Gilgamesh and Odysseus: the Lessons Learned
The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Odyssey both deals with characters that question their mortality due to death. Gilgamesh and Odysseus are motivated by attaining glory and honor. Both of these stories show how fame can interact with how your life turns out in the underworld. The more people remember you, the more likely you will have an enjoyable afterlife. At the beginning of the epic, Gilgamesh believes that your heroic duties count the most in the afterlife, similar to Odysseus. Gilgamesh learned the difficult lesson that he too must face the reality of his own death. Both these heroes at first believe that through battle and legendary circumstances that they will receive everlasting glory. Both of these characters learned different things while confronting death. After being confronted by death, Gilgmesh and Odysseus discovers that our accomplishments is not what makes you be remembered but through meaningful relationships with others.
At first, Gilgamesh does not worry about death. He figures if he dies doing something heroic, then people will remember him forever. That to him is like living forever. Enkidu tries to talk Gilgamesh out of going to fight, but Gilgamesh replies, ‘Who, my friend, can go up to heaven?….But people’s days are numbered….Here you are, even you, afraid of death. What good is your bravery’s might….I must establish eternal fame.’ (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 20). Gilgamesh goal is to gain everlasting fame. He believes going on this battle with Enkidu will be nothing but great success, but everything changes though after the death of Enkidu. Enkidu’s death makes Gilgamesh want to live forever. Gilgamesh wants to escape death and tries to learn from Utanapishtim how to live forever. Utnapishtim’s hints to end his life as a careless man and his dreams of immortality and return to the life of humanity and peace.
Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh of the flood. He states that creation also contains the seed of death, meaning death is inescapable. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh of the flood. Gilgamesh does not listen. He still wants to be immortal. Utnapishtim told him to stay up for 6 nights. Gilgamesh sleeps and wakes up and the seven day. His humanity made him fail the test, no man can stay up for that long. Utnapishtim tells him to give up his fancy life and return home. After returning to Urk Gilgamesh realized his biggest accomplishment. He built a civilization that will continue long after his death. He did not need the heroic remembrance if the people at home remember him simply from building the walls to protect them. Just like Gilgamesh, Odysseus was confronted by death. He visits the underworld with this crew. The first person he sees was his mother. While Odysseus has been seeking glory and adventure, his family was suffering at home.
After talking to his mother, his desire for glory slowly changes for the desire of going home. His central value changes from glory to family honor. He wants to go home and protect his wife and son. Odysseus is next visited by the ghost of Achilles, who has been sent to the Underworld after being killed at war. He is a king in the underworld for his glory, but he made it clear that he regrets his own choice, “No winning words about death to me, shining Odysseus! By god, I’d rather slave on earth for another man – “If he could go back, he would choose to live a long, forgettable life, rather than die a young death. Achilles sacrifice his pleasures in life for the abstract promise of glory. Surprising, he still happy to hear that his son has become a great warrior though, showing how family continue your legacy. Odysseus had wished he could have died on the battlefield, but through his encounter with Achilles makes him see that he should savor his home and his family. Putting this two stories together. Odysseus at first was looking towards death. Fighting in battle meant the best life in the underworld.
After visiting Odysseus realize that may not be the case. He learned what was going back at home which made him want to go back and honor his family. Gilgamesh at first had you only live once attitude. Through his friendship with Enkidu Gilgamesh became a better leader to his people. He was able to gain understanding and connect with the people of Urk. Both these heroes at first believe that through battle and legendary circumstances that they will receive everlasting glory. While confronting death, Gilgamesh returns to Uruk having learned that life is measured not by fame, but by the time he spent while alive and the people with which he surrounded himself. Family plays an important role for greek culture. Family reflects on your legacy not fame and glory.
- Homer, Fitzgerald, R., Erni, H., & Homer,. (1963). The Odyssey. Garden City, N.Y: Anchor Books.
- Sandars, N. K. (1972). The epic of Gilgamesh. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
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