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Comparison of Myths and Heroes

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Heroes of Medieval Times

Throughout civilization there have been many changes in the views and ethics of society. Different civilizations believed that different distinct characteristics gave a person character which changes how the rest of society will view them. As civilization has progressed there have been many heroes thatare very different. Some of these heroes have been fierce warriors who fought with passion for their empire or kingdom, while others have been loyal and sacrificed their own well being for the greater good of a civilization. All of these heroes have been a role model for their society in one way or another. People always took pride in being connected with the heroes of their time. Having a hero gives people hope and determination, which is a very important characteristic. Wars have been won because a hero has given his people the inner strength to continue even though they are extremelyoutnumbered or losing horribly. They also give people honor in being part of their city or territory. Romans would believe in this aspect very strongly. Heroes have been the back bone that has helped different civilizations continue with the support of its people. If the people in each civilization had no honoror loyalty then we would have had many more different civilizations because ofconstant overthrows and takeovers.

Even in today's world heroes and role models are changing. 10 years ago sports figures used to be the highlight of every bodies life; now people are looking towards our soldiers who are fighting overseas. The same change has happened throughout known civilization. Starting with Gilgamesh, the first known piece of literature, and going through the Aneid then on to The Sermon on the Mount the concept of the hero has changed drastically. The evolution of thehero in the medieval world has changed many times; a hero in one era would not be a hero in another and this will continue into the future. The first known hero was a man named Gilgamesh who was the king of Uruk. The story of Gilgamesh is the first known piece of literature and it is avery important epic of history. Uruk was a city located in ancient Mesopotamia, which was located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

This is the location where civilization is believed to have begun. His city was seen as asymbol of strength, it had very high walls that were very strong. This was seen as a symbol of greatness by many. Gilgamesh was supposedly two thirds god and one third human. He was seen as the greatest king on earth and possessed manypowers; however, Gilgamesh was a young man that did not treat his people withrespect which would get him into some trouble.

The people of Uruk were troubled with Gilgamesh's treatment and prayed to the Gods. Aruru sent a wild man named Enkidu who had the same strength as Gilgamesh. He was sent to calm Gilgamesh down so the people of Uruk could have a little more peace. Gilgamesh and Enkidu end up fighting, but afterwards become great friends and have many great adventures together. Enkidu and Gilgamesh were involved in a battle where they killed the Bull of Heaven. The gods met and realized that somebody had to pay for this crime; they decided Enkidu should pay the price and he suffered for 12 days before dying. This caused Gilgamesh a lot of pain and he finally learns the feeling of loss. Gilgamesh has a rough time dealing with the loss of his best friend and decides that he can not live any longer unless he is granted immortality. Gilgamesh then turns to a sage named Utanapishtim who describes a story of an epic flood. This flood is closely related to the flood in the Christian bible. Utanapishtim builds a great boat and carries two of every animal in it. The god Enlil was very angry because someone let Utanapishtim know about the flood. Enlil decided to grant Utanapishtim and his wife complete immortality. Utanapishtim then tells Gilgamesh about a thorny plant that only grows beneath the great sea. Gilgamesh then goes on a search for this plant and eventually finds it and takes it back to the surface. The plant was later stolen from Gilgamesh by a serpent that ate the plant and then shed its skin. This is where Gilgamesh realizes that there is not an escape from death (Lawall18-34). He discovers that fame is a sense of immortality, his story and essence will live on forever (Taylor).

Gilgamesh during his own time was not seen as a hero; we now can see that he was a very important hero by the story that was left behind. At firs the treated his people with disrespect by making them feel inferior, but with the gods help he was given a more personal character. In the Course of the epic, Gilgamesh changes from an arrogant, oppressive ruler whose people complain to the gods to a person who has experienced friendship, love, andloss, and who has been humbled by grief and the fear of death (Lawall 16). He learned the feeling of loss from his best friend's death and also about humanity from the story of the flood. We now see Gilgamesh as a man who went through many changes which were for the better. Gilgamesh becomes a responsible ruler who rules his community with wisdom and creates human cultural achievements that outlast his own reign and are passed down to future generations. (Abusch 1)

A second literary work that incorporates the importance of heroes in the ancient world is the Iliad. This story was written by the 8th century poet Homer. He utilized the people surrounding him for his writings. His poems celebrate the values of ancient Greek civilization, incorporating many ancient myths and folk motifs and examining such themes as heroism, fate, honor,loyalty, and justice (Homer 1). All of the different themes that Homer used inhis writings describe the type of person that the Greeks believed deserved thetitle of hero.

The beginning of the Iliad starts after Troy had already been at warwith Greek army. The war was started because Paris was the judge of a beauty contest that involved three goddesses. The winner of the contest was going to be Paris' wife. Paris chose Helen to be the most beautiful women in the world, but she was already the wife of Menelaus. Menelaus blamed Paris and turned to Agamemnon, who was his brother and he led the Greek forces to wage war on Troy. Achilles, the great Greek warrior, is mad at Agamemnon for stealing a woman that he had won as a war prize. Achilles mother, Thesis, dipped him in a liquid when he was young, which gave him immortality, but she held him by his ankle giving him one weakness. Agamemnon had taken Achilles woman because he was stripped of a woman that he had won. This causes Achilles to stop fighting the war against Troy. Achilles prays to his mother Thesis and learns that if the Trojan warrior Hector dies that it is Achilles fate to also die. As long as Hector did not die Achilles fate would not come true.

The war then becomes involved with the Gods; different gods were oneach side of the war and the war constantly went back and forth between theTrojans and Greeks. The Trojans start to turn the war to their side andPatroclus decides to help out the Greeks. Patroclus was Achilles best friendand knew that if he wore Achilles armor it would give moral to the Greektroops. Patroclus drives the Trojans almost all the way back into the city, butHector engages him in battle and kills him. He then stole the armor off thecorpse of Patroclus and wears it in the continuing battles. Achilles is enragedwhen he learns of his best friend's death and calls on his mother to acquire anew set of armor. Achilles finally joins the Greek army and leads them inbattle. He has absolutely no fear because he knows that his fate is death; manyTrojans are slaughtered by his revenge. Achilles finally meets with Hector andkills him. Hector, surely you thought as you killed Patroclus you would besafe, and since I was far away you thought nothing of me, o fool, for anavenger was left, far greater than he was, behind him and away by the hollowships (Mueller 100). After he killed hector he defiles his body by dragging Hector behind his horse because he believes Hector deserves this cruel treatment. The Trojan War is later won by the Greeks when they used a horsemade of wood to gain access to the city (Lawall 107-205).

The Greek morals were very different than the morals we have today or even the morals during the time of Gilgamesh. When Achilles took the womenas a war prize it was a normal occurrence. That was what the society expected to be done. The Greeks believed in honor and loyalty for one's country as well as a man being a good strong warrior. The chief aim of a hero's life is to win fame and immortality, do his duty, fulfill his fate, and guard his honor and that of his companions (Homer 3). Achilles resembles all of these characteristics; although he did go overboard with revenge at times. The Trojan War was started because Paris took Menelaus' wife; he did not earn her in battle like a true warrior would. This caused the great war which was the demise of Troy. Achilles is seen as a hero because even though he knew his fate was death, if Hector was killed, he still fought for his kingdom, friend, andeven foe, Agamemnon. His mother warned him of what would happen, but the death of his friend needed to be revenged as well as the theft of Menelaus' wife. Hewas strong and a great warrior, these qualities are the epitome of a Greekhero. These qualities are very different from the story of Gilgamesh where we say Gilgamesh become more of a humanitarian. Gilgamesh became more caring and forgiving to his people and his people desired this. If Achilles did that hewould be seen as a weak warrior; he would probably be challenged by anotherwarrior because of this weakness.

Hector is also seen as a hero in this story because he fought with great honor for Troy. He knew that Achilles was a great warrior that would bevery difficult to defeat, yet he still engaged him in battle with honor andonly requested to die with dignity. These qualities are still very different from other civilizations that follow. A story from the Roman era that is closely related to Iliad is the Aeneid. This story was written by Rome's favorite poet Virgil. This story was a rip off of Homer's story and described how Rome was suppose to be founded (Taylor). Virgil wrote the story to describe how important Roman family values and sacrifice for ones country was very important. Virgil also wrote this text by taking payments from the Roman government which leads people to believe it was created to show Roman people the attributes that were desired in their society.

This story's main character is Aeneas who was the prince of Troy. Aeneas had managed to make an escape while the city was being overthrown and he wasgiven a mission from the Gods. His mission was to find the city of Rome. This was seen as a very important duty because during that time if the Gods told aperson to do something it was especially important. This is the reason Romans believed they were special; the Gods wanted them to be founded. While Aeneas was sailing to the Italian peninsula the gods decided to test him. They created a large storm that blew Aeneas very far off course, and this landed his ship in Carthage. When he arrived he was welcomed by Queen Dido, who was a widow. In Carthage, Aeneas is viewed as a hero simply because he fits the physical description. Didoand Aeneas end up going on a hunting trip, but before they could make it backto the city a storm came and forced them to take shelter. They found a cave and decided to stay the night and wait for the storm to subside. While they were in this cave they engaged in a mutual attraction and had an intimate encounterwith each other. Aeneas does like Dido, but he does not take their relationshipas seriously as Dido does. She believes that their encounter in the cave was amarriage vow.

Dido being extremely attached and attracted to Aeneas offers him theopportunity to stay in Carthage and become king. This is a very goodopportunity for Aeneas because he doesn't have to set up anything; the entirekingdom is already there and he could become rich and have a wife (Taylor). Aeneas is put in a very tough situation because he was summoned by the Gods tofound Rome, but he does love Dido and would love to stay and rule Carthage. While Aeneas was contemplating his decision the Gods sent Mercury as a messengerto remind him of his duty to find Rome. Aeneas makes the decision to leave thecomfort and ease of staying in Carthage to go back on his mission and find Rome. He is on fire to fly, and leave the too-well-loved city, astoundedat so unlooked-for a warning and at the command of the gods (Shairp 405). This passage describes how Aeneas felt about leaving Carthage. This wasn't a veryhard decision in the end because he knew that he was true to the Gods and whatwould be the city of Rome. Aeneas and his men set sail to search for Rome and Dido completely loses her sanity. She is completely heartbroken and commits suicide, but before doing so she threatens Rome to be an enemy for alleternity. Aeneas ends up going to the land of the dead to gain some information and he meets Dido there. He tried to explain his sorrow and guilt he felt forher death, but she was reluctant to accept his apology. Aeneas ends up going onmany more expeditions and journeys, but he never finds the city of Rome. His descendant Romulus finds the city in 753 BCE. Aeneas gave up many different things that he knew he had for sure togo and try to find the city of Rome. He could have stayed in Carthage with Didoand had love, wealth, fame, and a great life; however, he decided that Rome was more important and gave up everything to go on his search. He was seen as a heroto all Romans because he resembled all of the family values that Romans had. They believed in loyalty, honesty, sacrifice, and respect. It could be said thatAeneas laid down the ground rules for the Roman values and qualities. He showed great respect for the Gods by following their orders and continuing to find Rome, and sacrifice by giving up certain wealth. This led Romans to believe that theircity was important and it was worth losing everything for. If it were possibleto have a conversation with Aeneas in the land of the dead he would say that even though he had failed to find Rome, it was worth the effort. Even if heknew he would never find Rome, his loyalty to the Gods would have kept him fromstaying in Carthage. This quality gives Aeneas a lot of character and gives himthe title of hero.

The Romans also believed in many of the same characteristics the Greeks believed in, such as being a fierce warrior. When Christianity started to come into the Roman world it changed the views of what a hero was. TheRomans believed that if they were disrespected they returned the favor to whoever disrespected them. However, the Christian bible started to make its wayinto the Roman world and this was a very drastic change. In the New Testament Matthew 5-7 it states: Blessed are the poor in spirit, because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are they who sorrow, because they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle,they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they who are hungry and thirsty forrighteousness, because they shall be fed. Blessed are they who have pity, because they shall be pitied. Blessed are the pure in heart, because they shallsee God. Blessed are the Peace makers, because they shall be called the sons ofGod. Blessed are they who are persecuted for their righteousness, becausetheirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. (Lawall 1085-1086)

These were the opposite views of what the traditional Romans believed. People in Rome started to turn to Christianity because it gave themindividual hope in something. It gave people the chance for individual salvation. The New Testament describes that the true believers will reach heaven, and fierce warriors who have no pity will not reach salvation. Thisshows another example of how civilization has changed its views of heroes. Hero's will consistently change throughout the rest of civilization as different lifestyles and ethics come into play. All of the heroes discussed were very important role models to the people in that time. Heroes give hope and meaning in peoples lives; even though some are fierce warriors while otherstry to benefit society. Gilgamesh, Achilles, and Aeneas' stories have lived on for thousands of years; this makes them true heroes that will continue to be an important role in civilizations to come.

ReferencesAbusch, Tzvi. The Development and Meaning of the Epic of Gilgamesh: AnInterpretive Essay. Journal of the American Oriental Society 121. No. 4 Pg. 614-22.Homer, Iliad, Plot Summary and Discussion Issues. Goucher.11/12/2007. Pg.1-5.


Homer. Literature Resource Center. 11/01/2007. Pg. 1-4.


Hooker, Richard. Gilgamesh. WSU. 11/01/2007. Pg 1-10.


Lawall, Sarah. Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Aeneid, The New Testament.

The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. Vol. 1. New York: W.W. Norton &Company 2006. Pg. 15-34, 100-205, 926-1023,1082-89.

Mueller, Martin. "Fighting in the Iliad" The Literature Resource Center. 1984. Pg. 1-12.http://galenet.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.fit.edu/servlet.

Publius Virgilius Maro: The Aenid,. Authors Digest. Volume 17. Author Press1908. Pg. 1-4.

Shairp, J. C. "Virgil as a Precursor of Christianity". The Princeton Review. Vol. 4. July-December: 1879.Pg. 401-20.

Taylor, Robert. Lecture, Civilization 1. Florida Institute of Technology. Fallsemester 2006.

Why is Achilles the greatest of the Greek heroes?. About.com. 11/19/2007. Pg. 1. http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa092899a.htm

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