Jacob and Odysseus: Their Roles as Heroes

Jacob and Odysseus: Their Roles as Heroes

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Every culture has a hero. Every hero has a legend. Every legend meets that culture's particular needs. The events, settings, and other characters might be different, but the hero is basically the same for all. The universal hero is initially an immoral character, but after overcoming difficult obstacles, he/she eventually becomes a better person. Jacob and Odysseus are such heroes. Both share an obvious characteristic of deceitfulness, but both still have differences, although discreet. They become a hero because they've changed into a better human being.

Jacob's name means "deceiver" and he lives up to his name. His deceitfulness began with stealing his brother's birthright. One day, Esau came in from the fields famished and found Jacob cooking a meal. Jacob offered his half-starved brother, "Give me the birthright and I'll give you some soup." Esau being starved, sold his birthright to Jacob. (Genesis 25: 29-34). Sometime later when Isaac thought he was going to die, he called Esau into his tent and told him to kill an animal and make him some soup. Isaac's wife overheard this and connived a plan with Jacob to deceive Isaac. Jacob disguised himself as Esau and obtained his blind and dying father's blessing (Genesis 27).

Like Jacob, Odysseus connived, manipulated, and deceived. On his journey home from the Trojan War, Odysseus uses his trickster ways to get himself out of trouble. One famous tail was his encounter with the one-eyed Cyclopes Polyphemous. Odysseus and his crew landed on the land of they Cyclopes. They made themselves at home, eating the cheese and goats of the Cyclopes, fully expecting him to be hospitable. Instead, Cyclops began eating then men as though they were animals themselves. Odysseus and his men were trapped in the cave and Polyphemous rolled a stone over the entrance so no one could exit. Odysseus connived a plan and gave the Cyclopes some wine. When he got drunk and passed out, Odysseus poked out the eye of Polyphemous and completely blinds him. Odysseus and his men escape the cave by clinging to the bellies of sheep (Odyssey, Ch. 9). He also disguised himself as a veteran of a Trojan war to Eumaios, a loyal servant, and as a beggar to his wife and son.

Another aspect they share is that both have the attention of their respected God.

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In The Odyssey, Athena continued helps Odysseus out of trouble. Even when he made mistakes, such as angering Poseidon, Athena continued to intervene. God, in Genesis, did the same for Jacob. He made Jacob prosperous while he lived with Laban, even though he stole his brother's birthright. God even went so far as to promise, "I will be with you" (Genesis 31:3). Both found favor in their Gods despite their faults and as a result became new men. Both learned to become dependent on their God.

In spite of their similarities, two differences set them apart. Jacob is known as "a tent dweller." He was not adventurous, nor was he a warrior. He was found cooking, while Odysseus was found fighting. There is also a great difference in how they utilize their deceiving skills. For example, when Odysseus returned home to confront the suitors who took advantage oh his home and family, he disguised himself as a beggar. He got to know the suitors and later avenged their treatment of his property. Jacob, on the other hand when confronted with his brother, he splits his family in two so that he might still have one, if one is destroyed. He then gathers the best of his flock and offers them to his brother as though to appease his anger. Jacob's actions appear cowardly, where Odysseus' are brave.

Jacob and Odysseus were two imperfect heroes of their time. They were deemed as heroes because they realized that their cleverness alone could not overcome difficult situations. Their deceitful character made them believe that they could stand alone, but it was the interference of their gods that brought them safely home. Jacob the tent maker and Odysseus the warrior, learned the importance of listening and obeying the words of their gods.

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