The Epic and Tragic Hero in The Odyssey and The Tragedy of Macbeth

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In The Odyssey by Homer and The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare, both are pieces of literature that are popularly talked about today. The Odyssey’s main character, Odysessus, is a brave soldier who faces many challenges on his journey prolonging his trip home, while in Macbeth the downfall of the main character Macbeth involves a power struggle to become the top of the monarch. Odysseus and Macbeth are similar in that they both struggle with keeping their places in society, but they contrast due to the fact that Odysseus is a heroic poem hero and Macbeth is a tragic hero. Both of these important characters let their ambition drive them to reach their overall goals, which in both cases is a tough ride which affects the people surrounding them.

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Odysseus and Macbeth have similar aspirations that consume them to get what they want regardless of whose in the way. In Odysseus’s journey, it worked in his favor as it kept him on the right track to his wife and son, “All hands aboard,Come, clear the beach and no one taste, The Lotus, or you lose your home of home” (Part 1, 52-54). Odysseus’s determination keeps him focused as getting home is the only thing that matters to him. When he lands on Calypso’s Island regardless of the years he spent, Odysseus’s mind was on his goal to eventually travel back to Ithaca. Macbeth has the same drive when his only thought is to forever be king, “We have scorched the snake, not killed it” (3. 2. 13). Macbeth is going through his process of killing one man that has not satisfied his plan to ensure his position as king. It;s Macbeth’s ambition that blindsides him into going on a killing spree of anyone that stands in his way of being king. These men evidently have contrasting goals but its ambition that fuels them to stick to their goals which connects them both.

Odysseus and Macbeth dissimilar because one ends up as an epic hero and the other a tragic hero. Odysseus, an epic hero, supplies his men protection under his wing as he experiences character growth, “My faithful company, Rested on their oars now, peeling off,The wax that I had laid thick on their ears, Then set me free” (Part 2, 59-62). At the beginning of the story, it’s evident that Odysseus’s crew has undying faith in him and would follow him through all the trials and tribulations in this journey. Odysseus and Macbeth are opposites because Odysseus experiences growth in himself while Macbeth falls into the end of despair. Macbeth begins as a good upstanding soldier, but it changes as this different side of him creeps up turning him evil, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/ Clean from my hand?” (2. 2. 60-61). This marks the turing point of Macbeth’s undoing as he carrys out his first murder for the throne. Macbeth doesn’t stop as he’s set on committing these murders only for a power trip. This distinctively separates these characters as one emerges to become a good man and the other plummets to his death because of his lack of clear consciousness.

One could also say that Macbeth’s fall is related to Dante’s Inferno. As Dante becomes gradually closer to God and being morally good. Dante’s character had to get over his immortality by receiving God’s punishment and no longer feeling bad for those in hell. The character Dante at first shows compassion for the dead, but the poem explains that Hell was created as a means of balance. In Macbeth, the character of Macbeth means well but is later convinced by his wife to act according to prophecy, eventually killing the king. The witches in Inferno are also significant as they mention earlier that Dante has “lost the path that does not stray” (Inferno, Canto I, line 3) or has become sinful, or bad. Though, this changes for him after Dante’s morality is overturned for the better and in Macbeth the supernatural beings influence Macbeth and corrupt him resulting in him becoming evil. He moves increasingly farther from God and moral rightness, the opposite of what Dante goes through in his journey. Macbeth starts off as a loyal noble man who wants to serve under the King, but changes his perspective and becomes a traitor to the person he looked up to which, in terms of the Inferno, it would situate him in the ninth circle of Hell, beside Lucifer, Judas and Cassius. Meanwhile, Dante is given the chance to change and becomes closer to God by traveling through Hell. He ultimately sees the purpose of Hell, stops feeling for the souls of the damned and goes about condemning them. It shows that Dante is getting that shot to find his faith in God and get closer to him, not looking good for Macbeth who completely lost his faith and lost his communion with God.

In accordance to the people around Odysseus and Macbeth, their decisions heavily affect the people around them. Their goals that drive them to make their decisions and their importance to their people is important. Odysseus, a king and a soldier, is a strong figure that the people of Ithaca look up to, “Odysseus my lord among the rest./ If he returned, if he were here to care for me,/ I might be happily renowned!” (Part 3, 116-118). In this, Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, is expressing her admiration for this hero of the Trojan War and king of Ithaca that is a prominent individual. As is Macbeth, both are strongly praised and important over their people. Before Macbeth’s inevitable end, he kills the Thane of Cawdor in a courageous standoff, “What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won” (1. 2. 67). Macbeth, the king of Scotland starts off as a brave and valiant soldier. Among all he’s not the best, but carries some authority. Both Macbeth and Odyessus, men that rely heavily on their standings in society affect people around them as well as their self esteem that they cannot think about. The heroic acts they perform for their people fuel the men they are throughout the story.

In conclusion, although Odysseus is an epic hero and Macbeth is a tragic hero, Common traits of a tragic hero coincide with an epic hero as they are both larger than life and embody the values of individuals in society. Though Odysessus is braver and stronger, I think the will of man will be the driving force in people that make Macbeth so human. In this case it was done for the sake of their own self interest as they are on a search for their own merit or for the people.  

07 April 2022

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