Achilles Vs Gilgamesh Essay Samples
The epic of Gilgamesh dates back to the eighteenth century from Mesopotamia and is considered to be a great work of literature. It is a story of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk and Enkidu his friend. When Enkidu dies, the king mourns the death of his friend. Most of the story in this epic is narrated from the point of view of Gilgamesh. In the early parts of this story Gilgamesh is portrayed as an ironical person who is rash and does not heed death. However, towards the end of the story, after seeing the travails of his dear friend Enkidu, he becomes obsessed with being alive for eternity (Wright, 2011). The death of his friend shatters him and embarks on a journey to find Utnapishtim and get eternal life. The story’s theme is that love can be a motivating force and death is an inevitability that has to be faced by everyone. The whole epic revolves around how Gilgamesh is obsessed with life and yearns for eternal life and how it eludes him even though he undertakes dangerous quests to find it.
The Iliad is an ancient Greek poem set during the Trojan War, which sees a ten-year siege of the city of Troy. The epic tells the sequence of events during the weeks of quarrel between King Agamemnon and Achilles. It goes on to cover the final year of the war and alludes to many Greek legends (Wright, 2011). It highlights the looming death of Achilles and other events prophesied for the future. Finally, the epic paints a vivid picture of the Trojan War.
Comparison of the epics
According to the story, Chryses a priest of Apollo, begs the Greeks to return his daughter Chryseis, and offers them wealth. His daughter was being held captive by Agamemnon the Greek leader. While the members of the Greek army liked this offer, Agamemnon refuses. Meanwhile, Chryseis prays to Apollo, who causes plague for nine days, after which Achilles, the leader of the contingent calls for a meeting and Agamemnon agrees (Burgess, 2011). Angered at this Achilles says that he and his men would not fight for the army. Chryseis was returned to her father and Apollo ends the plague.
Both the above epics have strong and powerful protagonists who are not quite the same, but still share the same heroic qualities. Both of them had a connection with the Gods and were popular among their people. Achilles was the Achaean hero who defeated Hector, the leader of Troy and all of Troy. Gilgamesh, on the other hand was a king of Uruk who was very wealthy and powerful. Both these heroes were hungry for power (Burgess, 2011). While Achilles was ruthless with his opponents and full of rage, Gilgamesh forced harsh work on the people of his kingdom and raped the women in his kingdom even on their wedding day. Both these heroes took pride in their power till finally one day they realized that there are better things to worry about than absolute power. This was one thing that both the heroes had in common.
The story in both these epics has death as the central theme. The main character in both these epics develop as the story progresses. Achilles’ rage led him to battle in the Trojan War and he went in pursuit of self-honor without anyone forcing it on him. The characteristics of Achilles are similar to that of Gilgamesh who went looking for immortality. In the end both of them wanted to obtain something very badly and that they were looking for different things. As they progressed in their quest, they also had a friend whom they were very close to (Burgess, 2011). Achilles and Gilgamesh were both devastated when these friends died. They were unable to handle the death of someone close to their hearts. This changes their opinion about life and death. While Achilles aimed to seek revenge, Gilgamesh began his quest for immortality. It took death for both of them to understand and determine the next stage of their lives.
Both Achilles and Gilgamesh underwent testing times when their abilities were put to test. In the Iliad, a large number of soldiers were killed due to the plague that was sent by Apollo in the Greek camp. Gilgamesh on the other hand, was made to battle with the Bull of Heaven. There was also the act of sacrifice in the part of these heroes, which also shaped their character and personality. Though these sacrifices that they made seems different in severity of what they gave up, they are very similar to each other in the how they accomplished their goals. In the Iliad, Achilles is portrayed as the supreme warrior and he performs a lot of sacrifices (Burgess, 2011). However, his flaws hold him back from achieving his potential. His uncontrolled rage brings him many hardships. Achilles believed that by sacrificing his possessions, he would be able to reduce his flaws and achieve something for the future. He also believed that by giving things to the Gods, like cows, pigs and wine, was very honorable and religious. Meanwhile, Gilgamesh unwillingly sacrificed his beloved brother Cain. Though the severity of these sacrifices by Achilles and Gilgamesh differ, they are very much alike in achieving their goals.
‘Gilgamesh’ and ‘Iliad’ are two of the oldest and greatest poems. The main characters in these epics are strong, brave, young and headstrong. Both of them are loyal and selfless in friendship. The death of their friends pushes them to action. Being heroes, they also possess great physical strength and perform miraculous feats. Both the heroes of these epics cannot be compared in terms of their strengths, as both are equal. Another similarity between both Gilgamesh and Achilles is that both are sons of divine mothers (Burgess, 2011). While the divine blood of Gilgamesh lent him skill as a warrior, it also led him to believe that he was God and he was blinded by his actions. Achilles was the son of Thetis and he also had divine blood in his body. But Achilles was aware of his mortality unlike Gilgamesh. He earned the respect of friends and enemies and looked upon for his accomplishments, but despised for the way he ruled.
The stories of these two heroes prove that strength is necessary but using the strength given should be put to use in the proper way and power should not be misused. This topic is very significant in the fact that every individual should have control over their emotions and a better handle over the power they are bestowed with. Achilles’ had no control over his rage and this led to a lot of hardships for him (Basak, 2000). Gilgamesh didn’t have control of over his emotions and was shattered after his friend Enkidu’s death. He could not handle his friend’s death and this led him on a quest for immortality and he goes through several hardships along the way.
Basak, O., & Doutas, D. (2005). THE IRRESISTIBLE CHARM OF IMMORTALITY AND/OR DEATH IN THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH AND THE ILIAD. In Mythes et sociétés en Méditerranée orientale: entre le sacré et le profane: actes du colloque international organisé par les universités Kapodistrias d'Athènes et Charles-de-Gaulle-Lille 3, Delphes, 19-21 octobre 2000 (p. 19). Université Charles-de-Gaulle-Lille 3.
Beye, C. R. (2006). Ancient Epic Poetry: Homer, Apollonius, Virgil: with a Chapter on the Gilgamesh Poems. Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers.
Burgess, J. S. (2011). The death and afterlife of Achilles. JHU Press.
Oto, B. The Epic Hero as Force Majeure in The Iliad and The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Musiał, A. (2013). The Closer East: The Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer. Scripta Classica, (10), 33-51.
Wright, J. L. (2011). Making a Name for Oneself: Martial Valor, Heroic Death, and Procreation in the Hebrew Bible. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 36(2), 131-162.