The most respected and venerated social group in ancient times and middle ages were that of the heroic warriors, knights, and kings. The view of what it is to be a hero is winning honor through combat and in a competitive situation. A hero would be someone who has great fighting skill and would even dare to risk death to have honor. The heroes were the people who would lead their armies or fellow knights into battle and won accolades for their courage displayed on the battlefield.
On the other hand, the cowardly were subjected to strong prejudice.
Their existence was considered a burden on the earth and they were ignored and ridiculed by everyone. This noble characteristic is evident in the Odyssey by Homer and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Both the authors draw different characteristics of what it means to be a hero in different ways. In the Odyssey, mere fighting skill does not necessarily mean that Odysseus was the hero.
Rather, we see a man who is very shrewd and cunning. Although he is a brilliant fighter, he also shows restraint and mercy. On the other hand, Don Quixote was not a born hero like Odysseus.
He is deluded by chivalric ideas of heroism and valor and sets out to reform the world along with his sensible companion Sancho Panza. Both the heroes are from two very different times of the world but both of them tried to conquer the world with their heroic acts. It’s not just their heroic acts that set them as two of the most renowned heroes of all time; it’s also their imagination or ability to conjure things that makes them stand out.
But in comparison, imagination is the key which makes Don Quixote as the hero where imagination just adds a dimension to Odysseus’ character that rules him along with other traits.
Heroes are renowned for their abundance of qualities that enable them to conquer any problem. Odysseus, from The Odyssey, is no different. He represents the heroic ideals of Ancient Greece, and is revered for his perseverance, intelligence, and leadership abilities. Greek heroes were the people who saved people; they were courageous wise and had fighting spirit. But apart from all, all the Greek heroes used to be favored by the divine gods. Odysseus holds almost all the heroic qualities.
But he was not always favored by the good gods in his decade long voyage as stated by The Study Club (1922)- “As a hero, Odysseus, it is true, ranks far below Achilles, but he is a much greater figure – one who can endure without despair, even the disfavor of the gods and can by strength of will and the guidance of reason eventually triumph against unbelievable odds” (p. 115). So, if it was not the help of the gods or if was not only his strength and power, what was it that helps him to survive such a long journey? It was his wit, it was his imaginary that saved in many occasion.
It not only saved him, it also distinguishes him from many other Greek heroes who are remembered for their muscles, not for their brains. Odysseus departure from Troy is the beginning of his long heroic adventure. “What of those years of rough adventure, weathered under Zeus? “(Book 1)- This quote depicts not only the rough times Odysseus will have on his journey, but also reveals that Zeus will watch over him. Odysseus will cross the threshold and go to places from where no one has returned before. On the island of the Cyclops Odysseus exhibits his abilities, as he developed a plan to escape the Cyclops’ cave.
Odysseus has this plan and utilizes it. He and most of his men escape the cave unharmed. This symbolized the escape from the “belly of the whale” (Anthony, 1972). Throughout his journey, Odysseus receives some help from supernatural powers, which aid him to fulfill the heroic voyage. Aeolus, the god of winds Presents Odysseus with a bag, filled with all the bad winds. Although this was a great help to Odysseus, it did not last long. Odysseus also had help from other gods and goddesses. But it was his own skill that helped Odysseus to pass the obstacles one after another. He becomes the first to ever pass the island of the sirens unharmed.
He does not carry away with the lovely seductive songs of the sirens. The men filled their ears with wax and only Odysseus, who was tied to the mast, was able to hear the tempting songs. As they passed the island, Odysseus screamed to be free, but the men would not free him. It was a temptation that Odysseus keeps in check through foresight and imagination. Similarly, when Odysseus and his crews are trapped in the cage of Cyclops, he again uses his intelligence. He realizes that he cannot defeat the one-eyed monster with his sword and muscle. Rather, he opted to wait for the opportune moment and outwit Cyclops.
When asked his name, Odysseus told Polyphemus that his name is “Nobody”. Odysseus feeds the Cyclops some wine, which made him fall asleep. Then Odysseus and his crew took a large burning timber and blinded the Cyclops. After hearing his cries, Polyphemus’s neighbors, other one-eyed monsters come running to the cave. Polyphemus yelled to his neighbors through the stone door, “Nobody is killing me! Nobody has blinded me! ” (Book IX) The neighbors dismissed his cries and return to their own caves. Here, at first when Odyssey disguises himself as “Nobody”, it seems there I no real significance in this.
But finally it comes out as the trick that makes Polyphemus stranded and isolated when other Cyclops thinks that he is just too drunk and went insane. Similar treatment is received by Circe, the sorceress, as Odysseus knew that she is too strong for him and if he does not counter her with his intelligence, he will turn into pigs along with his crews. Therefore, he again waits for the opportune moment and when it is there, he puts his sword on her throat and makes his way out. Again when he returns to Ithaca, he does not just go back to home. He is very much aware that things are not the same as he left them.
There are suitors around here and many of them are ready to kill him and throw him out of his throne. Instead, Odysseus disguised himself as a beggar and starts to gain reliable companions. Finally, when Penelope arranges the contest, suspecting the beggar is none but his long lost husband; Odysseus again proves he is superior to the suitors and kills all of them one by one. And it does not end here since he realized he and his family is still not out of danger as the companions of the dead suitors will look for revenge and finally he triumphs over them as well.
In any other story of epic, the hero would have not taken all this trouble of hide and seek play. They would have rather come straight to confront their opponents and beat them after a fierce battle and triumph. It is the wit, intelligence and the vision that distinguish him from many other epic heroes. In contrast to Odysseus, Don Quixote is not just another epic hero. He is not a youthful and strong knight or warrior who goes to a battle, fight fiercely and conquers them eventually. He is rather a man who has passed the prime of youth and now living in his middle ages.
He has never gone to any battle or knight-errant, neither does he has any prior experience to fight. In Don Quixote’s time, reading was the only entertainment in the home. Most people weren’t very well educated anyway so some could not tell the difference between pretend and reality. That is probably why people who read the bible took it so literally. The clergymen were more educated and knew how to take advantage of the people. People were so afraid of what it had to say; they did whatever it said so they would be doing well (Madariaga, 1928).
Don Quixote did the same thing as those religious people. He believes exactly what he read. Unfortunately for him, those books were outdated; there were no knights in armor anymore. He convinced a less educated man to come with him on his travels. His squire is not as educated but he has good common sense. So, Don Quixote is actually the story of how an ordinary man becomes a hero even with his silly and foolish deeds. In medieval times, knights roamed the countryside of Europe, rescuing people and vanquishing evil lords and enchanters.
This may sound absurd to many people in this time, but what if a person read so many books about these so-called knight-errants that he could not determine the real from that which was read? Such is the case in The Adventures of Don Quixote which takes place sometime in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Don Quixote is not really a don at all. He is a wealthy, intelligent farmer who read too many books about knight-errantry and goes crazy. He convinced a simple-minded peasant named Sancho to become his squire, promising him wealth and a high spot in society.
Together they go for many adventures, both are convinced that they are doing brave and honorable acts of chivalry, when they are only two fools running around the countryside. Interesting part about Don Quixote is that his entire adventure is based upon his imagination. He lives in his own utopia where he sees everything from a great knight’s perspective, though the knights are long gone. He imagines himself as one of the great knights and vows to take the mission to rescue mankind. In his one of his adventures, he comes across a man named Juan Haldudo lashing his shepherd boy and thinks Haldudo is an evil knight.
He challenges the farmer and makes him swear by the code of chivalry that he will pay all the accrued wages of the boy. “Let all the world stand still if all the world does not confess that there is not in all the world a fairer damsel than the Empress of La Mancha, the peerless Dulcinea of El Toboso” – this is his announcement when he see a group of merchants and assumes that they are knights. The merchants think Don is crazed and he receives a beating from them. Again when Don comes across the giant windmills, he imagines them into evil giants.
Despite his squires caution that they are harmless wind machines, he charges and one of the circling vanes knocks him out. When he realizes that these are windmills, he starts to believe that a magician must have turned the giants into windmills to thwart his heroic attack. The entire adventure of Don Quixote is based upon his imagination. He just does not seem to see things straight. Once he even attacks a funeral procession escorting a litter draped in black. He believes the litter holds the body of a wounded or slain knight who was the victim of villainy.
He thinks the inns as castle and the giant turns out to be the innkeeper’s goatskins of wine. After many other eventful adventures, all which are something extravagant according to Don’s illusion, finally he is beaten by a real knight and draws an end to his knight-errand. But he switches from one form to another- he now wants to be a shepherd and wants to live his life under the sky. He begins to think a shepherd’s life is a life that has appeal. Although the adventures of Don Quixote seem very stupid in nature outwardly, there are several factors which bear great value.
Through his imaginary adventures, Don Quixote upholds the moral idealism. Even though he is mad, he realizes that there are eternal, unchanging values that remain valid in a modern, ever-changing world (Bell, 1947). Interestingly, throughout the novel, the character of Don Quixote remains a puzzle. Sometimes even it appears that behind his every mission, he has a vision. “Liberty, Sancho, my friend, is one of the most precious gifts that Heaven has bestowed on mankind” or “Sanity may be madness but the maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should”- this quotes suggests that may be he is deliberately trying to be a fool.
Through his imagination, maybe he is trying to point out the lack of justice that prevails in the society. If we look at the use of imagination in both Odysseus and Don Quixote, we will actually find Don Quixote is the one who is dominated by his imagination a lot more than Odysseus. In fact Don Quixote’s idea of realism seems to be in zero level in comparison to that of Odysseus. Odysseus is a seasoned hero who fought in numerous battles and is knowledgeable enough to know when to use the power of sword and when to use the might of his intelligence. In contrast, Don Quixote seems to be content with his own vision.
He sees the world as he reads them in the book. To him the world is still threatened by the evil people and wicked knights and he must be acted as a savior. In fact, the imagination ruled Don Quixote so much that Sobre (1976) stated Don Quixote is a perfect example of “created reality. ” The character Don Quixote is real, and he lives in a real world, but everything that he sees is exaggerated in his mind. He engages in so many adventures that he is convinced that he is doing brave and honorable acts of chivalry, when he is only a silly man running around the countryside.
Odysseus on the other hand is very unlike Don Quixote and many heroes who seem invincible. They have no life, no feelings, no weaknesses. Odysseus feels pain, frustration and grief but at the same time his family and friends and those relationships and emotions are what make him like every person. He is brave and strong person, who is also very human. And above all it’s his ability to read a situation and use of his imaginative power to sort the best out of it. A large number of his adventures show his cool and calm nature and clear vision that makes him unlike most of the Greek epic heroes.
So, we find here two different characters with two different attitudes to the world. Where Odysseus seems very practical and goal oriented, Don Quixote on the contrary is very much like a child and often seems very bizarre as a hero due to his uncanny behaviors. However, it’s the use of the imagination that actually draws the line of distinction between their heroics. Odysseus lives and conquers in a world where the daemons live along with the evil people and he fights them all with his might and wit. But Don Quixote has actually created a world which does not really exist in reality; it exists only in his dreams.