The Odyssey and The Epic of Gilgamesh
(Similarities and Differences)
Both The Odyssey and the Epic of Gilgamesh are two incredible stories written long ago everyone knows this but what a lot of people don’t is that these two epics share many of the same concepts. Such as the nostro (the Greek term for homecoming), xenis (guest/host relationship), oikos (household), and aganoriss (recognition). In both epics these themes are illustrated.
In The Odyssey the theme of nostro is very prevalent in this epic. Basically the whole story is based around this concept. The main character Odysseus whole goal in the book is his homecoming. Along his journey he faces many challenges separating him from his home Ithaca and his family. The main thing that keeps Odysseus going is the thought of one day being home with his family no matter how many set backs he faces.
In The Epic of Gilgamesh the theme of nostro is more or less established the only difference between the two epics is nostro is not the main focus in this one. The main character in this epic is the great and powerful king Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is not affected by the theme of homecoming until the end of the book after his best friend Enkidu is killed by the Bull of Heaven and he goes looking for eternal life. Unfortunately he is not successful in his quest and realizes he is mortal and realizes how important his family is and returns to Uruk to be with them.
The next theme that is incorporated into the Odyssey is the theme xenis. This theme is also well incorporated into this epic. It seems wherever Odysseus goes he is welcomed with open arms. For example when he arrives in Scheria the home of the Phaeacians the princess Nausicaa and her handmaidens bath him and take him to the palace of king Alcinous where he is invited to a banquet. This is very important in his successes after all without the help from all these people he would not be able to make it home. The relationship between guest and host is something needed in this epic.
Xenis is represented in the Epic of Gilgamesh after Enkidu battles with Gilgamesh and they become friends and he accepts him. He then stays with him and is treated like a guest. It seems in this epic xenis does not play as an important role as it does in The Odyssey. Therefore this is where these two would differ. Much of the Odyssey is based upon this theme.
Another theme oikos is integrated into the Odyssey. The household in this epic seems to be an important structure in the relationship between Odysseus, Penelope, and their son Telemachus. After all it is their household that is threatened by the suitors and leads Telemachus to search for the truth about the whereabouts of his father. Also the peril of the suitors exhausting Odysseus’ resources and household drive him to kill the suitors. Which also plays into the story well. To me it seems as though these themes play more of a role in this epic.
Okios is represented differently in the epic. It is apparent that in this epic the household is held as less important due to the fact that Gilgamesh corrupts other households by sleeping with the virgins before they are married, an abuse of power. It is not held to as high a standard as it is in the Odyssey. Not say Odysseus does stray from his wife but Gilgamesh makes a point of it. It is not until the end when he realizes the importance of family and ht household.
The last of the themes that appear in the Odyssey is the theme of recognition, or aganoriss. Recognition is essential to Odysseus when he appears before kings, gods, and goddess. Why? When people or gods recognize who he is they treat him differently, all except Poseidon where recognition is Odysseus’ downfall. Also ad it not been for aganoriss King Nestor would not have supplied Telemachus with a chariot for his travel to Sparta where he could learn more of his father location and welfare. And finally Odysseus needs to be recognized as the ruler of Ithaca to gain back control of his kingdom from the suitors. Again without aganoriss this story would not be complete.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh aganoriss is basically Gilgamesh’s life. The arrogant king needs recognition to exist it seems. He wants everyone to recognize that he this very strong, very courageous, and very good looking (almost godlike). The recognition contributes to his narcissism, which is his whole character. Without it he is not Gilgamesh he is more like his counterpart Enkidu who does not need recognition.
In conclusion both incorporate the four Greek themes in some form or another. They play different roles in each epic sometimes more important in one than the other. Without these themes the epics would not be complete. In doing this paper I gained a better understanding of why these epic included these themes.