of his strength to hold back from killing Melanthios in one blow, but he does hold back, and he keeps the secret of his arrival safe. After he has arrived at his own palace, Odysseus has been informed by Athena that he must beg the suitors for bread. He uses his experiences with each suitor to determine their capability and if they will be a problem. Once again, Odysseus must beg from the men who are taking house and home from him, and he does this with great cunning and discipline. The most difficult occurrence of Odysseus holding back happens when Antinoos becomes enraged with a comment that Odysseus had made. Antinoos responded, You think youll shuffle off and get away after that impudence? Oh, no you dont! The stool he let fly hit the mans (Odysseus) right shoulder Odysseus only shook his head, containing thoughts of bloody work (The Odyssey 426). The man that Odysseus was about to kill had physically struck him, refused to give him food and told him to get his filthy rags out of the room. As the reader of The Odyssey view this happening, they can only gain great respect for Odysseus great determination to wait for the right time. Normal people could not stand what he was going through without lashing out, but Odysseus held strong, and his character is shown to be even stronger than before. Homer builds Odysseus character slowly through the story and allows Odysseus to learn from his mistakes. Homer allowed his characters to develop through experience, thought and rationale.

The ancient epics of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey both use many instances of restraint and discipline to help further develop the character of Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and Odysseus. This similarity is only true in that the heroes were developed through these qualities, but the stories differ in how each hero uses self-restraint to their advantage. Gilgamesh shows little or no rational thought before he tackled a challenge. He moved forward regardless, and he succeeded. His lack of self-discipline did not hurt his character, for he won each battle, and his people viewed him as a hero. In contrast, Odysseus at times did not show restraint and was punished for his actions. He only succeeded when he was able to hold back his raging emotions and wait for the time to strike. For this, Odysseus was praised as a leader and hero. Homer and the author of Gilgamesh both tell wonderful stories of adventure and conquest, but their stories also reflect the societies in which each lived. Regardless of the fact that Gilgamesh and Odysseus gained character in opposite ways, both societies in which they lived recognized their accomplishments and how they were achieved. Both societies accepted Odysseus and Gilgamesh as great heroes, and Homer and the author of Gilgamesh were successful in creating such developed characters.