Gilgamesh, Achilles and the Human Condition

Gilgamesh, Achilles and the Human Condition

Gilgamesh and Achilles, each heroes of their respective epic tales, embody the whole array of typical heroic attributes. They stand above. They are men set apart. They operate somehow in that area that lies between average mortals and the gods themselves. They are stronger, faster, more wily than those they face in battle. They overcome. They are men who stand alone in their various strengths.

They are also susceptible to weakness. Each of them, at pivotal times in their stories, are reduced to debilitating grief. They are brought low. At least for a moment, they are given the clarity to see some of the errors in their ways. They stand alone. But it is now different from the typical heroic way of being alone, against the world, against an overwhelming foe. It is at these times that they are alone; but it is a solitude different from that with which the typical hero is familiar. It is the kind of isolation which breeds creativity. It is the beginning of a movement in their characters form warrior to poet.

This moment of realization, in both cases, seems to be intimately tied to the rare experience of vulnerability. They become all that is seemingly opposed to the heroism with which they are identified. They become weak. Ironically, though, it is precisely in this weakness that they are made truly strong. Or rather, they are given the clarity to see their "true selves." It seems that it is necessary for each of these characters to suffer this seeming loss of dignity in order to find their true identity, their true place in the world. Part of this self-discovery involves the creative process through which they begin to find their respective "voices" which allows them to tell thei...

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...ormation himself, he does go back home and order the story told. Though Achilles himself succumbs to his own wrath which ultimately brings upon his own demise, he does appear later in Homer's work. Achilles is able to give the account of himself from the underworld to Odysseus as he attempts to make his way through life. Little by little, it seems, though no one ever seems to completely "get it," the narrative of the human condition as transmitted through the epic tradition does go on. There are great victories along the way. There are mistakes made which bring dire consequences. Heroes and everyday people act sometimes out of pride, sometimes fear, sometimes anger, sometimes even out of humility and selflessness. One way or the other, the adventure of the human spirit does continue and epics like Gilgamesh and The Iliad continue to shed light on the whole endeavor.

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