The word hero is a broad term and can be defined in many ways. A hero has several qualities like courage, respect, and strength that can define heroism. When it comes to heroes, most people like to believe that a hero would always be there to save humanity as needed however, that is not always the case. All heroes are different, but what makes them epic is that they are formed in an epic narrative. Also, their accomplishments in the narrative grant them the title epic hero.
First, it is important to understand what, or who an ‘Epic Hero’ is. An epic hero is an archetypal protagonist, who has impressive qualities that enable them to complete daunting tasks with odds stacked against their favor. Most epic heroes are the chosen ones by their superior, however, some put themself on the line when no one else has the courage to come forward. Epic heroes are superior to any other man. For clarification epic heroes are bigger, faster, stronger, and wiser than anyone else in the narrative.
In addition, most of the time epic heroes play a strong leadership role and make them an honorable figure in the narrative. Anyone can be a hero, but it takes much more to be considered an epic hero.
Throughout history going back thousands of years, there have been many great stories about great warriors and champions, however, the one about epic hero are the truly exceptional ones. From those exceptional ones some stand out from the rest, for example, “Beowulf” and “The Epic of Gilgamesh”.
Both texts are epic narrative and they showed the formation of epic heroes. They showed epic heroes like, Beowulf and Gilgamesh who went on a long journey to face and conqueror their challenges. Throughout the text, they both demonstrate the qualities that an epic hero possesses. They both undertake their journey to achieve something of great value and yet they maintained humanity. Combined with all these characteristics Beowulf and Gilgamesh were formed into epic heroes.
Beowulf is a prime example of an epic hero. He puts himself on the line to fight Grendel and when Grendel’s mother came to seek revenge he goes after her. He takes a journey to the lake of monsters and takes on the challenge. Throughout his life he shows the great qualities of strength and power to fight for the greater goods. Even after becoming a king, years after fighting Grendel and his mother he takes on the dragon who became a threat to his kingdom. He took pride in fighting enemies. During the fight with the dragon when everyone backed off, while Beowulf faced the challenge with bravery and pride never ones he had any fear of death. This showed his strength, courage and fearlessness as an epic hero should have. Beowulf fought in multiple battles and returned with victory and the one he was defeated has more victory in it, as Beowulf lost the swimming race to Becca, he explained that he was slowed down by nine sea monsters that he encountered on his way and kills them.
Being stronger than everyone else puts Beowulf on the path of becoming an epic hero. Beowulf was strong enough to fight Grendel with his bare hands. During his fight with Grendel, he ripped off Grendel’s arm with his hand, which eventually lead to Grendel’s death. Later, when Beowulf was fighting Grendel’s mother he slashed her neck with a giant sword, which was only possible to loft by someone with great strangeness. This strength is a key trait of Beowulf’s heroism and one of the fundamental pillars which formed him in to an epic hero. All of Beowulf’s actions showed his willingness to help others. His action against Grendel was a prime example of that. His actions were very important to his people as it determined their faith. Beowulf had superhuman strengths which he used to fight for his people. Beowulf served as a frontier for his people. When his people were in danger he feared nothing for his own life and faced the challenge by himself. After Beowulf served his people as King for fifty years, he faced the biggest challenge of his life as a dragon started attacking his kingdom. Knowing that this might be his last battle Beowulf goes to fight a dragon that is frightening all his people. He defeats the dragon however it was the end of him too. He died as an epic hero fighting for his people.
Beowulf is the ultimate example of an epic hero. He risked his life multiple times for the greater goods. His bravery and strengths set up a great example for society. His loyalty made him honorable by all, and his ability to think of himself last puts him to the highest respectable place possible in the society. His leadership skills were super. His accomplishments were so great that he was able to brag about all about it. These characteristics are what formed Beowulf as a true epic hero.
Another significant example of an epic hero is Gilgamesh. The Epic of Gilgamesh was the first written epic, which makes Gilgamesh the first-ever epic hero. Gilgamesh fits in the mold of epic heroes perfectly as he had all the qualities of an epic hero. Gilgamesh was born two-thirds god and one-third man, which gave him superhuman abilities. In the beginning, Gilgamesh was a rambunctious young adult that abused his authority in his kingdom, but eventually developed into a brave warrior that displays great courage, however as powers made him arrogant, unlike Beowulf Gilgamesh was not well respected by all. Therefore, Gilgamesh was challenged by the gods. Here is the part that makes Gilgamesh’s formation into an epic hero a bit different from most other epic heroes. Most of the time epic heroes are the chosen ones by god or their superior to protect the society, but in Gilgamesh’s case, the gods challenged him to see if he is capable of handling challenges. Gilgamesh’s formation into an epic hero started by facing challenges that were thrown at him by gods.
The gods sent a wild man named Enkidu, to see if Gilgamesh would be able to fight and defeat him. This was the first of many obstacles that Gilgamesh must face through the course of forming into an epic hero. He passed that test quite comfortably as he later teams up with Enkidu to fight Humbaba. Gilgamesh was portrayed as a true hero through his skill, intelligence, willingness to fight, and face challenges with no fear. Throughout the entire text, Gilgamesh demonstrates an outrageous skill as a warrior and leader. Like any other epic hero Gilgamesh also had extreme muscle power, other words he was stronger than others. His great strengths were played in use when he was fighting with Humbaba, who was the guardian of the Cedar Forest, the place where the gods lived. Humbaba was assigned as a terror to human beings. Such powerful enemies like Humbaba couldn’t stand against Gilgamesh’s extreme skills. He was able to slay the beast and return home safely. His great muscle power was shown again when he had the fight the bulls that Ishtar released to attack the city. With his intelligence, Gilgamesh shows throughout the entire text a sense of foresight that keeps him safe and his city powerful. This shows his strong leadership skills as a good leader must prove that he is powerful and that he can defend his people in the best way possible, which Gilgamesh was very successful in proving.
Like Beowulf, Gilgamesh also looked out for his put, as he always put his people first. When he found the plant of eternal life, instead of taking it for himself his first thought was to take it back to the aged men of his kingdom. After giving it to the elderly citizens then he would take it for himself. This showed great leadership by Gilgamesh as he puts his people first. He also demonstrates great intelligence, as having the plant of eternal life would benefit his kingdom in many ways rather than just giving them immortality. He knowingly risked his life so that no more of the innocent citizens of Urok would be killed. When Gilgamesh went in search of the plant of immortality, he faced many dangerous situations, but he kept going for the greater goods. By finding the secret to immortality he would be able to lead his kingdom longer. Also, the elders in his village would be able to counsel him for many more years to come, and everyone is his city would become wiser. With his intelligence and strength, he kept himself on the right path of becoming an epic hero.
In addition, as epic heroes are respected by others, they also needed to be respectful to their superior. In that case, Gilgamesh was very respectful to the gods, even though they made him faced many challenges. Gilgamesh always respected Shamash, the god of the sun, and prayed to him for help when needed. When Gilgamesh and Enkidu fought the bulls butchered and bled the bull and then cut its heart to offer as a sacrifice to Shamash. Also, he was respectful to his mother as he always went to her for advice. This shows that he was intelligent enough to understand that, he could not win all battles by himself and he knew to ask for help when he needed it. He also gave credit to the people that helped him to build his leadership and proceed with him towards his success. In the text, he told Enkidu the finest clothes he ever wore, the ones that made me look vest in the eyes of the world.” Gilgamesh knew Enkidu’s effort to help him in all his troubles Gilgamesh shows, outstanding deal of reverence for the ones that help throughout his life.
Most heroes are not afraid to die, and when it comes to epic heroes the word “death” is not in their dictionary. Gilgamesh demonstrated a great willingness to die for his kingdom. Every true hero looks at death with open eyes. Gilgamesh saw it as something that must happen and happens to everyone. Gilgamesh showed respect for death while not fearing it at the same time. He says, “Only Gods live forever with Shamash, my friend: for even our longest days are numbered”. This illustrates how he casually views death as an everyday thing that he never really thinks about. He fought for his kingdom without thinking of death for ones, as an epic hero should, which was one of his keys to success. The most important characteristic of a hero is his view of death. He can be the most skilled, reverent person on earth but if he fears death, he will not be able to put his skills to work because of the fear of dying.
It is clearly outward that Gilgamesh holds all the features of an epic hero. He goes fearlessly into battle to rid the world of harmful beasts and travels to distant lands, to find solutions that will help the people of his city. He looks to God for his strength during a battle and shows respect for everyone he meets along his journeys. Gilgamesh’s friendship with Enkidu shows his loyalty to people who show respect for the kingdom. He is skilled as a warrior, is an intelligent leader, and is willing to die at any moment for his kingdom. He gives credit to others for his great accomplishments and shows fearless respect for death. Gilgamesh has proved himself as a true epic hero, as he was formed into one by the series of events and with strong courage in his lifetime.
Epic heroes are exceptional personals. Not every hero can be an epic hero. To be an epic hero, one must meet all the necessary criteria. As Beowulf and Gilgamesh are considered as epic heroes, they didn’t gain their title in one day. It took them their entire lifetime to achieve the title of an epic hero. Their courage and strong determination made them who they are. They were chosen by their superior to ta take challenges, which is unachievable by most men. They spent their entire life fighting for the greater goods, for the people of their kingdom. Throughout all these events in their life, they gained the characteristics of an epic hero, and with their bravery and courage they were formed into two of the best epic heroes in epic narratives