The stories of heroes have been at the axis of nearly all cultures throughout history. Each different type of religion or culture has their own heroes or legends, each one of them having their differences to go along with the beliefs at hand. On the other hand, each and every hero also has their similarities, which therefore makes them the hero. The setting, events, and characters in each and every story may change, but the characteristics of the hero remain basically the same. Each person is usually made into a hero in a somewhat similar fashion. For example, many heroes begin as imperfect characters, and then begin some sort of quest which leads to them becoming a leader of what they are doing, and then the character goes through a personal transformation into a legendary hero of their people.
Therefore, both Odysseus of the Greeks and Moses of the Jewish can both be considered as heroes to their people. In both cases, the person does not decide to be a hero, but they are instead chosen by a greater force, such as a god, to become the one. Both Moses and Odysseus perform three similar tasks. These are for the person to fulfill a destiny handed down to them by a greater power, undertake a journey where great sacrifices are made on his part to overcome difficult obstacles, and finally complete their legacy through the sharing of their stories for the greater good of the people that believe in the hero. Both Moses and Odysseus can be compared in that neither were perfect heroes, they both experienced some sort of quest, and they both experienced personal limitations along with a transformation.
The major differences between Odysseus and Moses are mostly relative. They both share practically the same qualities. They are universal heroes who could exist in any culture, context or time. Just like Odysseus and Moses, many heroes are made from the same qualities and have similar stories about how they came to be heroes. As a young man, Moses murdered an Egyptian who was harassing a Jew. A savior who kills someone seems contradictory, but the action served as a metaphor for Moses’ freeing of the Jews from Egypt. Odysseus had a habit of raping, burning and looting villages, which is hardly appropriate conduct for someone who is supposed to bring peace to a civilization.
However, his cunning proved useful in both defeating monsters and killing the suitors that had taken over his palace. The reality that each hero was and device of God or the Greek gods was important in both cultures. Moses was picked by God to be the one who would free the Jews and take them across the desert and into the Promised Land. He spoke directly with God in the burning bush and through various angels. Information was given to Moses from God when instruction was needed. Similarly, Athena visited Odysseus frequently with Zeus’ consent through different disguises to help him along his journey.
Though Greek and Hebrew culture varies, their heroes are considerably similar. Both Odysseus and Moses could represent model heroes in any culture at any time. But these universal heroes are not perfect as nobody on Earth is. Many heroes do something of questionable moral action at some point in their early life. As mentioned earlier, Odysseus was constant to raping, burning and pillaging villages, and continually had affairs though his wife Penelope always remained faithful. As also stated earlier, when Moses was young, he killed an Egyptian who was harassing a Jew.
But these actions do not abolish they hero, they are instead necessary for the development of his character. Moses spoke directly with the Lord and was given specific instructions to embrace his destiny. He did not choose to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, but God chose that destiny for him. Faced with many different challenges of his own, Odysseus also received a divine message, but it was from the goddess, Athena. The theme of being chosen by a higher power is a recurring theme that is seen in most hero stories of every culture.
No matter when or where these heroes were destined for greatness, they each were a part of a quest or journey where they had to overcome many obstacles, trials, and tribulations. Odysseus’s voyage had to be completed before saving his people, while Moses’ exodus and his people’s salvation were simultaneous. In either case, the journey is vital to the hero in order for him to undergo a personal transformation into the legendary hero they became.
Moses fought a Pharaoh, the desert, his own people, and himself during his long journey to the Promised Land. Odysseus also had a long journey home and while on that journey battled Poseidon, the sea, his men, and himself. Not only are the stories of The Odyssey and Exodus the similar, but the heroes, Odysseus and Moses, share many of the same attributes and behaviors. Both, despite having murderous pasts, were chosen by their God or gods to be the savior of their people. Each had a specific limitation that directly interfered with the completion of their mission. And since they were helped by God or the Greek gods along the way, Moses and Odysseus ultimately had faith that they would be successful, regardless of the obstacles ahead. Their similarities exist on a personal level as well.
Both heroes had to make great sacrifices for the good of the whole. They each underwent a personal transformation as a result of the trials they faced. And each learned a lesson that they passed on as a message for their people. The hero’s journey is also determined by how each story originated. The Hebrews passed down Moses and the Exodus orally, in the form of a linear story with a beginning, middle and end. Moses’ linear journey took the Jews out of Egypt, through the desert and to the Promised Land. In contrast, Homer’s poetic writing of the Odyssey is circular in that the ending is a new beginning. It begins and ends in Odysseus’ palace in Ithaca. Like the story, his journey back home is a circular one.
In spite of all the divine intervention, Moses and Odysseus both had to overcome a personal limitation in order to become successful in their endeavors. The limitation itself was directly in contrast with their main task at hand. Moses was given the job of spokesman for all Jews, yet had poor public speaking skills. “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue (Exodus 4:10).” Odysseus was sent home to save his people from a civil war, but his lust for conquest and adventure took him on many detours and prolonged his eminent return. Both were able to rise above these limitations.
Perhaps the most shared attribute these heroes had been their faith that they would make it through the journey and complete their mission. Moses struggled with the Egyptians, the desert, God, his people and himself yet still believed that he would accomplish his goals set for him. Odysseus lost all his men, more than one ship, and continually battled monsters, weather, and captors but still succeeded due to his faith in Athena’s word that he would persevere.
The way the hero acts towards outside events only tells half the story but the thoughts in his mind and soul makes up the rest. Odysseus and Moses both had to make sacrifices for the good of their people and both experienced a personal transformation during their quest for significance. The transformation of Moses was found in his lack of public speaking, which held him back from fully becoming a leader of the people. As he confronted the Pharaoh and commanded the Hebrew people, he eventually gained confidence in himself and his ability. Moses went from being a timid servant to an authoritative leader of a nation of God. He was responsible for constructing the ways of their new civilization. Likewise, Odysseus transformed from a restless adventurer to dependable husband and king. Both experienced an epic journey that altered them from within.
In conclusion, both Odysseus of the Greeks and Moses of the Hebrews can be compared because they perform three similar tasks: to fulfill a destiny handed down by divine inspiration, undertake a journey where great sacrifices are made on his part to overcome difficult obstacles; like Odysseus traveling home after the Trojan War or Moses Leading his people out of Egypt, and finally, the mission is not complete until the message learned throughout is shared for the greater good of the people whom the hero represents.
Neither Odysseus nor Moses was perfect, but they both experienced some sort of quest and overcame personal limitations, which led to their personal transformation into heroes. Because of all the parallels between Odysseus and Moses, there is not much surprise that they both exemplified the same message. Even though the messengers were different, whether it was Athena, a burning bush, or angels sent by God, the message is still the same: listen to and obey the words of one’s God/gods. This is the message they both brought back for their people to live by and led to their legacy as heroes of their culture.