The Odyssey and Gilgamesh
In many literary works, it is not a challenge to find a number of violent scenes. Some of them may be justified, and some of them can be hardly understood. Concentration of violence in the Middle East or the Ancient Greece is evident, and the two oldest works The Odyssey and The Epic of Gilgamesh may serve as the best examples of how violence can ruin human lives and promote the development of a society. Some institutions make attempts to forbid reading Gilgamesh or The Odyssey due to violent contexts, still, the role of these two works remains significant and educative in literature, as well as in history. Violence is inherent to Gilgamesh due to the nature of the main character, his desire to solve everything by means of violent actions, and his decision to hide his fear behind violence; The Odyssey is the poem, where violence is considered to be one of the main tools in solving the conflicts between the main character and the suitors, describing different epic creatures like the Cyclops or the Sirens, and proving the justice of the decisions made.
Gilgamesh describes a life of a person, who preferred to use violence as the only method to control people. Such preference clearly defines the peculiarities of many Middle East traditions, importance of control and order. From the very beginning of the poem, the author introduces Gilgamesh as “a tyrant to his people… demanded, from an old birthright, the privilege of sleeping with their brides before the husbands were permitted” (Mason 15). He was careless to any human being as “he pushed his people half to death” (Mason 16) just in order to rebuild the walls of Uruk.
Though the author uses such words like a “tyrant” or “godlike man alone” to describe a violent nature of Gilgamesh, he was not the only aggressive character in the poem. There was also Enkidu. “Gilgamesh was called a god and man, Enkidu was an animal and man” (Mason 15). When Gilgamesh and Enkidu met, they began to fight. They fought in order to avoid using ugly words, but underline the magnificence of the fights between these two people, the author makes use of numerous similes:
They fell like wolves
At each other’s throats,
Like bulls bellowing,
And horses gasping for breath
That have run all day
Desperate for rest and water,
Crushing the gate they fell against. (Mason 23)
The result of this fight was hard to predict as “they began to laugh and clutched each other in their breathless exaltation” (Mason 23) and became the best friends. Their main mistake was inability to find peace and understand what it means to be human. They did not stop using violence, they wanted to gain more power and recognition, and now, they were strong together to achieve better results, but both of them were weak in respect to death that came after them. This poem shows how crucial such concepts like power, control, and violence are for the Middle East culture. The main reason of why so many people are aggressive is the desire to maintain power and make personal fears invisible for the others.
If the characters of The Epic of Gilgamesh were violent by their nature, the characters of The Odyssey had to be aggressive to save their lives, prove personal rights, and become respectful leaders. Odyssey’s revenge on Penelope’s suitors is one of the most violent scenes in the poem. Homer did not want to use simple methods of death like poisoning. He underlined that Odyssey was angry and did not want to forgive suitors:
Dogs, ye have had your day! Ye fear’d no more
Ulysses vengeful from the Trojan shore;
While, to your lust and spoil a guardless prey,
Our house, our wealth, our helpless handmaids lay.” (Pope 443)
His anger, past, and devotion to his home, wife, and family relations justify his violence. His behavior may be called aggressive, but it is understandable. Great leaders should never forgive betrayal because if they do forgive, they will be considered weak or flabby. This is one of the main philosophies for the Ancient Greece culture. Therefore, the decisions to kill all the serving ladies made by Odyssey’s son, Telemachus, are regarded as violent and hardly justified. He showed how the power in someone’s hands may lead to wrong actions. “There the revenging sword shall smite them all; so with the suitors let them mix in dust, stretch’d in a long oblivion of their lust” (Pope 458). Telemachus did not want to listen to his father and decided to kill all serving women, who betrayed his mother and did not protect her against the suitors. This scene shows how anger and the desire to revenge may control people’s emotions and neglect the importance of human lives.
Our past is usually associated with different battles and conflicts, which aimed at solving political questions or land grabbing, it is not always clear why so many authors try to depict the most violent periods in their works. The Odyssey and The Epic of Gilgamesh are considered to be powerful sources of information about the roots of violence in the Middle East and the Ancient Greece. Though the literary works under analysis are fictional, people should understand that the majority of literary images are based on something real. The reality of the chosen poems is violence that is inherent to many people and countries. It does not matter whether it is the Middle East or the Greece, people have to stay humane.
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