The Odyssey and Rama's Exile

Over the course of history there have been composed lots of unique literary works and music pieces reflecting and singing marvellous exploits of strong in spirit and brave heroes throughout the world. The idea of heroism has always attracted and lured people by its extraodinary nature, and unexplained subtle charm that was lost but desired to be seen in everyday life. People have felt the need of heroes at all times. This is why many human creations are related to the glory of heroism.

Generally, a hero is considered to be above common people. He is invested with special character features and enormous physical power in order to stand against will of gods, fate, people and life circumstances at all hazards. A hero does something that no one else wants to do and, in fact, is just not able to. In such a way, sometimes a hero becomes a kind of superman possessing powers compared to gods' ones even if he is still a human being.

Among numbers of  worthy heroic literary writings there are two of them that could be easily called the most brightest examples of  literary heritage of humanity. These are well-known heroics (epics), such as “The Odyssey” and “Rama's Exile”, also recognized under the name of “Ramayana”. Both of them describe abrupt and critically important decisions and complex actions of main characters that now are perceived as great exploits and have already gone down to posterity.

“The Odyssey” epic written by Homer presents lifelong wanderings of Odysseus, king of Ithaca. He is considered to be one of the most well-known Greek heroes worth attention. According to Homer, Odysseus is a strong and intelligent man who goes through numerous difficulties while he is far away from his kingdom and family. It makes him fearless and ruthless, a real man of nerve being aware of his worth. He never quits and keeps fighting until he wins.

What does really makes him a hero is his enormous physical power (he is an athlete), his superior knowledge (for example, his brilliant idea of creating a Trojan horse), his bravery (fight with Poseidon), his leadership features (he effectively leads his crew through the hardships they all experience), his ability to be nimble depending on particular circumstances, his devotion to home and family through time etc (Homer, 2000). But in spite of his positive features that make him an outstanding hero, his character remains complicated because there is another side of his personality. After a detailed analysis performed, some scholars have made a conclusion that Oddyseus can't be seen as a hero for a score of reasons, and one of them is that he is a lier. Generally, it is not expected from an epic hero to possess such character feature though this is exactly the way Odysseus is.

The same can't be said about the main character Rama of “Rama's Exile”. He significantly differs from Odysseus because his character does not have dark sides. At least, there are none presented in the epic. Rama is a pure example of  a hero with a straight line of behavior and point of view. He is stable and thoughtful. He follows dharma his whole life. His every action is done according to it. This is the most popular consideration why Indians think and perceive Rama as a hero. It is not about his physical power or intelligence, or strong devotion to his beloved wife or highly respected father but about the rules of dharma that were never violated by Rama in his life. Here goes a point that sometimes a hero is not the one who is more stronger or more smarter than others, not the one who gets a victory, or saves someone but the one who does something  in his life that he believes is right and never gives up the chosen way.

Therefore, there is a plain line between heroism of Odysseus and Rama. Their heroic actions that can be found in the epics are driven by different motivating factors. For Rama, this is  life philosophy. He is attached to the rules of dharma, so whatever he does is done according to these rules. For Odysseus, motivating factors are basically his curiosity and his desire to be a leader, to be the first and the best, to be a winner and prove to the whole world that no matter what happens he has a goal and he will achieve it at any cost. This is where the line divides our vision of heroism in two.

Odysseus goes to war leaving his home and family because king Menelaos makes him do this. This decision does not come out easily for him. As the epic tells, at this period of time his son, Telemachos is just born (Homer, 2009). That's why Odysseus does not want to leave his family. But Menelaos manages to persuade him to lead his army to war. It takes him twenty one year to go back home to his beloved wife Penelope and his son Telemachos.

Rama leaves his home and family (his parents only as his wife Sita and his brother decide to accompany him) because it is his father's command. As a perfect son, he does what his father asks him to do without any doubts or questions. Moreover, it is exactly what should be done according to the rules of dharma. This is a banishment for fourteen long years but he accepts it and demonstrates patience. Here is a common feature with Odysseus who waits twenty one year to be back home.

Both of the epic heroes know their strength, and both realize that they are not that strong enough to fight by their own. For example, Odysseus gathers his army for the coming war, and asks gods for help in order to get home; Rama in his turn asks a band of monkeys to help him bring back his wife Sita who is abducted by the ten-headed king of Lanka whose name is Ravana. While wandering by sea, Odysseus and his crew fight many supernatural creatures on their way back home. Rama with his brother fight dark creatures (the rakshasas) while living in forests. This goes to prove bravery and courage of the main characters that are one of the heroic qualities.

Odysseus and Rama are shown as loyal men to their wives. Odysseus stays with Circe for a year and with Calypso for over seven years. Although they are kind to him, he does not forget his wife Penelope and wants to go back home because he truly loves her. Ravana's sister tries to seduce Rama while Sita is not around. But she fails because Rama stays loyal to his wife. Another fact that proves Rama's loyalty and love to Sita is his decision to ask her for a proof of her purity after her abduction by Ravana (Dharma, 2004). Loyalty and love to family through distance and time are highly appreciated by Odysseus as well as by Rama.

Therefore, heroism that is described and glorified in “The Odyssey” and “Rama's Exile” epics is of different nature and can't be interpreted as the one. Basically, a type of the hero that is represented by Odysseus of Homer is seen as a strong intelligent warrior who saves his crew and himself in crucial situations, and stays loyal to his wife for the long twenty one year. All his heroic decisions and actions (many of which are done because of simple curiosity) are an act of resistance to life circumstances. But though Rama  in “Rama's Exile” shows quite the same heroic qualities, he is a different hero type. All his life is based on the dharma rules which can be understood as a specific system to be followed through life. At this point his decisions are an act of acceptance of life circumstances. That's why his heroic actions are done only in terms of dharma that he chose to be led by.

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