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Compare Odysseus and Oedipus

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There are many legendary epic stories have been passed on from generation to generation in the Greek culture. Even though each story has different outcomes, every epic character has certain features in common. Odysseus in The Odyssesy and Oedipus in Oedipus the King are great examples of epic heroes with a variety of similarities. Odysseus and Oedipus are similar in which they both god-like men who are considered heroes because of their cautious ways and relentless tenacity. On the other hand, Odysseus and Oedipus also demonstrate their crude habits with their hubris behavior throughout their own prophecy. In addition to the similarities, the powerful gods play a significant role which drastically affects Odysseus and Oedipus’s fate. The gods play a significant role in the outcome of Odysseus and Oedipus’ destiny. In the poem The Odyssey, Odysseus is an epic king who is trying to return to Ithaca from the Trojan War. Throughout Odysseus’ journey, Poseidon, the God of the Sea, is trying to make it impractical for him to return to Ithaca.

Despite Poseidon’s efforts, Oedipus finally reaches Ithaca with the help of the goddess Athena. Athea’s role was significant because without her assistance, Odysseus may have never finished off the suitors despite being outnumbered. In the poem Oedipus the King, Oedipus is the King of Thebes who is desperately trying to find the murderer of Laius to end a plague to his people of Thebes. From the beginning, Oedipus was destined for failure by the prophecy even before his birth. The prophecy was to kill his father and marry his own mother. Oedipus receives this oracle that he desperately tries to conceal. Oedipus blames Apollo, the god, for his disgraceful actions by stating, “It was Apollo, friends, Apollo that brought this bitter bitterness” (Line 1329). Apollo clearly destroys Oedipus’ life by controlling his fate and granting people the power of prophecy. Apollo’s role was significant because Oedipus would not have killed his father and married his mother if he had known his parents.

Oedipus and Odysseus are extremely similar in their actions as well as their personalities. For instance, Oedipus and Odysseus are both extremely suspicious of others in fear of their own lives. Their suspicious nature is not unprovoked. When Odysseus visits Hades, Agamemnon tells him, “Never be too trustful even of your wife, nor show her all that is in your mind” (Homer 172). Agamemnon had lost his life by the hand of his own wife, Clytemnestra. Clytemnestra was happy that her premeditated murder of her husband succeeded. Agamemnon does not want Odysseus to face the same consequences he faced. Odysseus is following this advice even before Agamemnon gave it to him. Odysseus never told a stranger who he really was. He always made up a story of where he was from and who is. Then he would bring up the name Odysseus to see what they really thought of him. He did not want to put himself in danger if the person did not like him. When he returns to Ithaca he also did this to his wife, Penelope. Athena turned him into a beggar. Penelope approached him in this form and asked about her distant husband. When Odysseus said, “He is still alive,” a tear fell down Penelope’s cheek (Homer 213).

This was Odysseus’s sign that it was safe to tell his wife he was home. Oedipus is also tremendously suspicious of his close friend’s motives. When he is told that he has to find out who murdered the late King Laius, he inquires the information from Teiresias. Oedipus calls upon Teiresias the blind prophet. Oedipus says, “…(You are) sent to answer our question that the only riddance from this pest which could come was if we should learn aright the slayers of Laius, and slay them or send them into exile of out great land” (Sophocles 118). After much resistance, Teiresias relies, “You are the accursed defiler of this land” (Sophocles 121).

Oedipus then goes on to blame Creon for causing Teiresias to defile his good name. Even though Teiresias never mentioned a word about Creon, Oedipus remains suspicious of Creon’s intentions. Oedipus assumes that Creon desires to have him killed so that he could be King of Thebes. Oedipus also does not want to believe what Teiresias said because that would indicate that the prophecy has came true; he will be the one killed or thrown into exile. He does not believe the truth until he hears from a messenger and a herdsman. When Oedipus asks where the child came from the herdsman replies, “It was a child, them, of the house of Laius” (Sophocles 141). He is finally no longer suspicious of Creon. Without suspicion these characters would have failed terrible in their pursuit to live.

Another trait Oedipus and Odysseus have in common is their relentless persistence. Persistence is the key for both characters to find out
imperative information from other characters. For example, Oedipus questions Teiresias about his knowledge of the late King Laius’s murder. Fearing that the information he possesses will upset the new king, Teiresias refuses to say what he knows. Teiresias also recognizes that even if he does give Oedipus the information that he longs to hear it will not change the final result. Teiresias says, “The future will come of itself though I shroud it in silence,” (Homer 120). Oedipus persists by saying, “Then seeing that it must come, you on your part tell me of it, ” (Homer 120). Teiresias finally gives in and says, “Your are the accursed defiler of this land…I say you are the slayer of the man whose slayer you seek,” (Homer 121).

Without Oedipus persistently asking Teiresias to speak, Teiresias would have kept silent. Odysseus is also exceptionally persistent in finding out the information he needs to know to return home. It took him twenty years to finally return back to his homeland of Ithaca, and in those twenty years he persistently went from land to land to find a way to return home. For example, on his journey home he visits the island of the evil Cyclopes, the islands of Circe and Calypso, and Hades. Never once did Odysseus give up and surrender. Calypso notices this persistence when after four years Odysseus still wants to travel back home. Calypso says, “So you are determined, son of Laertes, favorite of Zeus, ingenious Odysseus, to leave at once for home and your beloved Ithaca,” (Homer 76). He persistently fought to return to his home in Ithaca. Without their unyielding persistence, neither Oedipus nor Odysseus would have gained the imperative information they desperately needed to achieve their goals.

Oedipus and Odysseus share many positive traits that help them in their journey, but they also share one negative trait that hinders both of them; the trait of hubris. Hubris is arrogance and overbearing pride. This trait causes both epic characters to lose sight of their goals, which delays their progress. An example of hubris is when Oedipus the King is trying to find out who murdered the late King Laius. During his speech Oedipus says that he will severely punish the murderer, not knowing that he, himself, is the murder. Oedipus declares: And I pray solemnly that the slayer, whoever he be, whether his hidden guilt is lonely or has partners, may he wear his unblessed life out evilly, as he is evil. And for myself I pray…he should become an inmate of my house, I may suffer the same things which I have just called down upon the others. (Sophocles 118) Oedipus causes his curse to be worse because he damns himself. Oedipus later has to pay for his hubris. He cannot take back his words, so when it is confirmed that he is the slayer, Oedipus needs to be additional punished because of his statements, made against the unknown murderer. After it is revealed that he is the killer Oedipus tears out his eyes and is exiled from the country.

Furthermore, Odysseus shows many examples of hubris throughout his voyage. For example, Odysseus and his men were held in the Cyclops’s lair for food. Odysseus and some of his men were able to blind the Cyclops and safely escape this fury. After they were on the boat Odysseus suffered from a form of hubris by bellowing: Cyclops! So he was not such a weakling after all, the man whose friends you meant to overpower and eat in your hollow cave! And your crimes were bound to catch up with you, you brute, who did not shrink from devouring your guest. Now Zeus and all the other gods have paid you. (Homer 138) Hearing this made the blinded Cyclops very angry. The Cyclops then tore off a piece of the mountain and threw it in the direction of the ocean. The large bolder almost struck the boat, but instead it forced the boat to float back toward the island of the Cyclops. Even Odysseus’s men noticed his hubris and said to him: Why do you provoke the savage in this obstinate way?

The rock he threw into the sea just now drove the ship back to the land, and we thought it was all up with us. Had he heard a cry, or so much as a word from a single man, he’s have smashed in our heads and the ship’s timbers with another jagged boulder from his hand. We’re within easy range for him. (Homer 139) Odysseus’s hubris almost costs him and his men their lives. It also nearly permitted the Cyclops to recapture them, which would have made their escape meaningless. Hubris in both cases had a negative effect on Odysseus and Oedipus. By them showing hubris it caused them to suffer more than they would have.

The characters of Odysseus and Oedipus have many aspects of their personalities in common. They both possess the qualities of epic heroes throughout their tales. The characters are made to seem larger than life in their capabilities of overcoming major obstacles, they are suspicion and persistent, and they have hubris. Just like Odysseus and Oedipus share these positive traits of persistence and suspicion, which helped them all the way through their journey, they also share hubris, a negative trait that holds them back from quickly achieving their goals. Without these traits, Odysseus would have never returned home to Ithaca, and Oedipus would have never found out that he was the murderer of King Laius.

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