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The views of life and character traits one should possess to be a role model are not identical in different cultures. Eastern and Western cultures vary in terms of understanding heroism, and Rama and Odysseus illustrate some of these differences. Although the characters have some traits in common, Odysseus is an intelligent hero and “a man of masterful cunning,” whereas Rama is “an ideal man” and embodies virtuous heroism (Homer 21; Rajagopalachari 23).
The things that make Rama a hero and a famous character include his origin and unusual physical characteristics. As one of Dasaratha’s four sons, he is considered “half-Vishnu” since his mother has been given the largest share of sacred food after the Putrakameshti ritual (Rajagopalachari 4). Rama presents one of the key deities of Hinduism and is commonly known as the seventh material appearance of Vishnu on earth, which leaves traces on his appearance and physical abilities. As proof of his divine origin, he is blue-skinned, extremely tall, and has “strong shoulders” and unlimited physical power (Rajagopalachari 10).
For instance, when competing with other men, including famous princes, Ramachandra proves that he is the only person to “lift, bend, and string the bow of Siva” and be able to marry Sita (Rajagopalachari 14). Rama’s enormous power makes him extremely dangerous for any living creature, but he always applies it to achieve good purposes.
Contrary to Odysseus, Rama can be regarded as the embodiment of virtue, saintliness, and righteousness. It is because his decisions are driven by compassion, love, and the purity of the soul, which is not the case of Odysseus. Even though his power enables him to defeat enemies and reach his goals effortlessly, Rama, as a moral leader, has no sordid and malign desires, as well as flaws in terms of dharma or the proper way of living.
Rama’s righteousness finds reflection in his willingness to create harmony and care for animals and people to protect them from evil powers. In the wayang cult, Rama is usually depicted as a “polite, gentle, fair, wise, and protective figure of the universe” (Widijanto et al. 556). Apart from his great deeds, specific positive features that make Rama an ideal man include being “strong, virtuous, brave and lovable and with all other princely qualities” (Rajagopalachari 4). Therefore, Rama’s character is basically a set of positive traits, and it enables him to stay sane and good in any situation.
As the well-known characters in their cultures, both Rama and Odysseus possess the qualities of talented warriors and respect family values. Similarly to Rama, Odysseus belongs to the descendants of Zeus, the king of all gods, and uses a special bow as his favorite weapon (Homer 6). Concerning other similarities, both heroes demonstrate brilliant talents during wars to defeat the scariest enemies and care for their wives.
To some extent, the willingness to reunite with their partners or families encourages both of them to do something remarkable and overcome difficulties. For instance, on his way home, Odysseus is destined to stand multiple trials, such as escaping Polyphemus, the Sirens that lure sailors and bring death, and Scylla and Charybdis (Homer 7). Rama’s great actions include rescuing his beloved Sita from captivity, rejecting Shurpanakha, and defeating Ravana and the rakshasas (Rajagopalachari 84). Thus, he redresses an injustice, destroys the evil empire, and manages to save his family.
Concerning the basic differences that shed light on the peculiar characteristics of India and Europe, Odysseus and Rama use intelligence in dissimilar ways. Odysseus is known as “a man of masterful cunning,” and this hero manages to transform deception into one of the leading martial skills and strategies (Homer 21). Apart from using his natural talents to invent the Trojan horse strategy earlier, “the cunning Odysseus” pretends to be a different person to get himself “a clock and tunic to wear” (Homer 150). In his turn, Rama does not value agility and is more direct and honest in expressing his intentions.
Prior to the battle with Ravana, instead of resorting to a stratagem similar to Odysseus’s horse, Rama supports the decision to build a bridge to get to Ravana’s possessions. Lord Rama does not try to conduct a sudden and unexpected offensive. Instead, he sends him a message saying, “Great sinner, your end is approaching, Rama waits at your fortress gate, ready for battle” (Rajagopalachari 178). Therefore, unlike Odysseus, Rama does not use his intellectual abilities to achieve goals at whatever cost.
Another difference between Odysseus and Rama is their attitudes to family life and the problem of infidelity. Despite being married, Odysseus engages in relationships with other women, including Circe, and lives with her for a year (Homer 116). In contrast, Rama is fully devoted to his wife even when they are separated. He openly rejects other women willing to be with him by saying, “I do not care to live the life of a man with two wives” (Rajagopalachari 84). Therefore, although both heroes love their wives, their attitudes to promiscuity vary greatly.
The mentioned differences shed light on the ideal heroes in Eastern and Western cultures and further the understanding of dissimilarities between India and Europe. Odysseus is not faithful and perfectly honest, whereas Lycaon, another Western hero, cooks his own son to test Zeus’s pansophy. Such examples show that an ideal hero in Western mythology is not obliged to be perfect in terms of commonly accepted moral values. For instance, even though telling lies to achieve particular goals does not belong to appreciated behaviors, the cunning nature of Odysseus does not belittle his accomplishments and success in martial arts.
Odysseus is “excused for overstepping boundaries” since he is still extremely strong and intelligent and outperforms anyone in terms of inventiveness (Planinc 412). Using his example, it is possible to say that an ideal European hero possesses outstanding abilities and is sometimes allowed to deviate from moral norms if the ends sanctify the means. At the same time, judging from Rama’s characteristics and behaviors, a perfect Indian hero presents an unattainable ideal in terms of commitment to principles and moral and spiritual values.
The characteristics of Odysseus and Rama can be used to make suggestions concerning the differences between Europe and India. For instance, Rama’s devotion to his principles, including his and his wife’s purity and loyalty to one another, can characterize India as the country of idealists. At the same time, Western people are stereotypically believed to be giving them pride of place in the utility of actions, their effectiveness, and profitability. Following this logic, the cunningness of Odysseus is not the case of amoralism or a barrier to being glorious and respected, and this person’s disputable actions allow him to succeed and escape traps.
To sum it up, despite similarities between them, Rama and Odysseus represent heroism in quite different ways. Rama, the idealized version of a hero, fights and defeats enemies with his visor raised and does not tend to be flexible and versatile to avoid danger. The heroism of Odysseus is manifested in the way that he applies his unrivaled intellectual abilities and pliantness to achieve great goals and stay unharmed in any circumstances.
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Homer. The Odyssey. Translated by Emile Victor Rieu. The Penguin Group, 2003.
Planinc, Zdravko. “Expel the Barbarian from Your Heart: Intimations of the Cyclops in Euripides’s Hecuba.” Philosophy and Literature, vol. 42, no. 2, 2018, pp. 403-415.
Rajagopalachari, Chakravarti. Ramayana Retold by C. Rajagopalachari. Edited by Jay Mazo, American Gita Society, n.d. Web.
Widijanto, Tjahjono, et al. “Wayang Deconstruction in Recent Indonesian Novels.” Proceedings of the International Seminar on Recent Language, Literature, and Local Cultural Studies (BASA 2018), Atlantis Press, 2018, pp. 553-561.