Religious Studies Paper on A comparison of Moses and Odysseus

Nearly all cultures throughout human history have had stories of heroes at the axis. As narrated by Hall, each dissimilar type of culture or religion has their own hero, each one being different in his/her own legendary status (324). Nevertheless, this premise is debatable considering that, in some ways, heroes may share some similarities, which therefore, allows them the title of hero in their own rights. For instance, Moses was given the task of leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt while Odysseus was called to his duty after the Trojan War began. Each of the aforementioned characters was different in their own cultures; however, they both served the same purpose of freeing their people from captivity. In order to test Hall’s premise on heroes, there is a need for a more in-depth analysis of the comparison of two heroes (Moses and Odysseus).

A Similarity between Moses and Odysseus

Imperfection. It is a common misconception that heroes are perfect or ‘good people; particularly as portrayed by the media. However, this is not always the case because there exists many a heroes who live the life of imperfect characters and later go through a quest, which leads them through a personal alteration into legendary heroes to their audiences. Although Greek culture is dissimilar to Hebrew traditions, their heroes share the trait of imperfection. As indicated by Klapp, the universal profile of heroes is that they seldom commit crimes, tell lies, or unlike the ordinary person, they do not fight with questionable moral actions (135). This was not the case for either Moses or Odysseus. For instance, although Odysseus was married to a faithful Penelope, he constantly had affairs and raped different women. Additionally, he pillaged, looted, and burned villages, actions that were hardly suitable for an individual who is considered a hero. Similarly, Moses also committed murder after he killed an Egyptian who was pestering a Jew (New International Version, Exodus. 45). These actions do not tarnish their image; however, they can be argued as unavoidable but necessary for the development of their characters. In the case of Moses, his murder served as a metaphor for his destiny in his quest to save the Jews. According to most ethologists, God gave Moses a task; he did not make it his own quest to lead the Jews out of Egypt. Odysseus in a similar fashion received a divine message from the goddess Athena. From the information provided, it can be argued that the two characters highlight significant imperfection as heroes through their heinous acts; however, their images remain intact because these acts were necessary for the development of their characters as heroes.

Other than their heinous acts, both Moses and Odysseus highlight their imperfection traits through their journey to heroism. As indicated by Klapp, regardless of the adversity they face, heroes are always destined for greatness and this was the case for both Moses and Odysseus (137). Odysseus’ journey had to end before him being the hero. On the other hand, the Jewish salivation from the land they were slaves only came after Moses went through challenges of leadership and identity. Odysseus was forced to fight Poseidon, his own people, as well as himself in his path to becoming a hero. Moses battled a Pharaoh, , himself as well as his fellow Israelite people during his long journey through the wildernes to the Promised Land.  Each of the characters had specific limitations that in a way interfered with them meeting their ordained missions. Both characters were pushed to their edges before they became heroes; their imperfection led to personal transformation that led to them becoming greater than their past personas. Nevertheless, imperfection was one aspect that was similar to both Moses and Odysseus gaining a hero status.

Differences between Moses and Odysseus

Selfless vs Selfish. Selflessness and sacrifice are always considered as heroic acts; nevertheless, Moses seemed more of a selfless hero than Odysseus. From the story of Odysseus, it is clear that he did not display much caution when it came to protecting his men considering he completes his journey alone. He allowed his ego to control him because although he tried to save his men from the cyclops, they ought not to have been in the predicament in the first place. His gloating led to Poseidon’s curse, a factor that significantly contributed to their deaths. On the other hand, Moses saw the plight of his people as his own even when the Egyptians hosted him as one of their own. He sacrifices his life for a promise that he himself did not witness. Throughout the journey from Egypt, Moses was the voice of his people to God and sought to protect everyone that was under his leadership.

Master and Servant. The major dissimilarity between Moses and Odysseus is primarily contextual in regards to their own definitions of heroes. As indicated by Klapp, universal heroes would exist in any culture, at any timeline, or context (137). Nevertheless, this is not the case for both Moses and Odysseus as none of them would have been accepted or become heroes if they lived in each other’s society or time. The reason for this premise stems from the fact that both cultures depict their heroes as an ideal realized through the personification of themselves. The Greeks are known to live in a firmly established home state; subsequently, their ideal society is one that resists foreign invasions and had increased emphasis on domestic affairs. Therefore, an adventure such as that of Odysseus was needed. According to the Iliad, Odysseus never intended to travel to Troy; nevertheless, he struggled with wishes to have his own adventure before he finally returned to avert a civil war from do away with his home state. Odysseus’ story is the story of the Greeks. On the other hand, the nomadic Culture of the Hebrews, a community that constantly overcame oppression and sleeked, would not have had Odysseus as a hero. Moses’ story is the Jews’ story. The specifics of the hero’s purpose may change according to their culture, but the role he/she plays for the people is the same. From the information provided, Moses was a slave to his people while Odysseus was a master.

Heroes from different eras, cultures, and religions may be different but this does not mean that they do not share particular similarities. Moses and Odysseus were from different cultures and were considered heroes in their own accord. Nevertheless, they shared a similarity on their imperfections as both were murderers. They had great dissimilarities though, for instance, Moses was more compassionate to his people and was a slave to the cause; on the other hand, Odysseus was a master and less cautious of his men due to his ego.


Works Cited

Hall, Stuart. “The Spectacle of the Other.” Discourse Theory and Practice: A Reader (2001): 324-344.

Klapp, Orrin E. “The Creation of Popular Heroes.” American Journal of Sociology 54.2 (1948): 135-137.

New International Version. Bible Gateway, Accessed 12 Jan. 2019.