Epic Heroes and Societal Reflections: Gilgamesh and The Iliad

Alice Mai Professor Joseph Castora World Civilization February 22, 2019 Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative & The Iliad of Homer Throughout history the Mesopotamia was known to be the first river valley civilization. It was located between two rivers Tigris and Euphrates where Mesopotamian civilization began. Some of the well-known Mesopotamian civilizations include the Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian civilizations. There is evidence that shows there was a large-scale use of technology and science. “The Sumerian civilization first took form in the Southern Mesopotamia through the end of the third millennium BCE.

” (B, P 29)

Where kings started to emerge in Sumerian cities. The aspects of Mesopotamian history, society, and religion, etc., are to be found in Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative by Herbert Mason, A Mariner Book (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, c.2003). “Gilgamesh's historical identity, the Sumerian king list establishes a Gilgamesh as fifth in line of the first dynasty of kingship of Uruk.” (G, P 99) As we know about the Mesopotamia culture, we find many examples of similarities in the Book that relates to Mesopotamia.

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For instance, the idea of a strong male leader that rules the city, assisted by a council of city elders was a traditional form of government and the division of gender, which is shown through the religion in Mesopotamia. However, in the book Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative, as a king Gilgamesh was tyrant to his people who violated the civil rights of his citizens. Therefore, the gods created Enkidu a moral with the same power and strength of Gilgamesh, his equal.

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In the Mesopotamia society they were polytheistic which meant that they believed in or worshipped more than one god. Gods were Imagined as anthropomorphic like humans in form and conduct. “The Mesopotamians feared their gods, believing them responsible for the natural disasters that occurred without warning in their environment, and sought to appease them.” (B, P 43) In the book Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative, there a few very known gods that were mentioned Ishtar, goddess of love, Ea., the god of fresh springs and the arts; Shamash, the god of the sun; Enlil, god of earth, wind, and spirit; Anu, the father of all Sumerian gods and Ninsun, minor goddess known for wisdom.

The religion in Mesopotamia and Gilgamesh is heavily anthropomorphized. The gods are to choose morals that they like and sometimes destroy those of the less liked. Throughout the book Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative, Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh his story about how he was saved by Ea, Ea told Utnapishtim to tear down his house and build a ship. Enlil created a food to destroy mankind in the city of Shurrupak. “I received Enlil, for Ea had chosen me; the war god touched my forehead; he blessed My family and said … You and your wife shall be like gods.” (G, P 79) Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh this story because there is a significance to it when it comes to the Mesopotamian religion and culture is all related to the gods. People of the civilization rely on the gods for the rain they receive and the control over the rivers, flooding. Mesopotamians believed that when there were floods, it is seen as a punishment from the gods. As I mentioned before gods are believed to be responsible for natural disasters.

Mesopotamians believed that the gods played a role in everyday life. “Priests anticipated and met every need of the divine image in a daily cycle of walking, bathing, dressing, feeding, moving around, entertaining, soothing, and revering.” (B, P 35) There were many reasons that the gods of Mesopotamia would get involved in human affairs. For example. When Gilgamesh rejects to take Ishtar as his wife, “Your love brings only war! ...” (G, P 43) This made Ishtar the goddess of love and war very enraged and brought upon the bull of heaven to kill him. This follows from the killing of Humbaba, and the bull from heaven. Enkidu then insulted Ishtar by tearing one of the thighs of the bull and hurled it in her face. Later that night the gods have said that one of them must die, eventually Enkidu became sick and died. This shows that back in ancient times of Mesopotamia, people believed that sickness was also a result of the gods, a sort of punishment. This also justifies the roles of the priests as I mentioned before. The Mesopotamians believed in the afterlife but in Gilgamesh, they believed in heaven and hell. Death was portrayed as an underworld where its dark and dangerous, where all the souls were to be trapped down there. Physical death did not mean that it was the end in the beliefs of Mesopotamians. The dead continued to have spiritual existence in the underworld as ghosts. Death occurs in the book Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative, when Gilgamesh kills Humbaba, and when Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the bull of heaven. This all leads to the death of Enkidu, the loss of Gilgamesh’s friend.

Like a madman Gilgamesh has a hard time accepting his friend's death and goes on a long mission struggling with his sense of morality. He tries to find immortality and to defeat the inevitable. In the end, Gilgamesh finds peace with death through a long journey. “In time he recognized this loss …' (G, P 91) From Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative, we clearly see that the religion and culture in Mesopotamia shown. There is a gender division, where masculine gender identity is spread through and be perceived in every part of the culture. As shown throughout the book masculine gender identity, the fear if the feminine. Men must overcome the feelings into sex which affections is associated with sex. This is important in the culture of the Mesopotamians as described in Gilgamesh and Enkidu, someone who is seen as brave, strong and masculine as I mentioned before. The roles of women and gender are very similar in the instances of Mesopotamia. There is not much of a descriptive role of the women in the times in Mesopotamia. “The standing of women seems to have declined …' (B, 34). Women were not on the same status as men for what we have known from this quote and women were not socially acceptable. An example from the book Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative, “As king, Gilgamesh was a tyrant to his people. He demanded, from an old birthright, the privilege of sleeping with their brides before the husbands were permitted.” (G, P 15)

Sex is a form of pleasure but also an emotional and natural act which makes a man mortal in the Mesopotamian culture. Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative is both similar and dissimilar to The Iliad by Homer in many instances. Many similarities are shown in instances of characters and themes in the two poems. There is a similarity between Gilgamesh and Achilles, the poem focuses on their heroic traits and their mighty deeds. Gilgamesh is a tyrant king who is two-thirds god and one-third human, for the warrior Achilles is a mix of god and human. Although, they are not fully divine/immortal this makes them both a mortal. Morality is one of the main themes of the two poems. Morality is both of Gilgamesh’s and Achilles weaknesses, as for they are not immortal. This morality leads to another similarity about the two is that they are the offspring of the gods. Gilgamesh’s mother is the goddess of wisdom, Ninsun, and his father is a mortal King Lugalbanda. Achille’s mother is Thetis a seas nymph, goddess of water and his father a mortal King Peleus. Friendship is another theme that the two poems have in similar instances, friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu and Achilles and Patroclus. This friendship also leads to the death of one of them, which causes Gilgamesh and Achilles go on a mission to do something for their friend that is no longer alive. The death of Enkidu causes Gilgamesh to go on a quest to find immortality and bring Enkidu back to life. However, Achilles does not go on a quest to find immortality but instead swears to take revenge for Patroclus.

The importance of friendship is shown in these instances. Both Gilgamesh and Achilles experiences profound grief at the death of their companion who was very dear to them. The death of Enkidu and Patroclus were different but similar in some ways because their death was both the doings of the gods. 'He (Enkidu) woke his friend (Gilgamesh) to tell him what he heard and saw: The gods have said that one of us must die because we killed Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven. Enlil said I must die, for you are two thirds god...” (G P 46) Patroclus’s death was a decision made my Zeus, which Patroclus slays Sarpedon, Zeus’s offspring. Eventually, Apollo sneaks up behind Patroclus and wounds him, and Hector easily kills him. The gods are always involved in moral affairs shown throughout both two poems. Gilgamesh and Achilles both shared the same tragic flaw which was the mass amount of pride they carried. Gilgamesh is known as a tyrant king for what he does in the Uruk. “He demanded, from an old birthright, the privilege of sleeping with their brides before the husbands were permitted.” (G, P 15) He proves his superiority and strength by having the power to be the first to have the women and physically overpowering men. Achilles’ anger with Agamemnon over a woman, hurt his pride. Agamemnon's’ demand for Achilles’ prize, Brises humiliates and angers the proud Achilles. This escalates to the conflict of the Trojan war, caused by Agamemnon’s humiliation and mistreatment. Achilles has then refused to participate in the battle between the Trojans and Achaeans.

In similar instances, both Gilgamesh and Achilles had a prize belonging that they desired or wanted to get from battles. However, there was a difference in what they both wanted, Gilgamesh was trying to obtain immorality and Achilles wanted to obtain self-honor, for their pride. Throughout these two poems Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative by Herbert Mason and The Iliad by Homer there is both instances of similarities and dissimilarities. There are similarities in themes, characters, and culture such as friendship. Even though there are many similarities there are also many dissimilarities in both poems.

Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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Epic Heroes and Societal Reflections: Gilgamesh and The Iliad. (2022, Apr 15). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/sumerian-civilization-essay

Epic Heroes and Societal Reflections: Gilgamesh and The Iliad essay
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