Heroism is a theme that has appeared throughout history in the literature of different civilizations. Heroes represent the principles and ideals associated with the varying morals of each individual society. The literature of Mesopotamia and Western Europe is a prime example of this. Beowulf, an Anglo-Germanic tale and The Epic of Gilgamesh, of the Sumerians, demonstrate perfectly, the ability of civilizations to convey the values and customs of their society through their literature.
The setting for Beowulf is Scandinavia, before the time Christianity had spread its course. Beowulf, the title character is the hero in this tale. He possesses many of the typical heroic traits such as strength, courage, loyalty and the ability to conquer evil. A “superhero,” by today’s standards, Beowulf proves these characteristics in the confrontations he has during this legend. His strength is said to be that of thirty men. Beowulf is confident about his strength, not hesitating to boast of his accomplishments. Even to Hrothgar, the king, he tells of his great victory in a swimming match. Beowulf encounters monsters many times his size. The great courage that he possesses allows him to fight them with an enormous amount of confidence. Grendel and Grendel’s mother are slain by Beowulf. The dragon, although is dies, also mortally wounds the always confident Beowulf. Regardless of who Beowulf battles, his courage is a major force in his numerous victories. The last of Beowulf’s qualities, and possibly the most important is his loyalty. Beowulf’s loyalty is always on the side of good. He aligns himself with this side, which happens to be Hrothgar, and the people in which Beowulf rules over when he becomes king. Beowulf’s Loya...
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...read of Christianity to the area, is written by a Christian writer, creating the moral and ideas that go along with the Christian way of life. Beowulf seems to be for the people, almost with the feeling that something greater lies in wait for him if he serves his time on earth with honor. Gilgamesh on the other hand has no afterlife to look forward to. The Sumerian religion was that of life and then death. Life was what the people looked forward to, knowing that death brought the end, and there was no way to cheat it.
Both Gilgamesh and Beowulf represent what is of importance to their civilizations. They are heroes and examples of what to strive for in life. The cultural icons that frequent their literature demonstrate the values of these societies. These literary works, can still today, give us insight into the way of life of these ancient civilizations.
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