The Gilgamesh is a Sumerian poem that is regarded the first poem to be written in the world. The content of the Gilgamesh revolves around the use of archetypal symbols, through which gods are presented as omniscient and omnipotent. The gods in the poem are characterized by their foolish use of power. On the other hand, Beowulf is the oldest Anglo-Saxon epic that was written in the 8th century A.D. The concerns of the poem are original symbols, powerful images, and powerful gods that control the action (Scheub 21). The epics of Gilgamesh and Beowulf concentrate on the immorality and heroism that has been acquired through fame. Gilgamesh and Beowulf, who are the main characters in the story, have been given a role of being prudent, respectful, and courageous. Moreover, the main characters are expected to use their courage to protect the king. The central scenes in the poems explain the fights of Gilgamesh and Beowulf with the supernatural monsters and creatures. The main characters in the poems fight to gain fame and prove the social code of their society and acquire heroism (Kick 34). Gilgamesh and Beowulf lack admirable, heroic characteristics, which are important in promoting fame and treasures of their own aspiration.
In the epic of Gilgamesh, the plot of the story revolves around the creation of Enkidu, the hero’s insatiable lust for maidens. Later in the story, Enkidu becomes the ego, who battles with the Bull of Heaven, Humbaba, and the guardian of the cedar forest. Enkidu is further granted sleep test for seven days, in his quest for immortality. In Beowulf there was a monster that had been guiding a treasure for 300 years, in the bowel of the earth, in Geatland. The monster in Beowulf was referred to as Danes by Grendel. The monsters in both poems serve as a representative of the destructive forces of creation that are overcome by the poets, using good deeds that represent heroes. Beowulf believes that he is brave and, therefore, fails to visit the hades for advice and relies on his faith and strength of God (Wolff 12). Beowulf applies his faith in fighting and defeating the monsters during the war with the human beings. Gilgamesh is different in the sense that he wants to be regarded as a hero, regardless of visiting the underworlds for advices.
Gilgamesh was greedy, selfish and failed to care for the interests of his people. Besides, Gilgamesh was arrogant and never concerned about anybody. His lust and a sense of immorality left virgin girls abused using his primitive power. Most of his victories were intended to attain fame rather than protect his people. He set out for his encounter with Humbada amidst objection from his people. Besides, he had so much fear for death following the fear of his friend, Enkidu. His fear for death made him pursue everlasting life from the gods because he needed to find out means that he could have used to avoid death.
Despite Beowulf being brave, courageous, and having great strength, he lacks sufficient qualities to be regarded as a hero. The society expects a king to act as a hero without posing a threat to his kingdom, despite his glories (Georgianna 829). The search for personal glory and fame by Beowulf depending on his human strength provides possibilities of danger for his people. Beowulf’s quest for glory made him fight the dragon despite being advised by his counsel not to go into the encounter with the dragon personally. Beowulf believes that if he fights the dragon and acquires the hoard that bears the gold, he will benefit the people. He fails to look at the consequence of the encounter with the dragon. His main goal of fighting a dragon is to acquire the gold and be famous for killing the dragon. His death affects his people because they feel that the enemy may decide to attack them upon realization of his death. Being a true hero, Beowulf would have listened to the advice of his council and could have managed to kill the dragon with ease without risking his life.
Beowulf’s quest for glory and fame proves to be selfish and this denies him heroic characteristics that can be encouraged in the society. The actions that Beowulf undertakes in his search for glory exposes his people to danger, but he is determined to leave behind a personal legacy without putting the interest of the people into consideration. He risks his life when he fights the dragon in an attempt to continue to search for personal glory. He fails to show eagerness to rule over the people wisely. Beowulf does not look into the long-term effects of his actions; hence disputing his heroic qualities. Beowulf was filled with excess pride because most of his decisions are self-centered. When he reached Denmark and challenged by the Dane warriors, he showered himself with praises of his achievements. His pride is later seen when he decides to face the dragon despite the members of his council advising him otherwise. His previous achievements of killing Grendel and his mother drive him to pursue the dragon. Pride is always a downfall to great people and it affected Beowulf as well.
Gilgamesh and Beowulf commit their efforts and determination to pursue their quests where Gilgamesh pursues eternal life and the other seeks fame and honor. Both Gilgamesh and Beowulf are brave and committed to achieving their quests. However, they were irrational in their decisions and actions to achieve their quests (Georgianna 834). They pursued self-glory and fame without the consideration of their people's interests. The two share several similarities in their means of achieving their quests and desires.
Gilgamesh is remembered for his loyalty and dedication in his quest for fame. When his close friend, Enkidu, dies, he puts many efforts to bring his friend to life. He mourns the death of Enkidu through exchanging his garments for animal skins. The memory of his close friend makes him go out and look for a solution to death. He is driven by the quest for eternal life from Utanpshitim, who was given eternal life by the gods during the great flood. His journey is very emotional because he encounters things such as animal pelts and trees that remind him of Enkidu, making him mourn and cry throughout the journey (Wolff 15). The main characters defined in the two epics had many traits that have graced many stories in literature. Despite their many similarities, these characters had a significant difference. Strength, courage, and supernatural powers enabled them to conquer many battles against creatures with tremendous power. Their major difference is the manner in which they used these powers. Beowulf used these powers to protect his people, while Gilgamesh used his power to protect his ego and to make a name for himself. The battle that Beowulf fought was crucial because he fought them for the sake of the people. Beowulf required exemplary courage and zeal. The battle that Gilgamesh fought was unnecessary because he fought them for fame and pride (Georgianna 842).
Similarly, Beowulf is loyal and dedicated in his actions. After ripping the hand of the monster, he pursues it to ensure that it is dead. Later when the monster’s mother poses a threat to the Danes, Beowulf is determined to defeat her and keep his people safe. A few warriors escort him to the lake where the deadly monster lives and he swims into the lake to fight her. He uses a giant sword to slash her neck and kills her. Beowulf sets out at an old age to fight a fierce dragon to protect his people and does not fear to die. He succeeds to kill the dragon to ensure that his people are secure. These traits reveal Beowulf as a dedicated and loyal. However, besides the Beowulf’s deeds he fails to be termed as a hero (Georgianna 831).
Although Gilgamesh is strong and brave, he fears death. After the death of his closest friend, Ekidu, Gilgamesh is worried about his death. He sets out to look for a way of achieving eternal life from Utnapishtim, a person living beyond the mountains awarded with eternal life by the gods. When Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh it is not possible for him to be given eternal life, he insists, which shows his fear for death despite being convinced that he cannot avoid death. In contrast, Beowulf is not afraid of death. He always outlined his death wishes before going on a battle and asked his wealth to be divided between the people in case he encountered death. His lack of fear for death is evident when he fights the dragon that was disturbing his people (Scheub 61). Beowulf had requested to be buried in the barrow that overlooked the sea. A hero should capacitate heroic positive deeds. Gilgamesh’s fear of death disapproves him as a hero.
Despite the fact that Gilgamesh is not a hero he proves his loyalty to the community. Gilgamesh also possessed great strength that was not comparable to any man. He fought battles that people considered impossible to win. His courage was overwhelming because of his believe in conquering everything. First, Gilgamesh killed Humbaba, a fierce evil monster living in a cedar forest. The imagery of both Gilgamesh and Beowulf are not intimidated by the presence of monsters because they want to be termed as heroes. However, the bravery of Gilgamesh and Beowulf represents the cultural values and beliefs of the ancient times where leaders were supposed to be brave and fearless (Gramlich 59). Although the body of Gilgamesh represents one third human and two thirds gods, Gilgamesh still wants to be termed as a hero by his society. Beowulf had realized the dangers of his life, however, had no fear. His courage made him travel a far distance to face the forces of the enemy of the Danes. Regardless of how hard, dangerous, and severe the battle was, all that Beowulf wanted was safety for his people. The actions of Beowulf show the care and commitment that he had for his people. No one has ever dared to enter the cedar forest in fear of the evil monster that was believed to possess unmatched strength. Gilgamesh later killed the Bull of Heaven sent by the goddess Ishtar to kill him. In a quest for eternal life, Gilgamesh is attacked by a pack of lions, but manages to kill many of them and others flee in fear. The stunning strength and courage of Gilgamesh is comparable to that of Beowulf.
Both Beowulf and Gilgamesh had stunning physical strength and outstanding courage. Beowulf was able to fight many battles for his people and always returned victorious. Beowulf had heard of the horrible demon, which was killing the Danes people and suppressing their power to fight him back. He was inspired by the power of the monster and sailed in the far land determined to defeat the monster and rescue the Danes. Beowulf is courageous and asks the king of Denmark to allow him fight the monster. He outlines his achievements to the Dane warriors motivating them to believe he will be capable of defeating the Grendel. The monster showed up in the night, forcing Beowulf to fight him bare handed. His amazing strength enabled him to murder the monster, which had terrorized the Danes for many years. Beowulf later fought with Grendel's mother, more dangerous monster that was seeking the revenge of her son's death. He was courageous enough to swim and fight the monster in the lake. Beowulf was able to slash the neck of the monster with a giant sword and carry off the head to the shore as evidence that she was dead (Scheub 56). The head of the monster was very strong such that one warrior would not carry it, yet he had carried it with ease from the lake. The strength that Beowulf portrays shows his stunning physical strength as well as courage.
The epic poems Gilgamesh and Beowulf compare the heroic values present in the ancient Anglo-Saxon and Mesopotamia cultures. The heroic attributes are explained in the adventures of Beowulf in his quest for peace and justice for his people. Beowulf had extraordinary abilities, which he used in fighting and bringing justice and peace to the societal members. Despite the abilities that Beowulf had, he failed to be recognized as a hero. Moreover, Beowulf had the ability to vanquish the evil spirits, using his powers, which were perceived as extraordinary. Beowulf acquired his fame because of his physical strength that enabled him to fight for the welfare of his people without fear of death. Similarly, Gilgamesh gained his popularity because of his physical strength, which unmatched the abilities of an ordinary man (Wolff 19). Despite fearing death, Gilgamesh proved courageous by killing Humbaba, a monster feared by the people who approached the cedar forest. Although Gilgamesh relied on powers from gods, he still wanted to prove himself a hero. He killed the monster with the sword that was granted to him by the gods. Gilgamesh was immoral king, who admired all the virgins in the land.
The epic portrays the pride in the life of Gilgamesh, which disapproves him from being a hero. Gilgamesh is portrayed as a tyrannical leader, despite his strength, beauty, and the potential for greatness. Moreover, Gilgamesh is impulsive and inexperienced. These traits are acquired in his life story as he grows; being a friend to Enkidu, while still searching for eternal life. Despite his physical strength, the gods are unhappy because of the way Gilgamesh treats his people. From the epic, it is evident that Gilgamesh has exhausted his men in battle. Moreover, the leader claims that he has to sleep with a woman before she is married to any man. The acts by Gilgamesh portray his immorality. Despite his victory in the war, Gilgamesh is a failure, and not a hero (Vulpe 280). The gods got sad with Gilgamesh and created a rival named Enkidu, who could keep him busy.
A leader is termed to be a hero because of the heroic deeds. Heroes in the society are believed to be people who are engaged in acts that are beneficial to the general public. An individual understands his or her nature of life after undergoing victories and failures. Despite the good qualities of loyalty, power and strength in the epic Gilgamesh and Beowulf, both characters are termed as failures and not heroes. Despite deeds that both Gilgamesh and Beowulf are engaged in, they fail to be termed as heroes because they are engaged in some negative deeds. Gilgamesh is immoral and thus cannot be termed as a hero. This incidence is evidenced whereby he admires to sleep with all the virgins before getting married.
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Scheub, Harold. Trickster and hero: two characters in the oral and written traditions of the world. Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012. Print.
Vulpe, N. “Irony and the Unity of the Gilgamesh Epic”. Journal of Near Eastern StudiesVol. 53, No. 4 (1994), pp. 275-283
Wolff, Hope Nash. A study in the narrative structure of three epic poems: Gilgamesh, the Odyssey, Beowulf. New York: Garland, 1987. Print.