When comparing the ancient heroes, Gilgamesh and Monkey, the similarities in both characters are surprising and interesting in nature. The parallels are interesting because the two stories basically have the same theme but were written on two separate continents during two distinctly different eras, yet the themes of both stories sound very familiar.
Gilgamesh is the world’s first superhero and the reader realizes the stories of his fantastic deeds on tablets dating back to around 2000 B.C. The tablets describe Gilgamesh as “two-thirds god and one-third human, is the greatest king on earth and the strongest super-human that ever existed; however, he is young and oppresses his people harshly” (Hooker, 1999)
Similar to Gilgamesh, Monkey is also described in a super human manner and obtaining various super human skills and abilities.
Initially, Monkey is portrayed as a ‘stone monkey’ with astonishing skills. “This stone monkey is an extraordinary creature of boundless energy and “steely eyes” that shoot “golden light.” It immediately attracts the attention of the divine forces of intelligence, called Thousand-League-Eye and Wind-Knowing-Ears” (Study).
In both the story of Gilgamesh and the story of Monkey, each hero travels on a journey that could be known as a journey of life. It is appealing to note that both characters begin their journey by demonstrating the ‘bad’ side of their particular character. Both heroes initially oppress their followers, but as they travel this life journey they both develop into superheroes that help their people rather than oppress them.
Both characters are also seeking fortune and salvation on their journeys, yet the tone of both stories could not be more different.
This difference could be mainly due to the culture and traditions of the people the stories originated from. One strong factor could be due to the fact that “Western traditions, whether monotheistic or pagan, taught and still teach that every human soul lives only once. The Eastern traditions teach that the human soul lives many lifetimes; therefore, no single death is ever final” (Monkey). Therefore, the tone of Gilgamesh stories take on a far more serious tone than the exploits of Monkey.
If the missteps of Gilgamesh seem to be taken for more seriously than do the mischief of Monkey, it is likely due to the fact that Western civilization is far more prone to punishing an individual’s misdeeds than Eastern Civilization that takes a much more learned attitude towards those same types of circumstances. “In the Western tradition every sin, crime, or mistake is like a wrong answer on a single final exam the soul must not fail” (Monkey), but a far more understanding approach is taken by Eastern society where, “no matter what you do you get a second chance-and a third, fourth, and fifteenth, ad infinitum” (Monkey).
Since Gilgamesh, who hails from Western civilization, has only one life to live,
and most probably that one life is very precious to him, he is far more likely to have his companions fight his battle or battles for him, far more likely to place them in immediate danger and far more likely to think first of saving himself than that of Monkey. Monkey, hailing from Eastern traditions, loves to jump into the dispute, bravely fighting his opponents and leading his companions into the center of challenges that Gilgamesh seems totally afraid to confront.
While Monkey is maniacally fighting the demons, monsters and gods placed before him, Gilgamesh is hiding from Humbaba the terrible in the Cedar forest. He does not actually fight the guardian of the forest until his traveling companion, Enkido, encourages him to be brave.
For Gilgamesh this companion is the wild man Enkidu. Enkidu is the voice of reason for Gilgamesh, teaching him patience and restraint. Throughout their travels Enkidu often persuades Gilgamesh to use caution and reason rather than rushing head first into whatever situation arises. He also fights Gilgamesh over moral differences. Gilgamesh always takes a bride on her wedding night. This offended Enkidu so much that they fought and when neither could beat the other they soon became fast friends. In many ways Enkidu influenced Gilgamesh in a positive way helping to make him a better person. This is probably why Gilgamesh was so upset when Ekidu died, which is when he left on his mission to achieve immortality.
For Monkey this positive influence was Tripitaka and his two other disciples Pigsy and Sandy. When Tripitaka helps save Monkey who was trapped under a mountain by the Emperor of Jade. Monkey became one of Tripitaka’s disciples and traveled with him into the west in search of the sacred sutras and immorality. The other disciples and Tripitaka help Monkey to learn restraint, something that he hadn’t had at all previously.
Though each hero approaches his conflicts in a totally distinct manner, the goal that both are seeking is immortality. “Monkey answers that, like Gilgamesh seeking wisdom from Utnapishtim, he has come to learn the secret of immortality” (Monkey). The seeking of immortality by both heroes is especially interesting in that the goal of mankind, at least according to these two superheroes has always been to live forever, and each hero’s particular journey leads him to understand exactly how that immortality can be achieved.
Observing how very unique and different cultures approach the same subject, the same objective and in both cases, uses a journey of peril and danger to achieve that objective is enlightening. Both stories allow the reader to understand and carefully comprehend the ancient message of what we, as human beings, will endure if we believe the reward is big enough. The similarities of the goals and objectives from both stories leads the reader to believe that perhaps mankind is much more closely aligned than some experts would have us believe.