Two exciting epics that are widely read and well-known across the globe hold many likenesses between the heroes. The Odyssey by Homer and The Ramayana by Valmiki, tell the tales of two heroes who hold many similarities between them even as their stories differ. Both poems are epics because their heroes are great men, well-known to their worlds, both suffer long difficult journeys, and both are aided by as well as taunted by gods and goddesses of their religions and cultures. But in the end both men overcome great tragedy and catastrophes to rightfully rule as kings of their own lands.
Odysseus and Rama were both strong warriors of great stature. Athena speaks of Odysseus to his son and calls him “a mighty man” (Homer, Odyssey, Book I,p. 7). Griffith describes Rama as “Tall and broad-shouldered, strong of limb,” (Griffith, Book I, stz. 1) who has “…massive jaw and ample chest” and “strong arms reach below his knee” (Griffith, Book I, stz. 1). Throughout the story these men both are challenged and use their great strength of the warrior to defeat their challengers. Odysseus is challenged by the sea many times and with great strength survives the power of the sea against him.
In the house of King Alcinous he describes many a plight where he fought against the drowning waves and the storms of Poseidon. “…. Zeus with white bolt crushed my swift ship and cleft it in the midst of the wine-dark deep…. I clung with fast embrace about the keel of the curved ship, and so was I borne for nine whole days…. ” (Homer, Osdyssey, Book VII, p. 105). Only a man of great strength and endurance could cling in the moving waters for nine whole days without fail. Then, against Poseidon’s enormous waves, Odysseus later survives a storm at sea by swimming through the forcible waves to reach land. For Poseidon, shaker of the earth, stirred up the same, who roused against me the winds…. Thus the storm winds shattered the raft, but as for me I cleft my way through the gulf yonder…. ” (Homer,Odyssey,1950, Book VII, p. 105).
Odysseus exhibits godly strength against the seas and her challenges. Rama displays an unconquerable stamina in Griffith’s epic. Rama slays a giant to gain the friendship of Agastya but this leads to his being attacked by the giantess Surpanakha and her three sisters. Still they are no match for Rama as “…. they and myriad fiends beside Beneath the might of Rama died” (Griffith, Book I stz. ). Both heroes are challenged by enormous odds and yet both are victorious proving stout strength and stamina above all other men. However, physical strength is not the only weapon these heroes wield. Cunning and strategy play an important role in defeating more powerful enemies. Odysseus exhibits such mental strength against Cyclops when he helps his companions to escape the Cyclops’ cavern. Odysseus devised a plan to deceive Cyclops and in his cunning is even smart enough to predict Cyclops’ call for help from his brethren. And in knowing this, he tells Cyclops his name is “Noman.
Thus does Cyclops call out for help after Odysseus blinds him with the torched end of a stake and cries “My friends, Noman is slaying me by guile, nor at all by force” (Homer,Odyssey,1950, Book IX, p. 137-8). Thus his friends who thought “no man” was assaulting their brother determined his suffering to be a sickness sent by Zeus and bade him to call upon his father Poseidon for help and went their ways. Odysseus further exhibits his craftiness when he devises a plan of escape. When Cyclops is blinded, he sets himself before the cave entrance with arms wide to prevent the men’s departure through the cavern mouth.
However, Odysseus is more clever than he and fastens three sheep together across and ties a man beneath the middle one’s underbelly. For himself he hangs on beneath the magnificent ram until sunrise when they are allowed through the mouth of the cavern by Cyclops out to pasture to graze. Once far from Cyclops Odysseus comes out from under his ram and then unfastens his men, and they are all able to escape. By their hiding beneath the sheep, Cyclops only felt the fleece and thereby allowed the men to pass through. This is a grand display of cunning.
Rama also portrays some semblance of intelligence when he chooses his allies against the demon king, realizing that he can win their loyalty by defeating their enemy and convincing the king of the monkeys that they share a suffrage because they both have been banished from their homelands, Rama is able to convince the monkey army to come to his aid (Griffith, Book I, stz. 1) . “Who, knowing all the tale, before The sacred flame alliance swore. Sugriva to his new-found friend Told his own story to the end: His hate of Bali for the wrong And insult he had borne so long.
And Rama lent a willing ear And promised to allay his fear” (Griffith, Book I, Stz. 1). With his crafty ways, Rama knew since he had slain the object of Sugriva’s , the monkey king’s, hatred, that he would be allied at once with the monkey armies. This was his key to finding his wife, Sita, and rescuing her. Odysseus and Rama were both intertwined with the deities of their cultures. Odysseus had the help of Athena throughout his entire trip home after the war in Troy and his exile with Calypso on her lonely island where he was a kept man by the goddess (Homer, Odyssey, Book I, p. ).
Athena bodes Zeus “O father…. if indeed this thing is now well pleasing to the blessed gods, that wise Odysseus should return to his own home, let us then speed Hermes the Messenger…. to the island of Ogygia. There with all speed let him declare…. our unerring counsel, even the return of the patient Odysseus, that so he may come to his home” (Homer,Odyssey,1950, Book I, p. 3). If not for Athena’s plea and reminder to Zeus, Odysseus would have remained with Calypso forever. But Athena provides further assistance and stays beside Odysseus along the way.
She is with him when he travels to the house of King Alcinous and tries to protect him and to guide him. “At that same hour Odysseus roused him to go to the city, and Athene shed a deep mist about Odysseus for the favour that she bare him, lest any of the Phaeacians…. should meet him and mock him…. ” (Homer,Odyssey,1950, Book VII, p. 97). And disguised as a maiden she journeys with him home on the ship and stays until he has defeated his wife’s wooers who have consumed the spoils of his home.
She lends her assistance when needed such as when she cloaked Odysseus and his son and his men in darkness so that they may leave the town to come back to defeat the wooers in battle. Athena provides even more aid as she convinces his son Telemachus to search for his father and to bring him home. She also gives him advice such as having his mother hide Odysseus’ bow that no man can string other than Odysseus, foreseeing the contest to prove his identity later after his journey (Homer,Odyssey,1950, Book II, pp. 25-7).
Rama himself is a god although he does not know this. He is the born human entity of the god Vishnu Narayana who has a premeditated plan to take human form and then to defeat the demon god, Ravana hated by all supernatural gods and goddesses alike. But it is not until the end of his epic journey that Rama remembers that his true essence is the god Narayana (Griffith, Book I, stz. 19). This is unlike Odysseus who was favored by the gods and knew of their help and their interest in him as he bore them many sacrifices in return.
One such sacrifice being in the cave of the Cyclops as they awaited his return from shepherding his flock. “Then we kindled a fire, and made burnt-offering…” (Homer,Odyssey,1950, Book IX, p. 132). Such offerings are made throughout the story before and after challenges are met. Once the Cyclops was defeated, Odysseus took the best ram for offering “…the ram for me alone my goodly-greaved company chose out, in the dividing of the sheep, and on the shore I offered him up to Zeus…. and I burnt the slices of the thighs. ” (Homer, Odyssey,1950, Book IX, p. 142).
From this a conclusion could be drawn: it is expected of a hero to make offering to the gods who find favor with him. Likewise, Rama shows respect to the gods and his father, King Dasaratha, when he unfailingly responds to their commands without question. When asked by Queen Kaikeyi if he promises to honor his father’s vow and do his bidding, Rama replies, “I, at the bidding of my sire, Would cast my body to the fire, A deadly draught of poison drink, Or in the waves of ocean sink: If he command, it shall be done,–My father and my king in one” (Griffith, Book II, stz. 8).
Rama leaves for his banishment without delay and without question to honor his father’s vow to Kaikeyi. He meets his challenges without hesitation and follows what the Indians name “dharma”, the will of the gods (Brockington, 1984, p. 33) or what the Greeks refer to as fate, a story of life darned out by the Muse (Homer, Iliad, 1950, p. 175). Both epics contain heroes who follow their dharma or fate without question and praise and honor their gods. It is when the heroes anger or disrespect the gods that evil befalls them.
For example, when Odysseus tells king Alcinous how he injured Cyclops and this angered the creature’s father, Poseidon who aided Cyclops as he attacked the ship with hilltop and large boulder causing waves to drive the ship back to shore. (Homer, Odyssey,1950, Book IX, p. 141-2). Or when Rama slays the giant and angers the demon king Ravan, because Rama is vigilant in his respect to the gods, he overcomes the challenges brought before him when his wife is stolen from him. Rama is the example of true dharma and a great hero to the Indian religion of Hindu. Brockington, 1984, p. 8). Odysseus and Rama both face a great journey and banishment. Odysseus takes twenty years to return from the battle of Troy and suffers many hardships along the way that detain him from reaching his homeland for which he desires.
One such suffering be at the hands of Calypso on the Isle Ogygia for seven years where she forced his stay as he had no means by which to depart until Calypso was bade by the gods to sent him adrift on a raft (Homer, Odyssey,1950, Book V, pp. 74-75. Among these misadventures that halted Odysseus’ return, was the Isle of the Lotus-Eaters, where the men ate of the Lotus which made them lose their desire to continue their journey home, and the Sirens who attempted to attract them to their own deaths (Homer, Odyssey, Book IX, p. 128-130). The Odyssey is the story of Odysseus’ journey home once he has befallen these challenges after the War of Troy.
This journey takes more time as he meets hardships mostly set upon him by Poseidon, who “…. saw Odysseus as he sailed over the deep; and he was mightily angered in spirit…. (Homer, Odyssey, Book V, p. 79) and reveals “it must be that the gods at the last have changed their purposes concerning Odysseus…. But methinks that even yet I will drive him far enough in the path of suffering” (Homer, Odyssey, 1950, p. 79). Thus another journey begins and Odysseus is troubled once again, taking a total of twenty years before he reaches his homeland. If not for Athena’s aid and the aid of the other gods, Odysseus would not have been successful. Rama is also taken from his homeland.
On the eve of his preparations to take over the throne for his father, one of his father’s other wives, Queen Kaikeyi , to whom King Dasaratha owes two vows as she had saved his life previously, beseeches the king to throne her son, Bharat and exile Rama for fourteen years to the forest. “These rites in Rama’s name begun Transfer them, and enthrone my son. The time is come to claim at last The double boon of days long-past, When Gods and demons met in fight. And thou wouldst fain my care requite. Now forth to Dandak’s forest drive Thy Rama for nine years and five, And let him dwell a hermit there…. (Griffith, Book II, stz. 11).
With these words Kaikeyi reminds Dasaratha of his promise to her when she saved his life by caring for a fatal wound. She then asks for her son to be throned without challenge from Rama and also that Rama be exiled for fourteen years to live as a hermit in the forest. Kaikeyi only does such a greedy act because her maid Manthara has convinced her that horrible tidings await her future and that of her son if Bharat does not take the throne and Rama is enthroned (Griffith, Book II, stzs. -8). Still, honoring his father’s lamenting bid, Rama departs, ready to make a life anew with his wife and his one half-brother, Lakshmana (Griffith, Book II, stz. 19). As did Odysseus, so did Rama face many sufferings once he left in exile and his journey was not yet over. Sita, his wife, is stolen from him while he is away. Thus Rama, takes on the tasks of allying with the monkey armies to have aid in finding and saving his beloved wife. Then he faces Ravan, the demon king, to save her (Griffith, Book IV, V, VI).
Odysseus’ and Rama’s stories both reveal the importance of a warrior’s weaponry and strength in their respective cultures. When Odysseus returns home, with the deviousness of Athena, he and his son and wife, Telemachus and Penelope, devise a contest to prove his identity so that Odysseus may overtake his kingdom of Ithaca once more. Whosoever can string Odysseus’ prominent bow will have Penelope for his wife and all the kingdom of Odysseus for his own. So does Penelope set the bow and quiver before the wooers.
And one by one they attempt to string Odysseus’ mighty bow. But none can accomplish this feat. Once Telemachus convinces the wooers to let the beggar who is his disguised father attempt the feat, “…. Odysseus straightaway bent the great bow, all without effort, and took it in his right hand and proved the bow string, which rang sweetly at the touch, in tone like a swallow “ (Homer, Odyssey, 1950, Book XXI, p. 336). All at once he revealed his true identity and all was lost to the suitors of his wife.