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Comparison of Aeneas from Aeneid and Gilgamesh from the Epic of Gilgamesh
The dominant factor in an epic is the heroic main character. This character often is the son of a god or goddess and is favored by the gods. Heroic characters are also always hounded by constant tragedy which drives them to fulfill their fates. Most heroic characters are high in social status and share close contacts with the gods. All of these qualities of heroic characters show up in the characters of Aeneas from The Aeneid and Gilgamesh from the Epic of Gilgamesh.
In this essay I will compare and contrast the qualities and plights of both Aeneas and Gilgamesh. These two epic heroes share similar fates, yet are very different in personality.
Gilgamesh was an arrogant tyrant of his city-state who was obsessed with increasing his own influence and power while Aeneas was more aloof, letting the gods and the fates guide his actions in life. Aeneas acted as a perfect pawn of the gods and was tossed around at their whims. Gilgamesh on the contrary took fate into his own hands and attempted to gain immortality by seeking out the immortals. Gilgamesh was a man who wanted more power than mortals were allowed and wanted his influence to be known forever. Aeneas simply wanted to fulfill the prophesy of founding Rome and making his Trojan followers happy.
Out of the two heroes Gilgamesh was the one who was most aggressive and pursued the more ambitious goal, though it was one near impossible to achieve. Gilgamesh wanted to have a power that only the gods possessed. He wanted to be immortal. Aeneas never sought such an unachievable task, and was not as determined as Gilgamesh was. Aeneas only had to find a place where the defeated Trojans could settle and found a new city. Once in the story he even had to be reminded of his destiny by the Jupiter when he was distracted by his love for Dido.
The trials of Aeneas and Gilgamesh were very similar. Both led tragic lives and suffered from the wrath of the gods. Aeneas witnessed his family die, his home city burned to the ground, and was victim to the goddess Juno’s plots throughout his fated journey to Italy. Gilgamesh had seen his best friend die from the gods’ vengeance and was emotionally crushed by it.
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Despite Gilgamesh’s more aggressive approach to his fate, he never achieved his goal in the end. The story of Gilgamesh ends with the hero returning to Uruk in misery from his utter failure at achieving immortality. Aeneas, with his milder approach to his goal, ended up succeeding. He defeated his enemies and the Trojans were able to set up the permanent city of Rome in Italy.
Of the two heroes I admire Aeneas more, although he played as a pawn of the gods throughout his life. Unlike Gilgamesh, Aeneas did not formulate any grand schemes to increase his power. He simply followed his destiny and was rewarded in the end when everything turned out the way the gods had fated it. Gilgamesh had had all of his glory early in his life, and at the end he realized that it was all wasted.