Mahabharata is an extraordinary tale that contains a huge amount of wisdom. I am sure everyone remembers being narrated its stories by our grandparents in our childhood, which held the truth as an object of supreme significance. It makes no attempt to mask the truth and rationalize its characters. Almost no person is portrayed as all good or all bad, as opposed to Ramayana, which is based on the life of an idealized character- Ram and his wife Sita. Its simplicity, rationalization, and a bag of lessons it imparts in real life make Mahabharata the favorite bedtime story of all. But do you that many of our Indian mythological stories hold similarities with the Greek stories. Let’s contrast one such story having the same path but born in different eras- Mahabharata and Iliad.
In ancient Greece, stories about gods and goddesses, heroes, and monsters were a significant part of everyday life. It is said to have stemmed from centuries of oral tradition. They gave an explanation for everything, from religious rituals to weather, and attached a meaning to the world people saw around them. In Greek mythology, some of the most well-known works are the epic poems of Homer- Iliad and Odyssey.
In Greek Mythology, the Trojan war serves as the prologue to Homer’s epic poem, Iliad. Thus, the war sets the base for the entire oncoming story. The Trojan war was a war between The Greeks and the residents of Troy. The strife began soon after prince Paris of Troy, abducted Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta, a city in ancient Greece. When Menelaus demanded her return, the Trojans simply refused. Menelaus then convinced his brother, Agamemnon, to lead an army against Troy. He agreed, and troopships gathered at Aulis, an ancient Greek town, which was led by the greatest heroes of Greek Mythology, Achilles, Patroclus, Diomedes, Odysseus, Nestor, and Ajax.
Now, the Greek fleet was becalmed at Aulis, which prevented sailing. Agamemnon was informed that he had to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to appease the goddess Artemis, who had caused the unfavorable weather. He does so, by luring his daughter to Aulis, pretending that she will marry Achilles. For nine years, the Greeks damaged Troy’s surrounding cities, but Trojan was well fortified and commanded by Hector. Finally, the Greeks built a large wooden horse, in which a certain number of warriors were concealed. The other Greeks pretended to have started to sail for home. Despite the warning of Cassandra and Laocoon, the horse was allowed into the city walls. At night, the Greeks returned, some of them crept out of the horse, opened the city gates and Troy was destroyed. The events of the final year of the war, constitute the main part of the Iliad.
The Iliad is a Greek Epic poem that was written between the 6th and 8th centuries BC in ancient Greece. The Mahabharata is an ancient Indian epic poem as well, which dates back to 6th century BC. The fact that they were written in separate countries makes their themes and values so different. However, these differences exist numerous similarities as well.
So first things first, we shall begin with the cause of the start of these two poems. Both of these wars mainly started because of the flawed character of the king or the prince. The Trojan War began because Paris, a prince of Troy, stole King Menelaus’ wife, Helen, and also because of the greed of Agamemnon, a powerful king, and brother of Menelaus. Meanwhile, Mahabharata began because of Duryodhana’s jealousy of the Pandavas; thus, they both contain important moral lessons, the Iliad demonstrates negative consequences of greed and selfishness, of Paris and Agamemnon, while Mahabharata discourages jealousy, a trait of Duryodhana.
In both pieces of literature, considerable importance has been given to prophecies. In Iliad, the prophecy was about Paris, which foresaw him as the cause of the destruction of Troy, while in Mahabharata, it was about Duryodhana, who would bring about the destruction of the entire universe.
The Mahabharata and Iliad, both place a significant amount of importance in religion. Prior to the war, Radheya prays to the sun, while Briseis prays to the Sun god, Apollo. Moreover, in both poems, the gods interact with humans. Both the pieces of literature believe in the existence of multiple gods, which care about humans enough so they concern themselves with human affairs. In both the poems, gods favor certain mortals and protect them. Thus, it is implied that worshipping god and striving to impress them was significant in the lives of ancient Greeks and Indians.
Another surprising similarity is that the Pandavas were sent to the forest for 14 years, similarly, the Trojan war went for nearly 14 years. However, the actual conflict described by Homer in Iliad is only 14 days, just like the war at Kurukshetra went on for 14 days. The Trojan war starts with the reluctance of Achilles, just like Arjuna before the Mahabharata war asks Krishna to take him to the center of the field, and after seeing both the armies’ formation, he refuses to fight.
Another striking similarity is that in the Mahabharata war scene, Sanjayan describes the war scene by scene to the blind king Dhridarashra, using his extraordinary vision; while in Iliad, during the Trojan war, the Trojan king was watching all the events sitting in the fort wall, with his minister narrating him all the events of the war. Ghatotkacha, son of Pandava Bhima, attacked the Kaurava army at night and caused massive destruction. He used fire as his weapon and burned the Kaurava camp. While, Hector attacked the Greek army at night and burned the ship, again using fire as his weapon. Amazingly similar, right?
Now, some similarities between Dhritarashtra and the Trojan king. Dhritarashtra was blind for his wicked son, Duryodhana while the Trojan king was blind for his son, Paris. Dhritarashtra had 100 sons, and the Trojan king had 68 sons and 18 daughters, which equals 86. Again, close enough. Bheeshma is an important character in Mahabharata which cannot be defeated. Krishna had to trick him to kill him. Similarly, Hector was such a character in Greek mythology. He was finally killed by Achilles.
Both stories present women as prizes. When Duryodhana wins Draupadi in the game of dice, he claims her as a slave excitedly. While in the Iliad, captured women were given to soldiers as prizes for their bravery and skills. For instance, Briseis was ‘awarded’ to Achilles during the Trojan War because of his tremendous contributions.
Another interesting similarity between the two epic poems is the friendship between Duryodhana and Radheya, and Achilles and Patroculus. Achilles refused to fight for the Trojans after he was disgraced by King Agamemnon. However, when his close friend, Patroculus is killed by Hector, Achilles’ desire for vengeance overpowers his anger at Agamemnon. Exactly similar was the case between Duryodhana mourning the death of his dearest friend Radheya.
There are just a very handful of factual differences between the two. While the Iliad limits its grandeur to 15000 lines, Mahabharata extends it to 200,000 lines, which is around 8 times as that of the Iliad. The storytelling also marks a significant difference. Homer is a third person, the omnipotent narrator who has access to every character’s mind and actions. The narrative in Mahabharata is complex in comparison, Vyasa himself is both the actor and the writer. Vyasa has written the story but Vaisampayana, a disciple of the rishi, is actually narrating it. The Iliad is efficient and organized. On the other hand, Mahabharata is the amalgamation of various themes, and characters influencing each other. There are various sub-stories in Mahabharata, and the very story of the Pandavas is a sub-story told as a flashback to King Janamjeya.
A woman in the Homeric society was identified through her relations with men, which could be of two types, relationships with her father and husband. The system of dowry holds immense significance in Iliad, as it was a symbol of the persisting relationship between the father and the daughter and it gave a sense of independence to the daughter in her husband’s house. In contrast to Iliad, female characters in Mahabharata were glorified to a great extent and were shown as prominent and individualistic. To demonstrate this, Draupadi, the embodiment of nobility and dignity was always seen voicing her opinions even in the patriarchal society. Whereas Andromache just acts as a faithful wife, who abides by her husband and is not at all shown partially autonomous like Draupadi.
After a long overview, one can say there are a surprisingly great number of similarities between the two epics, and the only differences that arise are mainly because of the long distance between their lands of action, which brings us to contrast between their themes and ideologies. Nonetheless, both of them are epic pieces of literature that have continued to hold pivotal significance in the previous generations and promises to run down their values in the oncoming generations as well.