Epic Heroes: Gilgamesh and Achilles

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From the days of ancient Greece and before, epic heroes have had their lives chronicled and their stories passed on from generation to generation all the way to present day. Two of the greatest heroes have been Gilgamesh from the epic named after him and Achilles from Homer's Iliad. While the two men's stories transpired in vastly different eras, their lives shared a surprising number of commonalities. Of course, with resemblances come several discrepancies in the way they lived and the ideals they believed in.

The first aspect that exemplifies both Gilgamesh's and Achilles' similarities and differences is divinity. Both Gilgamesh and Achilles are the sons of divine mothers. Gilgamesh, two-thirds divine and one-third mortal, is the son of Ninsun. His divine blood has lent him unmatched strength and skill as a warrior. However, instead of using his fortune in a noble manner, Gilgamesh acts as if he is a full god, ignorant to the consequences of his actions and how this portrayed his character to his people. "By day and by night his tyranny grows harsher... lets no daughter go free to her mother... lets no girl go free to her bridegroom." (George, 169-175). This ultimately caused the people of Uruk to pray to the gods to send a response to Gilgamesh's rule, which will be discussed later.

Achilles, son of Thetis, also had divine blood flowing through his veins. He, however, was well aware of his mortality, as he chose a shortened lifespan full of glory over a longer, non-glorious life. "Alas, that you should be at once short of life and long of sorrow above your peers," exclaims his mother. (Butler, I). Despite accepting his mortality, Achilles, like Gilgamesh, was blessed with unequaled strength and skill as t...

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...e also existed many differences. Most striking was their view on death; one dreamt of immortality while the other adored death and all its glory. At the same time, one must acknowledge the significant effect their friends had on their lives. One cannot help but wonder how each hero's life would have been without what could be considered his soul mate. Regardless, one must accept the fact that Achilles and Gilgamesh were heroes of their time and will remain epic heroes that are continually analyzed and compared throughout the modern era.


George, Andrew. (2000). The Epic of Gilgamesh. London: Penguin Group.

Homer. (800 BCE). The Iliad: Translated by Samuel Butler. Retrieved March 17, 2006 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Web site:
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