Heroes’ Qualities: Gilgamesh vs. Odysseus


In the modern world, many people like discussing the theme of true heroes and the required qualities. Ancient literature is probably one of the most frequent sources of information to be applied to find out good examples and evidence. During the last centuries, The Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s Odysseus remain the two strongest epic poems about heroes, their qualities, and challenges. Both of them have to face dangerous enemies, prove their choices, and develop various leadership skills to achieve their purposes. Although Gilgamesh is a representative of Mesopotamian culture, and Odysseus came from Ancient Greece, their differences and similarities contribute to the creation of a true image of a hero along with current cultural ideals.

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Heroic Qualities

Gilgamesh and Odysseus are heroes from different cultures and times united by the same idea to conquer their enemies and complete their tasks. On the one hand, both characters fought against the guardians of particular areas. Gilgamesh had to “kill Humbaba the Terrible, and eradicate from the land something baneful that Shamash hates” (The Epic of Gilgamesh). Odysseus, in his turn, faced the Cyclopes, “an overweening and lawless folk, who are trusting in the immortal gods, plant nothing with their hands nor plow” (Homer). The presence of the monsters is the only actual similarity between these two characters. The purposes of Gilgamesh and Odysseus vary: the former wanted to prove his abilities and deserve a chance to be recognized by people, and the latter tried to save his people and escaped the land.

In addition to the differences in their purposes, an understanding of the qualities of a hero should include the choices people make in their lives. According to Allison and Goethals, the story of a hero has the same plan when “an ordinary person, usually a male, who is summoned on a journey away from his safe, familiar world to a new and special world fraught with danger” (189). Both Gilgamesh and Odysseus decided to travel and demonstrate their courage but made different choices in their lives. Gilgamesh oppressed and killed his people to earn respect, and Odysseus did everything possible to protect the people and eradicate all forms of harm. Joullié and Spillane underlined Odysseus’ loyalty, “his long-term vision, his shrewdness and his rhetorical powers, in its ranks” (104). West considered Gilgamesh as a source of inspiration and motivation for people to develop their skills and gain respect (265). Choices and purposes, enemies, and cultural and personal growth are the major similarities and differences with the help of which heroic qualities like courage, intelligence, vision, and leadership are defined.

Differences Between Ancient Mesopotamian and Greek Cultures

After reading The Epic of Gilgamesh and Odysseus, one should be able to develop a better understanding of Mesopotamian and Greek cultures, ideals, and expectations. In both stories, much attention was paid to Gods and their powers. However, the strength of Homer is his intention to “distinguish between how people believe the gods exercise control over events and what control they actually exercise” (Sayre 115). In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the gods play a central role, and authors created their stories as “hymns to the gods” (Sayre 48). The ideals of the Greeks were to respect gods but did not allow interference, and the expectations of the Mesopotamian people included complete trust in gods. The chosen poems explain the major difference between ancient Mesopotamia and Greece, the impact of gods on human lives, and the establishment of priorities in regard to people’s beliefs. Trust in gods demonstrated by Gilgamesh proved the correctness of his decisions and bad attitudes towards ordinary people. Odysseus’ respect for gods but the desire to have a final word showed the progress between the different time-frames and the growth of Greece as a civilization.

Current Expectations about Heroes

The comparison of the stories from Mesopotamian and Greek cultures may suggest a new way for the development of current ideals and expectations from heroes. Modern culture has undergone considerable changes, experienced unpredictable and predictable losses, and influenced human decisions. The examples of Gilgamesh and Odysseus show that there are no clear criteria a true hero should meet. There are always some exceptions, situations, and circumstances, and instead of trying to foresee every challenge or enemy, it is important to be courageous and intelligent enough to resist and survive with dignity.


In general, it is hard to neglect the fact that people are in need of the concept of a hero because of various reasons. The Epic of Gilgamesh and Odysseus introduces two different characters with their own purposes, choices, and monsters to defeat. However, regardless of their intentions, beliefs, and abilities, they are ready to use any available means, reach the goals, and contribute to an understanding of the hero’s role in Mesopotamian and Greek cultures. Confidence, communication with people, beliefs in gods, and devotion to personal values are the major expectations that shape ancient cultures, as well as influence modern notions.

Works Cited

Allison, Scott T., and George R. Goethals. “Hero Worship: The Elevation of the Human Spirit.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, vol. 46, no. 2, 2015, pp. 187-210.

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The Epic of Gilgamesh. Translated by Maureen Gallery Kovacs, Wolf Carnahan 1998. Ancient Texts, Web.

Homer. The Odyssey. Translated by Augustus Taber Murray, Harvard University Press, 1919. Theoi E-book, Web.

Joullié, Jean-Etienne, and Robert Spillane. “Heroic Drucker.” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 128, no. 1, 2015, pp. 95-105.

Sayre, Henry M. The Humanities: Culture, Continuity & Change. 4th ed., vol. 1, Pearson, 2019.

West, Martin. “”Gilgameš and Homer: The Missing Link?” Wandering Myths: Transcultural Uses of Myth in the Ancient World, edited by Lucy Audley-Miller and Beate Dignas, De Gruyter, 2018, pp. 265-280.

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