A Comparison of Kings-Odysseus vs. Dusyanta
Even though Homer’s The Odyssey (eighth century B.C.) and Kalidasa’s Sakuntala (fourth century A.D.) were written more than twelve centuries a part, many similarities can be found in the roles that the rulers in each play. The stories not only reflect the values of the cultures and times, but they also give a glimpse into the public and private lives of the nobility. Based on the vivid descriptions of their interactions with others and private thoughts, insight is gained into the responsibilities and obligations of each. These responsibilities are most apparent in the main ‘rulers’ of each story–Odysseus from The Odyssey and Dusyanta from Sakuntala. Although the men are put into extremely different circumstances in their respective stories, several similarities in their roles as leaders are apparent. These include helping and protecting others, being just and delivering justice, and ensuring the future of the ruling family.
Both men are portrayed as protectors in times of crises. They are looked upon for protection and help when others are in need. This is seen in Book X when Odysseus and his men land on Aiaia. They had just escaped destruction by the Laistrygonians when they made landfall here and are “worn out and sick at heart, tasting [their] grief” (153). Odysseus knows that he must take care of his men, so he decides to leave the ship and find food. It is interesting here that the crew sits on the beach for two days and none of the men make an effort to find food themselves. Instead, they wait helplessly for their captain to bring food to them. Shortly after replenishing their morale and sending a platoon to explore, Eurylokhos comes running in terror to explain that Kirke had captured the men. At this point Odysseus transitions from being a passive leader to an active one. Feeling responsible for his men, he immediately arms himself and says to Eurylokhos, “Let me go, / as I see nothing for it but to go” (290-1). When he returns to the ship after defeating Kirke, his men begin crying as if they have in sight what they want most-their homeland. They are so pitiful that they are compared in a simile to “calves in tumult, / breaking through to cluster about mothers” (446-7). In this comparison the vulnerability and dependence of the men on Odysseus is quite evident. It seems that without their protector and leader they are helpless.
Dusyanta is also called upon for protection in several instances when others are threatened. Three times he is called to ward off demons and spirits, and at least twice he is referred to as the protector of people and the land. Whereas Odysseus is seen more as a warrior-provider while at sea, Dusyanta’s condition is that of a warrior-religious leader. When there is a threat of evil, he is expected to intervene and ensure peace. This role is evident in Act II when the two boys bring the news that “Demons are taking advantage of Sage Kanva’s absence” (207), and tell him that he must go and protect the hermitage for a few days. Since the hermitage is under his protection, as is pointed out by Priyamvada and Anasuya, he obliges willingly. Apparently, the absence of good-Sage Kanva-is like a door open to the forces of evil. Since Dusyanta is king and is seen as the most god-like (good) human, a request for his service and not another sage’s is appropriate.
The Buffoon and Indra request Dusyanta’s help in similar situations. Although Dusyanta is only having a joke played on him by Matali, Marica’s charioteer, he acts as though he is being threatened himself. When the Buffoon calls desperately for his help, the king comes quickly armed with his bow. The fact that the Doorkeeper and the Buffoon both rely on Dusyanta for help reinforces his role as being the protector of others. After the Buffoon is released, Matali reveals himself and surprisingly bears the message that Indra, king of the gods, also requests Dasyunta’s protection. He says that “There is an army of demons descended from one-hundred- / headed Kalanemi, known to be invincible ” (491-2). Seemingly impossible, even the demons, which are invulnerable to Indra, can be defeated by Dusyanta. For a mortal such as the king, being asked by the gods for help is the greatest confirmation of one’s role as protector.
As with any authority figure or person who is in charge of affairs, protection is only one responsibility of many. Another important job of the ruler is to be just and deliver justice to those who do wrong. For Odysseus, the suitors wreaking havoc in his home and his female servants betraying him are the ultimate wrongs. Undoubtedly, many would not have questioned him if he killed them all on his homecoming day. Instead, in both cases-with the female servants and the suitors-he makes an effort to be just and deliver punishment only to those who deserve it.
In Book XVII of the Odyssey, Athena suggests to Odysseus a way to find out who is good and bad among the suitors. She says, “Yes, try the suitors. / You may collect a few more loaves, and learn / who are the decent lads, and who are vicious- / although not one can be excused from death” (417-20). Although he had a choice as do this or to take revenge on all, he decides in his own heart to give each a chance. He takes similar action with the female servants when he says to Eurykleia, “tell me of the women, / those who dishonored me, and the innocent” (435-6). Again he is justified in taking all of their lives, but instead decides to punish only the women who “respected no one, good or bad” (333-4). In both cases, when the guilty suitors and servants have been found out, Odysseus, as the deliverer of justice, ensures in the final hour that they are slaughtered.
Dasyunta takes on a similar role in Sakuntala, only here the circumstances are different. Rather than dealing with people who betray him, Dasyunta is portrayed as a king who is responsible for justice and who, like Odysseus, wants to do the right thing. This is seen in his encounter with Sakuntala in Act V, and his dealings with the fisherman in Act VI.
When Sakuntala comes to the palace with her escorts, Dusyanta, doesn’t remember her and is not sure how to handle the situation. He is in awe of her beauty, yet he also sees that she is pregnant and does not want to show interest in another man’s wife. His hesitation spurs the doorkeeper to comment, “Our king has a strong sense of justice. Who else would / hesitate when beauty like this is handed to him” (180-1). In this situation, the king’s “sense of justice” is a reflection upon his morality and religious beliefs. Even though polygamy is accepted in the Indian culture at this time, it is a sin to be “tainted by another man’s [wife]” (294). Therefore, instead of rejecting Sakuntala outright, Dusyanta justly allows her to stay in his house until proof that the child is his can be found.
The visit by the policemen and the captured fisherman reflect on another side of Dusyanta’s role in justice. Until the visit, Dusyanta’s character has been limited to that of a lovesick ruler who takes hunting trips for leisure. At this point he becomes a man who must also deal with the criminals in society and decide their fate. Evidence for this is found when the Magistrate says to the policemen, “I’ll report / to the king how we found the ring, [and] get his orders” (28-29). In saying that they must get orders from the king, Dusyanta’s job as a ‘judge’ is confirmed to the reader. When they do get his orders, they are surprised to find that instead of punishing the fisherman, the king rewards him. Even though the reward is for helping the king to remember his lover, Sakuntala; the scene adequately conveys to the reader his part in the justice system.
A final point of comparison between the two men is that both must secure the future of the ruling family. In The Odyssey, the problem lies in the fact that although Odysseus has produced an able leader before leaving for Troy, it is uncertain whether or not Telemakhos will be his successor. In response to a comment from Eurymakhos about taking the throne, Telemakhos admits:
there are eligible men enough,
heaven knows, [ ]
and one of them perhaps may come to power
after the death of King Odysseus.
All I insist on is that I rule our house
Telemakhos knows that his future in Ithaka is uncertain, and whether or not Odysseus expected this situation to arise is ambiguous. Regardless, to correct the situation and ensure that Telemakhos will follow him, it is necessary for Odysseus to reestablish order in his land by ousting the suitors-which he accomplishes in Book XXII.
Dusyanta’s dilemma is not that his title is being fought over, but that the continuance of the Puru Dynasty is in question if he does not bear an able son. He expresses his concern in Act VI when he sighs and says, “Families without offspring whose / lines of succession are cut off lose their wealth to strangers when / the last male heir dies. When I die, this will happen to the wealth / of the Puru Dynasty” (404-7). He is upset because he has already convinced himself that he has failed in his duty to produce the next king. Unbeknownst to him, Sakuntala was impregnated at their last meeting and will soon bear his child-a son to be named Sarvadamana. Dusyanta has achieved his goal and the future of the Puru Dynasty is assured when Marica announces that “[Sarvadamana] is destined to turn the wheel of [the] empire” (VII, 364).
Despite the great differences in the times and cultures of Sakuntala and The Odyssey, the ruling figures, Dusyanta and Odysseus, have similar responsibilities as leaders. Their responsibilities–to protect, to ensure justice, and to continue the ruling family-become evident in the stories as the men interact with others and share their own thoughts. Though the men rule under different circumstances and are occupied with their own struggles, they ultimately satisfy their responsibilities and obligations and prove to be able leaders.
Works Cited :
W.W. Norton Company, 1995. 219-503.
W.W. Norton Company, 1995. 1181-1242.