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Compare/Contrast Greek and Hebrew Culture Heroes in Literature

Marjorie Montenegro

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QUESTION:  Compare/contrast the Greek culture hero revealed in the Iliad and the Odyssey and the Hebrew culture hero developed in the Old Testament readings in our text.  Why in human nature is there room for both manifestations?

ANSWER:  While the Greek culture hero was living and dying by the sword, the Hebrew culture heros rod and staff were comforting him.  The differences in the Greek and Hebrew culture heroes are temperament, values and hubris.  The heroes of the Iliad display valor and physical prowess, while in the Odyssey the fine art of trickery joins with prowess to form the ideal man.  In the Hebrew culture; however, we see the hero as being patient, wise, forbearing and virtuous.  

The Iliad offered two heroes, Achilles and Hector.  Achilles was a young soldier whose victories on the battlefield earned him respect, honors and a short battle scarred life.  The main components of Achilles temperament were anger, as when Brisies was led away from him by Agamemnons men, hubris, shown when he decided he would not fight for Agamemnon having suffered indignities at Agamemnons command, and, of course, fighting prowess, for which he was most noted.  Single handedly Achilles was able to bring down Hector and thus, the walls of Troy.  

Achilles was not the only hero in the Iliad.  Hector, although slightly higher in values, suffered from the same mores of that time.  Battling for prides sake, even when he knew it was time to end the bloodshed, was indicative of the kill or be killed mentality of the soldier.  In the poignant moments between Hector and Andromeche Hector, knowing that he will die and she will suffer much indignity, gives his fathers pride as a reason to continue to battle.

Odysseus of the Odyssey was a different, although not predominantly different, hero.  Here is a man of strength who gets through his epic by demonstrating craftiness.  He rushes from one drama to another with piqued curiosity leading he and his men into one dilemma after another.  When these little mini-dramas occur, it is through trickery that he often finds the egress.  His values are apparent in the stories that he tells, and their obvious exaggeration, and in his willingness to endure the delays in his journey home for the tokens that he would obtain.  He shows the usual viciousness in the way that he handles the men, and more notably the women, when he arrives home at last.

In the New Testament we have a plethora of heroes from which to choose.  For purposes of uniformity the three central heroes that our text presents are Noah, Joseph and Job.  Three men who show unusual degrees of patience and devotion.  

Noah, a true worshipper of the Lord, remained righteous while all around him gave into the temptations of sin.  When commanded that he should build the ark, although held up for ridicule for doing such in the dessert, he unquestionably obeyed.  For forty days and forty nights (or 150 days) he weathered the storm which took all of mankind from the earth.  In following the commands of the Lord, Noah gave humanity a second chance.

Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers.  While being held he had to suffer under the yoke of indignity.  Imprisoned on false charges by a WOMAN, Joseph used his God given gift of dream interpretation in order to gain favor in Pharaohs house through the King's servant.  Afterward, interpreting an extremely troublesome dream, which happened to save all of Israel, he became all powerful.  It was then that he was given the opportunity to forgive his brothers having tested their character.

Job, the great sufferer, what a faithful and loving servant of God.  The Lord had faith in Job, knowing that Job would never turn his back on Him.  Much sorrow befell the house of Job and all of his friends believed it to be caused by the sins of Job.  Whatever plight was visited upon Job, Job stayed faithful in the Lord.  The Lord returned to Job all that he lost for Job proved himself a righteous man.

These are the different men of the Greek and Hebrew culture; valuing different things and living by different standards; nonetheless, there is room enough for both type of hero.  It is the Greek hero who goes out into the world creating paths and fighting causes.  This world, at times, needs defenders who, by strength or wit, can make the difficult happen.  But without men such as those of the Hebrew culture we would soon see the Greek going from hero to barbarian.  The honest, loving, faithful heroes of the Hebrew culture teach through example what goodness and kindness reaps.  Lives must live in a state of balance where, like the Epicureans believed, too much or too little is wrong.  A world of warriors or a world of shepherds create a society that is either void of peace or void of the venturer who brings new worlds, such as this country, into the hands of its people.