"Literary Techniques in The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey"

A number of similarities of literary techniques can be seen between “The Odyssey” and “Gilgamesh”. Each of these stories is a journey of manhood, which through the use of various literal vehicles transmit the values of their respective societies. Not only is the way that the stories are told similar, but the content of the two stories is alike as well. Both ancient texts make use of many of the same stylistic and literary devices. One way that they are similar is in the form of the story. Both stories are narrative poems about an epic journey. These two stories make heavy use of a story telling trick called the flashback, which is still widely used today. The texts also use repetition which is generally limited to oral stories. Both epics are brimming with excellent examples of imagery and themes.

The structure of these two ancient stories is called a narrative poem. The narrative poem tells a story or presents a narrative in a style that is very flexible. This type of literary structure allows for a complex or simple poem that can be long or short. Told orally, narrative poems are passed on to the next generation by the constant telling and retelling of the story. Children in the society grow up hearing the story as a tradition. They then pass these stories on to their children. These two poems have many religious overtones and lead us to believe that they could have been an important part of secular traditions in their respective time periods. There are many types of narrative poems, one specific form that both of these texts happen to take is that of the Epic.

An Epic by definition is a long narrative poem that celebrates the great deeds of one or more legendary heroes. There are three main characteristics that apply to an Epic. The action must take place over fantastic geographies and have exotic characters. There must be exhausting quests and difficult journeys. And there must also be battles of heroic proportions against monsters, supernatural beings and forces of nature. Both “The Odyssey” and “The Epic of Gilgamesh” are stories in the form of an Epic journey. The Hero in both of these stories is on a quest littered with encounters with Gods and other monsters. Long journeys over land and sea to far away places that no one has ever seen.

Another technique used in these two stories is the flashback. This phenomenon occurs when a change in place in the story also incurs a change in time. The resulting twisting of the chain of events adds intricacy and more depth to the story. When this technique is used it gives the audience the power of time travel allowing them to view events at events out of their given time frame. Flashbacks help to make the story more interesting and help to draw the reader into the story. They are often used to give the reader a better view on the overall picture of the story. Vital information about characters and elements of the story are revealed to the reader through the use of flashbacks.

For example, in “Gilgamesh”, the Story of the Flood is told in the form of a flashback. In this case the story is used to explain parts of the plot and to pull the reader deeper into the story. Another use of flashback can be seen when Enkidu relates to Gilgamesh his dream that foretells his own death. In this case it is used as a plot device to foreshadow Enkidu’s death. Generally they are used to try and provoke a deeper emotional response to the story. Homer also makes use of this device in “The Odyssey”. A great example of this is in book three when King Nestor retells the story of the Trojan War. This particular flashback gives us insight onto the kinds of man that Odysseus is. This technique is also used to tell the story of Odysseus’s adventures as he battled his way home through various obstacles and adventures.

Both stories make extensive use of this technique. Repetition is used to emphasize epithets, similes, and speeches. Another reason for this is that repetition makes the telling of the story orally much easier. By only having one description for items in the story it really cuts down on the amount of things that need to be memorized by whoever is telling the story. It also lends itself to a formulaic style that helps the teller of the story perform it or adlib on the spot.

The use of repetition also helps add to the spellbinding effect of the story. Repeating certain things over and over causes the listeners to recognize the repetition. When this happens their minds begin to wander leaving their imaginations open to suggestion, which leads to interesting implications regarding the purpose of these texts. It also helps to draw a mental picture for the reader as the follow passage from “The Epic of Gilgamesh” illustrates:

“After two leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him. After three leagues the darkness was thick, and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him. At the end of five leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him. At the end of six leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him. When he had gone seven leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him. When he had gone eight leagues Gilgamesh gave a great cry, for the darkness was thick and he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.”

This passage gives us a description of Gilgamesh's journey into the twelve leagues of darkness and shows us at the same time. Another example of the repetition of the exact phrasing is when the youth tells his father about sighting Enkidu then runs of to find Gilgamesh and tells him what the youth told his father word for word.

“The Odyssey” makes use of similar passages but the main type of repetition used by Homer is in the descriptions and use of images in the text. For example Pallas Athena is always referenced in the text along with her eyes. She is usually referred to as the bright eyed goddess or the clear eyed goddess. In one passage her eyes change color. In this case repetition is used to highlight a specific point that Homer is trying to make about Athena. Perhaps that she sees things clearly where others are blind or confused such as our wily hero Odysseus.

There are many types of imagery that can be used in literature. There is extensive use of imagery in the descriptions used by the narrator. Not only do these descriptions evoke vivid imagery but they are put into terms of the current time period and society that the stories were written in. The use of these devices allows the story to relate to its listeners and provide a deeper connection

“The Odyssey” makes use of violent imagery to portray one of it’s themes of vengeance. The descriptions given of some of the battle scenes with the Cyclops and later when Odysseus returns are very vivid and gruesome. This startling imagery really catches the audience’s attention and is a great vehicle for the theme of vengeance.

In “The Epic of Gilgamesh” the Imagery of the Forest is very important. Our two heroes, Gilgamesh and Enkidu must pass through this intimidating and dangerous forest to validate their heroism and slay the monster Humbaba. This imagery could represent several different things. Often forest imagery is used to represent danger. In this case it probably represents the heroes’ dangerous rite of passage.

This rite of passage theme can also be seen in several places of the Odyssey. Telemachus must expunge the vile suitors from his home and this serves as his rite of passage into manhood. The other half of the story is about Odysseus trying to return home. All that challenges that he must face on his journey homeward are part of his rite of passage.

The similarities of literary techniques between “The Odyssey” and “Gilgamesh” are evident. Both stories make use of an epic journey of manhood, to tell a story about a hero and his adventures in exotic lands. The way that the stories are told is also very similar. They both make use of the same stylistic and literary devices of repetition and flashback. It’s almost as if the stories were part of the same basic structure with just the content changed around to make a new story.

Noding my homework. I don't know what kind of grade I got.

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