Studies in the light of other epic traditions, especially those from Mesopotamia, continue to have shared similarities. A lineage appears to connect Homeric poems to the Akkadian epics world. The similarities and commonalities link the themes, oral traditions characters, and transmission methods. Both The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Iliad, provide a relationship of such themes as death and immortality. The paper, therefore, compares the themes in Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s Iliad. Comparison of the epics not only explores the themes but also reveals the beginning of literature and society as a whole.
The Iliad is an ancient epic written by Homer, a Greek poet. The poem is the narration of the events that happened at the end of the Trojan War. It also recounts the siege of Greece during the war. Written in the eighth century, The Iliad is one of the oldest literature works in ancient western traditions and the loved story for years. The subject matter is the Trojan War that stirred a bloody battle, Achilles’ Wrath, and the Gods that regularly intervened in the war. The literature explores the theme of fate and homecoming, glory and death. It forms the basis for other stories and subjects of later Renaissance, Roman, and Greek writing.
Gilgamesh is the king of Uruk who was a one-third human and two-third god. He built great temple towers and Ziggurats. The fields and orchards soured the walls of the city. Despite his godliness, Gilgamesh was a cruel despot. He raped women of all the statuses. He forced people to work on the building and projects through oppression. The cries of the people were heard by the gods who later created Enkidu, a wild man, to keep an eye on Gilgamesh. Enkidu learned about the atrocities carried by Gilgamesh and set out for Uruk facing Gilgamesh head-on. Gilgamesh won the wrestling match, but there existed no hard feelings. The two warriors became best friends. Enkidu and Gilgamesh did things together. Enkidu died one day leaving Gilgamesh in grief. Gilgamesh sought mortality but it was all in vain.
The Iliad celebrates war, and the characters seem to be worthy and despicable through bravery and competence degree in battles. Paris is cowered since he receives abuses from his lover and the family members. Eternal glory, on the other hand, is on Achilles who rejects the options of comfort and uneventful life at home. Warlike deities appear in the epic and fighting proves one’s integrity and honor. Avoiding of war is portrayed as ignoble fear and misaligned priorities of laziness.
Both Gilgamesh and Achilles are heroes, one is a semi-divine, and one is mortal. They experience heroic lives and sought glory in wars and everlasting life. However, the views of the heroes differ as expressed in the poem pattern and events. They are uncivilized at the beginning of the story and disregarded by their people. Both heroes have comrades accompanying them and cherish them beyond others. A divine mother protects them. The companions die, and the heroes are responsible any way at the mercy of fate and gods. However, Gilgamesh never thought of death until the death of Enkidu. Achilles realized that glory may be stolen from them depriving the dead hopes for immortality. The death of a comrade led to Gilgamesh refusal to follow suit and continue enjoying heroic deeds.
Anger drove Achilles away and prevented him from participating in the society. This is similar to Gilgamesh terrorizing of Uruk. Inflicting harm on innocent lives was the joy of Achilles. He understood that his life was short and would be highly honored by Zeus. In the diplomatic mission, Odysseus promises, “I will honor you like a god”. After the death of Enkidu, the Gilgamesh became uncivilized. Gilgamesh was too concerned of his mortality. Seeking Utanapishtim he hoped to avoid death and followed Enkidu. Gilgamesh embarked on a killing spree in the world and enjoyed life. The scorpion-men praised his semi- divinity and uniqueness terming him as immortal. Gilgamesh appeared kingly.
The Iliad were faced with the realities of war. Men encountered gruesome deaths; the women became concubines and slaves; children estranged from their mothers and fathers. The breakout of a plague decimated the army in Achillean camp. The biggest and mightiest warriors experienced horror and fears. The armies regretted why the war ever began. The Achilles points that bravely and cowardly men would, in the end, meet the same death.
Death is an inescapable and inevitable stage of human life. Gilgamesh learned this lesson and understood that only gods could live forever. Enkidu warned Gilgamesh about the deadly confrontation against Humbaba in the Cedar Forest. Enkidu expressed his views about death. Gilgamesh laughed off and reminded Enkidu that life is short and that only fame would last. Enkidu encounters a painful and inglorious death, and Gilgamesh’s bravado rings hollow.
There was Mesopotamian theory that taught about life after death. This did not offer scant comfort as one spent time dead. However, after the death of Enkidu, Gilgamesh became distraught and sought Utnapishtim in an attempt to learn secrets of immortality. Utnapishtim explained the story of the floods and the quest for immortality was in vain. Creation contains the seeds of death, thus, making it inevitable.
The Iliad gives brief chronicles of a more extended period of war; there was fate that awaited all people involved. Hector explained that Troy was destined to fall and that Priam and all the children would die. Hector had died before the poem ended. Achilles met his death as well but not within the pages of The Iliad. Homer constantly reminds that it is hard to escape death irrespective of your social status in the society even if you are the greatest of men. The glory of men does not live in their institutions, constructions, or cities. It is important for the human beings to live honorably for future generation to remember them for the good work. While the material, creational, and physical bodies of the immortal cannot survive, their deeds and words can. Gilgamesh returned to Uruk with a different view of life. Fame or wealth does not measure the quality of life, rather, the quality of the time spent while alive and the people they were living around do.
How to deal with grief
According to Wolff the epics portray Achilles and Gilgamesh as mighty god-like heroes that experience loss of loved ones and comrades in their lives. Achilles lost Patroclus while Gilgamesh experienced profound grief at the death (due to his desire for glory) of his beloved warrior companion, Enkidu. As described, Achilles reactions were horrifying as he clawed to the ground with both hands to collect soot and soiled his handsome face. Achilles was overpowered by his powers and fell on the dust. The grief had extended for a longer period before Achilles decided to resolve the anguish through vengeance. “I will meet the murderer face-to-face”, said Achilles.
Gilgamesh mourned Enkidu lavishly nearly making the mourning state ritual. He promised the people of Uruk to cry like a lioness or an eagle. On the other hand, he did not seek revenge for the loss of Enkidu but made and attempted to resuscitate him from the dead. The attempt illustrates a different connection between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. There could have existed a deeper bond between them compared to Patroclus and Achilles. Nevertheless, the recited passage by Achilles illustrated a typical force and conflict theme in the Greek literature. Coping with grief expression differs a lot. Achilles understood morality and tried to avenge for Patroclus’ death instead of raising him from the dead. Gilgamesh was immature and went on an impossible journey through complex layers of immorality. They both have the grudge factor for the loss. However, they both hold on to the loss, grief, and rage for their comrades.
The genre of epic in literature continues to interest different scholars. The epic construction embodies the distinctive literary form of art. In that context, there is highly developed and complex embellishment skillfully interwoven with raw materials of the society in the making. Epic of different nations reveals historical and literary differences and similarities in their civilization process. Similarities of two cultures can produce an epic literature that is recognizable.