The Epics Of Gilgamesh & Beowulf

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

For many years epic poems have been written shadowing glorious tales of brave heroes that went on journeys in search of some form of great treasure or other intangible objective. Among the many poems in this era the two tales that stood out from the readings we have covered thus far is The Epic of Gilgamesh and Beowulf. They both embark on quest, displayed their physical strengths and both characters share the desire to obtain immortality.

Both Poems narrative is based from the two heroes going on quests and displaying characteristics of possessing great physical strength; However in the story of King Gilgamesh whom is known to be stronger than any other man. Examples of his strength were exhibited when advised through the readings that “He built the walls of ramparted Uruk One square mile of city, one square mile of gardens, One square mile of clay pits, a half square mile of Ishtar’s dwelling, Three and a half square miles is the measure of Uruk!” (Puchner 23) Gilgamesh is portrayed as a restless ruler who often fights with his subjects and womanizes, so Aruru is charged with creating “a partner for Gilgamesh, mighty in strength, Let them contend with each other, that Uruk may have peace. ” This partner is then named Enkidu. (Puchner 24) The climax of the epic occurs when Enkidu dies. His death is a turning point in the life of Gilgamesh; it sends him on a quest that educates and matures him. Upon Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh avers, “And, as for me, now that you are dead, I will let my hair grow matted, I will put on a lion skin and roam the steppe!” (p. 57) in the epic poem Beowulf, his quest are for personal glory. His physical strength is displayed when Unferth challenges Beowulf, claiming that it was Breca who beat him in an endurance test while swimming. To this challenge, Beowulf coolly replies, “Well, friend Unferth, you have had your say about Breca and me. But it was mostly beer that was doing the talking. The truth is this: when the going was heavy in those high waves, I was the strongest swimmer of all. ” (Puchner 854)

Even after defeating Grendel to which Beowulf tells his fellow warriors who have accompanied him to Hrothgar’s kingdom, “[Grendel] has no idea of the arts of war, of shield or sword-play, although he does possess a wild strength. No weapons, therefore, for either this night: unarmed he shall face me if face me he dares. ” (Puchner 857)The narrator describes Grendel’s mortal injury, saying, “The monster’s whole body was in pain; a tremendous wound appeared on his shoulder. Sinews split and the bone-lapping’s burst. Beowulf was granted the glory of winning. ” (Puchner860) he then battled Grendel’s mother to which his physical strength was displayed after Beowulf’s sword, fails to kill Grendel’s mother, he looks around for another weapon: “Then he saw a blade that boded well, a sword in her armory, an ancient heirloom, from the days of the giants, an ideal weapon, one that any warrior would envy, but so huge and heavy of itself only Beowulf could wield it in a battle. ” (Puchner 878) and lastly upon becoming King of Geatland, to which According to the poem, “He ruled it well for fifty winters, grew old and wise as warden of the land /until one began to dominate the dark, a dragon on the prowl from the steep vaults of a stone-roofed barrow. ” (Puchner 892) Beowulf felt the need to prove himself in battle against the dragon as he thinks that he must have offended the God in some way to be attacked by the dragon.

Finally the desire for immortality is similar in both epics. Gilgamesh way of achieving immortality seems to be through his accomplishments for the culture such as the things he built such as the walls of ramparted as mentioned early on in this essay. Meanwhile, Beowulf attempts to do heroic and great deeds displaying acts of bravery as outlined above so that he would be remembered forever while completing his final quest and also learning that Utanapishtim and his wife have survived the flood that was intended to kill all humans, Enlil proclaims, “‘Hitherto Utanapishtim has been a human being, Now Utanapishtim and his wife shall become like us gods.

Utanapishtim shall dwell far distant at the source of the rivers. ’” (p. 71)He was given the token to immorality “I will reveal to you, O Gilgamesh, a secret matter, There is a certain plant, its stem is like a thorn bush, its thorns, like the wild rose, will prick [your hand]. If you can secure this plant (Puchner 73) He got it however, while he went to bathe a snake caught the scent of the plant, stealthily it came up and carried the plant away to which, Gilgamesh sat down weeping his tears flowed down (Puchner 74) as he felt like he invested so much of him to leave with nothing Meanwhile, Beowulf’s quest for glory leads to his death. Although Beowulf gave his life in order to save his people, no one could enjoy the dragon’s treasure trove because “That huge cache, gold inherited from an ancient race, was under a spell— which meant no one was ever permitted to enter the ring-hall unless God Himself, mankind’s Keeper, True King of Triumphs, allowed some person pleasing to Him— and in His eyes worthy—to open the hoard. ” (p. 910)

In conclusion they both had different techniques of trying to reach their agenda, although both share the unique qualities of being flawless, strong, and heroic to the end. Both Gilgamesh and Beowulf are not what many may consider to be heroes. Regardless of how brave and dedicated they may have been, they are still possessed a degree of devotion to their quest, while displaying physical strength, and seeking some form of immorality.

Works Cited

  1. Puchner, Martin and Benjamin Foster. ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh. ‘ The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Shorter Fourth Edition. Fourth Shorter. 1. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2019. 18-74. Print.
  2. Puchner, Martin and Seamus Heaney. ‘Beowulf (ninth century). ‘ The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Shorter Fourth Edition. Fourth Shorter. 1. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2019. 836-912. Print.


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