Comparing Beowulf and Gilgamesh

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A Comparison of Beowulf and Gilgamesh

There are many differences and critical comparisons that can be drawn

between the epics of Beowulf and Gilgamesh. Both are historical poems which

shape their respected culture and both have major social, cultural, and

political impacts on the development of western civilization literature and

writing. Before any analysis is made, it is vital that some kind of a

foundation be established so that a further, in-depth exploration of the

complex nature of both narratives can be accomplished.

The epic of Gilgamesh is an important Middle Eastern literary work,

written in cuneiform on 12 clay tablets about 2000 BC. This heroic poem is named

for its hero, Gilgamesh, a tyrannical Babylonian king who ruled the city of Uruk,

known in the Bible as Erech (now Warka, Iraq). According to the myth, the gods

respond to the prayers of the oppressed citizenry of Uruk and send a wild,

brutish man, Enkidu, to challenge Gilgamesh to a wrestling match. When the

contest ends with neither as a clear victor, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become close

friends. They journey together and share many adventures. Accounts of their

heroism and bravery in slaying dangerous beasts spread to many lands.

When the two travelers return to Uruk, Ishtar (guardian deity of the

city) proclaims her love for the heroic Gilgamesh. When he rejects her, she

sends the Bull of Heaven to destroy the city. Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the bull,

and, as punishment for his participation, the gods doom Enkidu to die. After

Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh seeks out the wise man Utnapishtim to learn the secret

of immortality. The sage recounts to Gilgamesh a story of a great flood (the

details of which are so remarkably similar to later biblical accounts of the

flood that scholars have taken great interest in this story). After much

hesitation, Utnapishtim reveals to Gilgamesh that a plant bestowing eternal

youth is in the sea. Gilgamesh dives into the water and finds the plant but

later loses it to a serpent and, disconsolate, returns to Uruk to end his days.

This saga was widely studied and translated in ancient times. Biblical

writers appear to have modeled their account of the friendship of David and

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