I have several essays from my college years sitting around gathering dust. Instead of trashing them, I am editing them and putting them online. The following is one such essay. I wrote this one for a mythology class.
The dominant factor in an epic is the heroic main character. This character often is the son of a god or goddess, who favors them. Tragedy constantly hounds heroic characters and drives them to fulfill their fates. Most heroic characters are high in social status and share close contact with the gods. All these qualities appear in Aeneas from The Aeneid and Gilgamesh from The Epic of Gilgamesh.
In this essay, I will compare and contrast the plights of both Aeneas and Gilgamesh. These two epic heroes share similar fates, yet are different in personality.
Gilgamesh was an arrogant tyrant who obsessed over increasing his influence and power. Aeneas was more aloof, letting the gods and fate guide his actions in life. Aeneas acted as a perfect pawn of the gods, who tossed him around at their whims. However, Gilgamesh took fate into his hands. He attempted to gain immortality by seeking out the immortals. Gilgamesh was a man who wanted eternal power and influence. Aeneas had the simpler desire to fulfill the prophecy of founding Rome.
Out of the two heroes, Gilgamesh was the one who was most aggressive. He pursued a 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 the god Jupiter even had to remind him of his destiny when his love for Dido distracted him.
The trials of Aeneas and Gilgamesh were similar. Both led tragic lives and suffered from the wrath of the gods. Aeneas saw his family die, his home city burned to the ground, and was victim to the goddess Juno’s plots. Gilgamesh was distraught over seeing his best friend killed by the gods’ vengeance.
Despite Gilgamesh’s more aggressive approach, he never achieved his goal in the end. At the end of the story, Gilgamesh returned to Uruk in misery after failing to achieve immortality. Aeneas, with his milder approach to his goal, ended up succeeding. He defeated his enemies, and the Trojans were able to found the 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 plan any grand schemes to increase his power. He followed his destiny and received his reward in the end. Gilgamesh had had all his glory early in his life, and at the end, he realized that it was all wasted.
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