Beowulf and Gilgamesh are two of the most well-known and respected works of ancient literature. Though they were written in different cultures and at different times, there are many similarities between the two epics. In this essay, I will compare and contrast Beowulf and Gilgamesh, looking at their themes, settings, and characters.
Beowulf is an Old English epic poem that was written sometime between the 8th and 11th centuries. The poem tells the story of Beowulf, a brave warrior who goes on a quest to slay a dragon. Beowulf is a hero who embodies the values of loyalty, courage, and strength. He is also a symbol of hope for his people, who face many challenges in their daily lives.
The epic of Gilgamesh, meanwhile, was written sometime between 2100 and 1400 BCE in the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk. The story follows the titular character, a brave king who goes on a quest to find immortality. Along the way, he encounters various dangers and perils, including a giant scorpion sent by the gods to kill him.
Despite being written centuries apart and in different cultures, Beowulf and Gilgamesh share many similarities. Both epics are told from an omniscient point of view, feature fantastical settings and characters, and focus on themes such as courage, heroism, friendship, love, loss, and mortality.
Additionally, both Beowulf and Gilgamesh are seen as archetypal heroes who represent the ideals of their respective cultures. Ultimately, Beowulf and Gilgamesh have stood the test of time and remain some of the most celebrated works of ancient literature to this day.
There are several significant distinctions and important contrasts that can be drawn between Beowulf’s epic and Gilgamesh’s poem. Both are historical works that shape their respective societies, and both have crucial social, cultural, and political ramifications on the growth of Western civilization literature and writing. It is critical to establish a basis before any analysis is done so that a more comprehensive study of the intricate nature of both stories may be completed.
Beowulf is an Old English epic poem which was most likely written between the 8th and 11th centuries. Beowulf tells the story of a young Geatish warrior who, upon hearing tales of a great monster terrorizing the neighboring kingdom of the Danes, decides to offer his services in defeating this fiend. After slaying the creature, Beowulf returns home only to later find himself having to defend his people from a dragon.
Beowulf ultimately dies in battle but not before slaying the dragon and fulfilling his heroic destiny. The epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest known pieces of literature in existence, with fragments of the text dating back as far as the 3rd millennium BCE. The full text wasn’t discovered until the 19th century, however, when it was found amongst the ruins of the royal library of the Assyrian king Assurbanipal.
The epic tells the story of Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, and his adventures with his friend Enkidu. The two go on many quests together, including a journey to the underworld and a battle with the Bull of Heaven. Eventually, Enkidu dies and Gilgamesh is left to grapple with his own mortality. These are just brief summaries of each epic poem but they provide a good starting point for further analysis.
One key difference between Beowulf and Gilgamesh is that Beowulf is set in Scandinavia while Gilgamesh takes place in Mesopotamia. This geographical difference is significant because it affects the overall tone and style of each epic. Beowulf, with its focus on Scandinavian culture and mythology, is much more militaristic in nature than Gilgamesh, which gives a more detailed and nuanced view of Mesopotamian society.
Another key difference is that Beowulf is written in verse while Gilgamesh is written in prose. This again affects the tone and style of each epic, with Beowulf feeling more like an epic poem or song while Gilgamesh reads more like a story.
When it comes to similarities, there are many. Both Beowulf and Gilgamesh are stories about heroic figures who go on great adventures and eventually meet their demise. Both epics also feature engaging battle sequences, with Beowulf famously battling the monster Grendel and Gilgamesh encountering Humbaba. Furthermore, both Beowulf and Gilgamesh are widely considered to be foundational texts in western literature, shaping the way we think about heroism and epic narratives even to this day.
Overall, Beowulf and Gilgamesh are two of the most important early works of western literature, each providing a unique glimpse into ancient cultures that are now lost to us. Whether you’re more interested in Beowulf’s Viking adventure or Gilgamesh’s Mesopotamian adventures is really up to personal preference, as both epics have something valuable and interesting to offer.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient Middle Eastern literary composition written in cuneiform on twelve clay tablets dating from around 2000 BC. This rousing poem is called for its protagonist, Gilgamesh, a tyrannical Babylonian king who governed the city of Uruk (now Warka, Iraq), known in the Bible as Erech. According to legend, the gods respond to the pleas of Uruk’s oppressed citizens and send a wild, savage man named Enkidu to challenge Gilgamesh to a wrestling contest.
The two become fast friends, and team up to fight monsters and destroy evil. While Beowulf is often considered the first English epic poem, it shares many similarities with Gilgamesh. Like Beowulf, Gilgamesh is a hero defined by his strength and courage in battle. He also exhibits great wisdom and prescience, possessing knowledge of both the past and future that allows him to overcome challenges that would defeat ordinary men.
Additionally, Beowulf and Gilgamesh share similar themes of hubris, or excessive pride; both heroes are warned against pursuing power at all costs but ultimately cannot resist their innate desire for dominance over others. Ultimately, however, Beowulf’s story ends in tragedy when he dies gloriously in battle, while Gilgamesh achieves immortality through his friend Enkidu’s self-sacrifice.
Even though Beowulf and Gilgamesh are separated by over two millennia and come from vastly different cultures, their stories remain relevant today due to the universality of their themes. Both Beowulf and Gilgamesh are epic heroes who embody the best and worst qualities of human nature, making them relatable and compelling characters that readers can root for or against.
Additionally, both poems explore the human condition in all its facets, from the depths of anguish and despair to the heights of elation and joy. In this way, Beowulf and Gilgamesh continue to inspire modern audiences with their timeless tales of good vs. evil, love and loss, and the ultimately human need for companionship and connection.
When the two visitors return to Uruk, Ishtar (the city’s guardian deity) proclaims her love for Gilgamesh. She sends the Bull of Heaven to demolish the city when he rejects her. Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the bull, and as a consequence of his involvement, the gods decree that Enkidu must perish. To obtain Utnapishtim’s knowledge on immortality, Gilgamesh goes looking for him after Enkidu’s death.
Utnapishtim tells him that he was able to obtain eternal life because the gods showed mercy on him during the great flood. Gilgamesh is unable to stay awake for seven days and nights, as Utnapishtim did, and so he returns home, realizing that death is inevitable.
In Beowulf, the titular hero comes to the aid of Hrothgar, king of the Danes, who has been terrorized by a monster named Grendel. Beowulf kills Grendel with his bare hands and, later, Grendel’s mother with a sword forged for him by a blacksmith. Beowulf then returns home to Geatland (in modern-day Sweden). Fifty years later, Beowulf is an old man and king of the Geats when a dragon begins terrorizing his kingdom. Beowulf fights the dragon in an epic battle that ultimately claims his own life but ensures the safety and prosperity of his people.
Both Beowulf and Gilgamesh are epic poems that portray powerful heroes who must confront fierce monsters and deadly threats in order to protect their kingdoms. Beowulf is often hailed as one of the greatest epics in literature, while Gilgamesh remains one of the oldest stories known to humans. Despite this, both works are also criticized for various reasons, including their depiction of gender roles, their glorification of violence, and their use of mythological figures without much context or explanation.