The relationship between the gods and humanity in The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey are the same. In each saga, the gods seem to live nearby and are always present. Both epic poems portray humans as simply at the mercy of the gods. The gods feel that it is their duty to intervene if they feel that man is traveling off course from his destiny. However, the gods are not all powerful.
Each god has a certain domain and cannot control another gods domain. All the gods including Zeus, the father of the gods, want Odysseus to be able to return home in The Odyssey. However, Poseiden, just one god, prevents Odysseus from returning. It is only when Poseiden is absent from Mt. Olympus that the other gods are able to take control and assist Odysseus in returning home.
Gilgamesh also has the same misconception that the gods are all powerful. After he and Enkidu kill the Bull of Heaven, the gods Anu, Enlil, Ea and Shamash convene and decide that one of the brothers must die for their evil deed. Shamash, Gilgameshs protector, pleads with the other gods to spare his life. The other gods disregard Shamashs appeal and Enkidu dies. In each instance, one god is not able to impose his agenda against the wishes of the other gods.
Enkidus death evokes a disturbing thought in Gilgamesh. He finally realizes that he is mortal. He then goes about trying to find the key to immortality. Gilgamesh first seeks out Utnapishtim, the only human to gain immortality. When Gilgamesh cannot pass the test of staying awake for seven days, Utnapishtim then gives him the plant “Old Men Are Young Again.” Despite this second opportunity, Gilgamesh is not triumphant in his search for immortality because a serpent eats the plant and Gilgameshs opportunity is lost forever. He does not realize that Enlil, the father of the gods, had already determined his destiny. It is clear from the events of the story that Gilgamesh was not to obtain everlasting life and it is no coincidence that all of his efforts fail in one way or another. This is another example of mans lack of control where the gods are concerned
The Odyssey demonstrates how the gods favored certain men over others. When man had the gods “on his side,” he was sure to complete whatever task was at hand. Upon his return home, Odysseus, Eumaios, Philoitios, and Telemakhos are able to kill all the suitors, although there were many suitors and only four of them. This is because Athena favored Odysseus and therefore made it possible for the four men to slaughter the vast number of suitors.
The gods also favored Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh prayed to Shamash for strength and safety when he and Enkidu were to travel in the cedar forest. Gilgamesh is then able to kill Humbaba regardless of the fact that Humbaba is a giant and some type of god. Gilgamesh and Enkidu are only able to slay this giant through the divine intervention of Shamash.
The gods seemed to favor both Gilgamesh and Odysseus because of their semi-godlike characteristics. Gilgamesh is two-thirds god and the King of Uruk. While Odysseus is not formally a god, he does possess the cunning and physique necessary to be a god, along with being the King of Ithaca. Odysseus experiences numerous near-death events, yet always overcomes the ordeals without any harm. He succeeds in blinding the Cyclopes to escape their island; goes to the underworld and back; avoids being killed by the Laistrygonians; protects himself and his men from the Sirens songs; navigates between Scylla and Charybdis; and heeds the advice of Teiresias not to eat Helios cows. The god Shamash also protected Gilgamesh from the Bull of Heaven and Humbaba. This despite the fact that neither Odysseus nor Gilgamesh possess high moral standards. Gilgamesh initially was seducing the women of Uruk and Odysseus raped all the Kikone women, in addition to having numerous affairs with other women while on his adventures. The gods’ relationship then with men seems to be one of interference, yet not judgment. The gods will give their protection to anyone that asks, e.g., makes sacrifices or prays, without making a moral judgment about that person.