A Good Leader: Odysseus and Gilgamesh Essay
Strength, determination and dedication are a few examples of characteristics, which a leader should possess. Characteristics of a good leader may vary in the eye of the beholder, however, I believe that overall there are a few qualities that are critically important. Throughout a person’s life, the experiences they endure shape them and build them into an individual. Like the lugals in Mesopotamia, it is a leaders obligation to protect and serve. In the Mycenaean civilization the Wanax stood at the top of their social ladder.
In the Odyssey, Odysseus would be a Wanax because he owned an independent walled kingdom or palace. Both Odysseus and Gilgamesh were looked up to as leaders. When asked if they were successful leaders, I was a bit stuck. After some thought, though, I came to the conclusion that I believe both Odysseus and Gilgamesh were successful leaders. They were not always successful leaders, but their adventures and experiences molded them into reliable men. Our first glance of Odysseus is when Telemakhos speaks of him to Athena. (Odyssey 8-9).
He explains that he would rather have a father who is happy and growing old in his house rather than one with a mysterious and dangerous life. This is the first example of why I believe Odysseus started out as a bad leader. Although he was off fighting, against his wishes, he lost contact with the people he cared about the most, and fell off the radar. I believe that, as a leader, he should have been able to somehow get into contact with his family and inform them that he was okay. When comparing our first impression of Gilgamesh to Odysseus, we see someone who is extremely different.
Odysseus had a loving family and a loyal wife. In contrast, Gilgamesh was selfish and achieved the glory he thought he deserved. He was on the hunt for immortality and in doing so, abandoned his city or Uruk to travel with his friend Enkidu. A successful leader should never abandon his or her people. One example that contrasts Odysseus’ quality of leadership can be seen by looking at his crew. None of his members survived. A successful leader should always lead, protect and receive respect from their crew and in many ways the members of his crew were disobedient.
When Odysseus and his crew traveled to the island of Helios he distinctively said to his men not to touch the cattle (Odyssey 219-220). When Odysseus fell into a sleep, Eurylokhos, Odysseus’ main member of the crew, convinced the men to kill one of the cattle for food (Odyssey 221). Disobedience shows disrespect, and when the members of your crew do not listen to what you say it shows that they do not take you seriously. A second example showing how Odysseus could not control his crew is the bag of wind (Odyssey 166).
I believe that if you are a successful leader, you should be able to control all of your people, namely your crew. Although Gilgamesh does not have a crew, he proves that he lacks the characteristics of a good leader in a few instances. Gilgamesh and Enkidu steal trees from the cedar forest, which is forbidden to mortals. This is prime example of how Gilgamesh does not care about anyone else but himself. He is disrespecting the Gods by entering the forest and going even further by cutting down the trees.
During this endeavor they also kill Huwawa, the monster that guards the forest. At first Gilgamesh flees when he first sees the face of Huwawa (Gilgamesh 26). Gilgamesh fleeing from the face of the demon shows that he was afraid, and no leader should ever be afraid and show it. Another example of Gilgamesh lacking the qualities of a leader is when he kills the Bull of Heaven. The goddess Ishtar was in love with Gilgamesh and wanted to be with him; when she asks him to be her husband he rejects her and she goes straight to her father and mother, Anu and Antum (Gilgamesh 29-32).
Ishtar has her father send the Bull of Heaven down to kill Gilgamesh, however Enkidu and Gilgamesh conquer the Bull of Heaven and kill it. The council of Gods were enraged and demand that Enkidu must die in order to pay for the deaths of both Huwawa and the Bull (Gilgamesh 37-38). Betraying the Gods enough for them to wish death upon Enkidu shows that Gilgamesh was certainly not being a respectful mortal, let alone leader. Odysseus was a very sneaky and cunning man. He was able to defeat many monsters by out-smarting them.
This was not always the best way to go about achieving victory. Odysseus came upon the Kyklops while on his journey with his crew. They were stuck in his cave, and he thought of a sneaky plan to get away. Odysseus and his crew took a large pole and poked the Kyklops in the eye. Right before they did this, however, Odysseus told the Kyklops that his name was Nohbdy. When the kyklops ran out of his cave bellowing in pain his fellow Kyklops’ asked who did this to him. “Nohbdy, Nohbdy’s tricked me, Nohbdys’s ruined me” (Odyssey 157) was the Kyklops’ reply.
This was extremely smart and cunning, and Odysseus would have been able to get away safe and sound. The unfortunate part occurred when Odysseus decides to brag his victory and announce his real name to the Kyklops. A leader should not feel the need to brag about victories that he or she has earned. Every leader knows that they are capable of defeat, and bragging is never something that a successful leader should do. As you can see there are several examples proving that Gilgamesh and Odysseus were not successful leaders from the start and throughout their journeys.
The realization comes at the end of both novels where I believe the leaders made a change in their path for the better. When Odysseus and Telemakhos meet up they know that they must now defeat the suitors and gain the palace back as their own. Odysseus was disguised as a beggar so that he was able to go into the palace and get ready for the defeat of the suitors. You could already tell that he was starting to change when one of the suitors insulted him on being a beggar, and not being worthy. Normally Odysseus might have revealed whom he really was in order to prove his excellence, however he did not seem phased by it.
From there Telemakhos and Odysseus defeated all of the suitors and claimed that palace, as it should be. Odysseus was back where he belonged, and ready to rule his people like he should have been doing from the start. Gilgamesh on the other hand was searching not for his way home, but for immortality. After Gilgamesh’s long journey he comes to the realization that death is inevitable. He learned from his talk with Utnapishtim that immortality cannot be earned when you are trying to get it. In his case, Utnapishtim was not looking for immortality when he built that ark.
He was building the ark because he was told to and immortality was awarded to him as a reward. Death is something that cannot be avoided, and that he should just learn to accept that. Gilgamesh then finally realized what he had done to his people. Because he was so wrapped up in the glory, fame, and immortality he was trying to reach he gave up on something that was a part of him. Gilgamesh knew at that moment that he needed to travel back to Uruk and rule his people the way that they deserved to be ruled. In my opinion I believe that the end of both men’s journeys is the most important part.
Yes, they were definitely not successful leaders for most of the story however the realizations at the end meant the most. When they realized that they let their people down they knew they needed to change. It shows that they will be there for them from now on, and be the best leaders they can be. I also believe that with the obstacles they over came along the way lessons were learned. Every champion athlete has to over come bad competitions, injuries, and bumps in the road in order for them to be at the top of the podium, and a successful leader has to do the exact same thing.