In this paper, I compare two prominent heroes in contemporary literature – Odysseus and Maximus. Based on the portrayal of the latter from the movie Gladiator and the representation of Odysseus in a book with the same title, I argue that both characters had more similarities than differences. In this paper, I also demonstrate that their journeys towards success (heroism) were relatively motivated by the same factors. In the same breadth of analysis, I similarly argue that Maximus was a greater hero than Odysseus because he was more selfless and forgiving than the latter. Indeed, as we will see in this paper, his pursuits were not merely meant to elevate his status, but that of his people as well. This was the primary motivation for his actions and decisions throughout his journey. Therefore, this paper demonstrates that the two heroes mentioned in this paper differ on the premise that the motivations for their actions are different. The following sections of this paper explain the similarities between the two characters.
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Similarities between the two heroes
Bravery and Courage
Maximus’s actions during the Roman era show bravery and courage in the sense that he decided to defy the wishes of Emperor Commodus, knowing that this defiance could lead to his death. He also fought five enemies in the battle arena, even though his soldiers feared to support him because they did not want retribution (Scott 00:02:15-00:02:35). Odysseus also exhibited acts of bravery when he chose to fight Poseidon, despite knowing that this battle was going to be difficult because he could lose his life in the process (Homer 29).. However, he was not fearful and chose to take on his enemy. This is an act of bravery and courage. Maximums also shared the same quality.
Odysseus is similar to Maximus in the sense that both soldiers achieved great levels of success in their endeavors. This success catapulted them to stardom because people recognized them for their successful conquests. For example, although Maximus was a fictitious character in the film Gladiator, he showed several acts of courage and bravery that catapulted him to be a dominant figure in the film. His first act of heroism was his defeat of the Barbarians of Germain (Scott 01:02:15-01:02:35). To sustain the 12-year war, he had to be a very persistent person because most leaders would have given up after a couple of years of failure. Furthermore, for him to have kept his army together and led it through the decade of war shows a great sense of leadership that many soldiers of his time never had. Odysseus achieved the same level of success and demonstrated the same type of character through his defeat of the Trojans and his ability to lead his army through the battle (Montiglio 4). His success demonstrates that he could strike a good balance between using his physical military power and the knowledge he had accumulated over the years to win wars. In other words, he knew when to use military power, and when to use brainpower to defeat his enemies. This strategy was largely responsible for his success on the battlefield.
Maximus exhibited acts of selflessness after demonstrating that he could fight for many slaves, despite the fact that his family was killed and his life was under threat. He still forged on his journey and stayed on course to emancipate his people. In other words, the tragedy that befell him never held him back. Although he devoted most of his time towards helping his people (like saving a senator from execution), the death of his wife and child did not escape his mind as he ensured that the person who was responsible for their demise paid the price for it (Scott 01:59:15-01:59:35). This is why he killed the emperor. His nobility also emerged through his actions to make sure the wishes of Marcus Aurelius were fulfilled even in death. This action shows his true character as a loyal and noble soldier because he was able to respect the wishes of his master even though he was dead. If he was not a noble person and only wanted to please his master, he would not have done so, especially considering his life, and that of his people were in danger.
Since Maximus was a straightforward person, he ensured the people got their power back by bringing Rome under the senate and allowing the people to have a “bigger say” in their lives. These events show that he was not only a man of the people but also a great hero who kept the interest of others before his own. He also had to be the “bigger man,” considering that he helped people who betrayed him. For example, he helped Commodus’s relative despite the fact that her betrayal could have led to his death (Scott 01:34:16-01:42:35). Maximus not only forgave her but also agreed to meet up with her master to discuss the terms of freeing his people. This action shows that he never personalized his battles. This attribute also shows that he was a good leader because he did not let emotions distract him from achieving his goals.
Odysseus was also a noble person in the sense that although he killed many people, he did not kill those who he believed were not a threat to him or his wife. He was also one of the most trusted advisors of the King because he had the master’s best interest at heart and knew how to protect him. Indeed, he always supported the Achillean cause and did not do anything to jeopardize it (Montiglio 41-42; Nagy 667). For example, when Thersites spoke against the King, Odysseus stopped him and told him to respect authority (Montiglio 189). He also restored order to the Greek Camp when some people threatened to leave the war. Additionally, he convinced some of his soldiers not to leave the battlefield, even after they suffered injuries, thereby developing a winning team that helped him to win different battles. These actions show that he was not only a focused but noble person, the same way Maximus was.
Both Maximus and Odysseus underwent a complete transformation in the sense that both of them achieved heroic status, but end up as completely different people. They allowed themselves to transition because they believed that they had to change with their circumstances and, more importantly, with the knowledge that they accumulated on the battlefield. For example, Maximus’s journey had to change because he wanted revenge for his dead son and wife. I believe this transformation explains his bravery and willingness to stay focused on his goals. Through this process, he transitioned from a soldier to a gladiator. Odysseus underwent an opposite transformation in the sense that his journey led him from being a respected warrior to an ordinary person. Nonetheless, both leaders went through significant transformations in their heroic journeys.
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Although Odysseus and Maximus both endured significant tribulations in their journeys as soldiers, they were motivated by similar things – family. As mentioned in this report, Maximus lost his wife and child on his journey to heroism. Comparatively, Odysseus yearned to come home to his wife. The family was a significant underlying theme in their heroic journey because it motivated them to persevere in their tribulations. Without it, they lacked the inner drive to withstand their tribulations. The strength of personal relationships in their journey could be evidenced by the fact that both characters were yearning to avenge for their wives (Montiglio 150). Maximus wanted to take revenge for his wife’s death, while Odysseus wanted to kill the people who were making advances at his wife. Based on these insights, both heroes found their motivation through the people who were close to them.
This paper has shown the journey that Odysseus and Maximus underwent in their quest to achieve their heroic status. Although the two hailed from different cultures, the underlying theme in this paper is that they had more similarities than many people would like to think. In this paper, we have shown that their journeys towards success were relatively motivated by the same factors, and they both achieved a similar level of success and recognition in their circles. However, if we are to compare the two heroes, I would argue that Maximus was a greater hero than Odysseus because he was more selfless and forgiving than the latter. His pursuits were not merely meant to elevate his status, but those of his people as well. This was the primary motivation for his actions on the battlefield. Therefore, the journeys of the two heroes differ on the premise that their motivations are different.
Homer. Odyssey. Translated by Stanley Lombardo, Hackett Publishing, 2000.
Montiglio, Silvia. From Villain to Hero: Odysseus in Ancient Thought. University of Michigan Press, 2011.
Nagy, Gregory. The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours. Harvard University Press, 2013.
Scott, Ridley, director. Gladiator. Universal Pictures, 2000.