Sundiata which practices the Malian culture is symbolic of a perfect epic hero because being generous and highly favored, protecting your kinship, being loved by all and earning your fortune is highly respected. However, in the Mesopotamian culture the highly respected personality traits of the Malian’s were not important because their epic hero Gilgamesh did not process any of these traits. Sundiata is the better epic hero since he embodies more epic hero qualities than Gilgamesh. Sundiata’s best trait is his generosity shown when he allows the nine old witches to go unpunished once he caught them stealing from his mother’s garden “There he found the nine witches stealing gnougou leaves”(Niane 25). Most heros would have punished the witches for stealing, but Sundiata’s generosity allowed him to overlook their downfalls and offer them extra leaves “He filled the gourds of the old hags with leaves, aubergines and onions.’Each time that you run short of condiments come to stock up here without fear” (Niane 25).
This is exemplary of Sundiata’s kind and forgiving heart. In contrast Gilgamesh is not generous at all and is very malevolent towards his people of Uruk who are in constant fear of being sexually violated and employed into pointless wars and battles. “Gilgamesh sounds the tocsin for his amusement; no son is left with his father, for Gilgamesh leaves no virgin to her lover, neither the warrior’s daughter nor the wife of the noble” (Sandars 62). Gilgamesh continually shows no remorse for his constituent’s feelings and used his power to torment his people; while Sundiata on the contrast used his power to give back to his people and help and protect them in every possible way.
Sundiata was highly favored in all the towns he visited while on exile. When he went on his first campaign all the soldiers talked about was Sundiata “they spoke about nothing but him in the camp” (Niane 37). The people favored Sundiata not only because he was strong and a good fighter but he was also smart which intrigued people “Men were even more surprised by the lucidity of his mind” (Niane 37). The king liked Sundiata so much that he made him king in his absences “After three years the king appointed Sundiata his Viceroy, and in the kings absence it was he who governed” (Niane 37). Gilgamesh was favored by none of the citizens in his Kingdom.
Everyone hated him and when he went on his long quest to the Cedar Forest, they rejoiced at his absences. Sundiata was also favored by the kids he hung out with “Sundiata’s popularity was so great […], Fran Kamara Manding Bory and Kamandjan were the closet friends of the young princes” (Niane 23-24). Gilgamesh had only one friend Enkidu and that was because the people prayed to the gods to send him. If the people had not done this Gilgamesh would have had no friends because nobody cherished him.
Sundiata was very protective of his kinship and friends. One example of Sundiata’s protectiveness was demonstrated when he went in exile to protect his family from the evil wrath of Sassouma. “It was to save his brother that Djata accepted exile” (Niane 27). Once Sundiata realized that his siblings were in possible danger of Sassouma wrath, Sundiata made a conscious decision to remove his family from Mali. In comparison, Gilgamesh only has one friend Enkidu, who Gilgamesh looks upon as a friend and a servant. “Gilgamesh said to his servant Enkidu” (Sandars 70). Sundiata would have never referred to Manding Bory as his servant, but as his best friend that he couldn’t live without. “Manding Bory and Sundiata were real friends (Niane 27).
Sundiata was loved by everyone he came in contact with “Everyone bowed before him and he was greatly loved” (Niane 37). While on exile Sundiata came in contact with a lot of people from different cultures, everyone praised him because he was an Intelligent, and kindhearted person. Sundiata’s assertion of himself over his constituents in a stern, but gentle manner drove the people to love and respect him “The people love all who assert themselves over them” (Niane 37).
The citizens of Uruk desired to be governed by a wise and just ruler like Sundiata, instead they were governed by a selfish and evil king. Gilgamesh used his godly strength to control his citizens into doing anything he wanted them to “he met with none who could withstand his arms” (Sandars 62). The people of Uruk disliked Gilgamesh so much that they prayed to the gods to create a companion for him (Sandars 62). The gratitude Sundiata showed towards his citizens helped him earn their respect. Gilgamesh was not respected by his citizens and in turn they wanted a new king.
Another thing that sets Sundiata apart from Gilgamesh is, Sundiata was not given his kingdom he had to earn it. Sundiata had a difficult child hood because most of it was spent crawling and on exile. Sundiata overcame this by growing into a stronge man and defeating the evil king that was stopping him from ruling Mali. By Sundiata having to earn his kingdom it made him appreciate being king because he had to go through so many trials and tribulations “If he has a kingdom one day everything will obey him because he knows how to command” (Niane 37).
Gilgamesh on the other hand did not have to go through any trials to earn his kingdom. The gods simply made him king. Since Gilgamesh did not have to earn his fortune, he didn’t appreciate it as much as Sundiata. If Gilgamesh had to work for his Kingdom he would have appreciated it more and treated his citizens with more respect.
The above paragraphs state why Sundiata is a better Epic hero than Gilgamesh. Sundiata embodies all of the epic hero qualities. His finest qualities are his generosity and being highly favored by others, protecting his kinship, being loved by all and earning his fortune. In, contrast Gilgamesh does not embody any of these qualities and does not surpass Sundiata as an epic hero.
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