Gilgamesh and the Iliad
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Gilgamesh and the Iliad
Aristotle said, “The man who is incapable of working in common, or who in his self-sufficiency has no need of others, is no part of the community, like a beast or a god.” In the examination of this statement one may deduce that the burden of self-sufficiency haunts its possessor like a curse. That the man, who needs no one to aid him, lives a lonely, isolated life due to the supremacy he embodies. In short, their life becomes both a blessing and a curse in one. Individuals who have been bestowed with the gifts of the gods acquire names that stand the test of time. However, although their accomplishments are eternal, their lives are more often than not, short. It is in stories like the Iliad and Gilgamesh, that we find humans possessing characteristics that elevate individuals to god like status matching this quote of Aristotles belief.
In the Iliad, it is Achilles that separates himself from the community because he is well aware that he is the key to the Achaeans success in all their battles. Achilles makes note that the Achaeans will need his assistance in the future battles they will face against Troy, yet he is reluctant to help his fellow people because of the ungrateful lord of men Agamemnon, this displays his separation. Comparatively in the story of Gilgamesh, it is Gilgamesh himself that boasts of his strength, which surpasses all other men; from his people he takes what he wants, and no man can defend his strength. He declares himself the foundation of Uruk, and its reason for existence. In both stories, the heroes separate themselves from the community because of their godlike achievements. Common men in each story both revere the characters as gods due to their strength, and fear them like beast because of their tenacious ambition. Each god like character shows reluctance to be a part of the whole community, mainly because they are aware of their value to others. They begin to distance themselves from the resourcefulness of the community, and choose to be self-sufficient because they feel they give more than they gain by being a part of the said community.
In the Iliad, the Achaeans value Achilles violent nature, and the rage that fills his heart, which allows him to vanquish all his enemies. The Achaeans know that Achilles is the reason behind much of their victorious plundering. They look for his guidance in battle and feel safe when he takes charge. However, while the Achaeans waged war against Troy, many of the soldiers pleaded for Achilles to assist in their efforts to bring down its walls. The Achaeans know that his fury in battle was unmatched, but by the insolence of the lord of men Agamemnon, Achilles pride becomes insulted when the King shows him no respect in his decision to avoid confrontation with the Trojans. Agamemnon, because of Achilles defiance, takes that which is most precious to him, the lady Briseis, a “Prize” Achilles had acquired during one of their plunders. Achilles, already angered by Agamemnons actions, ultimately separates himself from the Achaeans causes after Agamemnons open display of disrespect towards him.
Within the story, Achilles knows there will soon be a time when Agamemnon will come back to him, begging for his assistance. It is my belief that this may be what makes it easy for Achilles to separate himself from the community; because even in his absence, he knows there is still a need for him. He is aware of his value to Agamemnon though Agamemnon does not seem to share that same clarity. Achilles knows he can fair without the Achaeans assistance though they might not be able to do so without his. He holds a tight relationship with the Argives he refuses to fight with, they have already depended and relied on him for so long. His dear friends and generals try to persuade him to join the battle before it is too late, and although Achilles shows them a kind hospitality, he still refuses their advances. However, in the end it was Patrolocus death that entices Achilles into battle, and the reader through the resolve of the story comes to understand, that even those who are the most glorious warriors in battle, are still mortal and are subject to death.
For Gilgamesh, many of the same characteristics Achilles possessed coincide with those of the formers accomplishments. Gilgamesh was renowned for being the strongest, wisest, and most courageous man alive and was also revered as being like a god, “Two thirds they made him god and one third man.”(Gilgamesh 13) He was commended for constructing the city of Uruk and he valued himself the most precious piece of the city. He took most of what he wanted because no man could defend him, and his arrogance of being the strongest matched Achilles violently rage-filled heart.
In the epic of Gilgamesh, we find the first signs of true separation from the community when Gilgamesh wanders through the forest after Enkidus death. Enkidus death stirs a newfound fear within him, a fear of an unavoidable demise.