Check a list of useful topics on Heroism selected by experts
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Heroism in Different Cultures
In the year 2020, narratives from ancient societies are just as important nowadays as the times they were written. Fascinating tales of heroes like Gilgamesh and Oedipus date back to thousands of years ago. The epics of these powerful figures detail historic events of each of their lives. These heroes exemplify honor, nobility, and bravery relevant to their time and culture. The characters Sundiata and Odysseus from “Odyssey” and “Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali” share qualities and have differences which elucidate the culture of which they are from.
“Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali” is the legend of Sundiata Keita, an influential leader in the 13th century of Mali, West Africa. Mamoudou Kouyaté, a respected griot, is the narrator of the tale. He expresses that Sundiata’s fate for greatness was prophesied, as a soothsayer predicted his reign as Mansa— king of kings (Definitions for Mansa)— of the Malian Empire (5-6). Sundiata, or Mari Djata as he was known as, was an intelligent, but handicapped “lion child”. However, he overcame his physical disadvantage, and persevered through exile, familial death, and uncertainty of his destiny. Despite his many accomplishments (e.g., redeeming Mali from the Sosso king) Sundiata exhibits many respectable traits that contribute to his heroism.
Sundiata displays kindness, generosity, and bravery in several events noted in the epic. On pages 25 and 26 of “Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali,” he forgives the nine witches Sassouma— his late father’s hostile first wife— sends to kill him, and gives each of them nine of the ten elephants he hunted that day. He demonstrates bravery by gathering an army for the purpose of reclaiming Mali, and his promises the reclamation by saying:
“I salute you all, sons of Mali, and I salute you, Kamandjan. I have come back, and as long as I breathe Mali will never be in thrall— rather death than slavery. We will live free because our ancestors lived free. I am going to avenge the indignity that Mali has undergone.”
Sundiata is a true king in the eyes of the Malian people. He is a respectful, compassionate, and selfless leader, and his virtues align with the culture of ancient Mali.
“Odyssey” is an acclaimed account by the notable Greek author Homer. The epic describes the lengthy journey home of the king of Ithaca, Odysseus, after the Trojan War. Odysseus boasts and tells amusing stories of his protracted adventure from visiting the island of Helios— the Greek Sun God— to a year long sexual affair with the beautiful sorceress Circe. Odysseus has obvious flaws, like his imperious arrogance; nonetheless, he is a beloved hero to the people of Ithaca.
Odysseus discloses stories that portray him as being an overly confident, conniving troublemaker; yet he is also logical and courageous enough to get out of that same trouble. He also yearns for knowledge, even disobeying rules to do. As the epic continues, he begins to display more positive heroic qualities that can be attributed to maturity. Scenes in book 9 and 11 of “Odyssey” are exemplary of how Odysseus shows growth in wisdom and self discipline. In book 9, he demonstrates self control by resisting the urge of revealing his name to the Cyclops. In book 11, prophet Tiresias reveals Odysseus’s fate, and says to him that in order to return home he should, “… have the power to curb their wild desire and curb your own… Leave the beasts unharmed, your mind set on home, and you may still reach Ithaca…” (Lines 125-126). Odysseus takes head to Tiresias’s foresight, and he is obedient and restrains himself from eating the cattle.
Odysseus has remarkable hubris, but he is intelligent and resilient. Since he won the Trojan War, his reputation as hero never ceased because of his flaws. The people of Ithaca saw an immaculate leader, and the gods saw a witty, courageous mortal. Sundiata and Odysseus had favorable characteristics, and their respective cultures contributed to their heroism.
Comparison and Contrast
The oral compositions of Sundiata and Odysseus narrate likeable qualities that earned the heroes respect by their people. Although from different cultures, Sundiata and Odysseus have similar morals. Foremost, predetermination is an important theme in both epics that is displayed in the characters and their cultures. Predetermination is the idea that one’s fate is predetermined by a god (Definitions of predetermination). His or her destiny must and will be fulfilled regardless of any circumstance. As mentioned previously, Sundiata’s destiny to be “more mighty than Alexander the Great,” was foretold by the soothsayer. In the “Odyssey,” Odysseus’ destiny is to return to Ithaca alone after a long, treacherous journey. Zeus declares his destiny; and although Odysseus May defy the gods, he believes in their power.
Another outstanding similarity between Sundiata and Odysseus is the supernaturalism in the epics. Mali is portrayed to be a world where unnatural beings like witches and sorcerers execute supernatural tasks (e.g., communicating through animals), and human beings sometimes have the power to do so as well. For example, Sundiata was crippled until the age of seven. On the day he began to walk, he proceeded to tear a giant baobab tree from the roots, carried it on his back, and placed it in front of his hut (20-22). Soothsayers, dreams, and prophecies imperative to the Malina culture, and the belief in such phenomena continues the civilization. The “Odyssey” is a world where gods are incompatible to humans, but the humans interact with the gods as if they are equals.
Lastly, Sundiata and Odysseus differ in their romanticism. Sundiata is negligent from any romantic aspect of life, almost disregarding his marriage. However, Odysseus is a promiscuous man, and had relations with many women, including the nymph Calypso.
The “Odyssey” and “Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali” are remarkable epics that feature respected heroes from Greek and West African cultures. Heroism is crucial in a society because of the values it represents. Historical epics are as important nowadays because of the insight they give into the times and progression of ancient civilizations. Sundiata and Odysseus are leaders with different values relative to their respective cultures and beliefs. However, the qualities they share supersede any discrepancies between the two.