The characters of Gilgamesh and Achilles share many aspects with each other in their separate stories. They are both concerned for their own mortality and glory. They are both drawn into their destiny by their reactions to the death of their friends. They are both great fighters and well respected in their respective positions, and both are tied in with the gods of their own culture but with different motives that do cross paths in some ways.
Gilgamesh searches for immortality after fear of death sets in when he loses his friend while Achilles has to choose if he should die early and have glory, or live his life long but without glory.
Both characters are great warriors but are both put in their places at the end of their journeys, because at the end of the day they are both just mortals which lead them through their fates.
Both of these great warriors, Achilles and Gilgamesh, have no interest in women or family except both of their mothers.
The mother of both these characters is very important and the only real relationship for both of them throughout their journey. Gilgamesh is a brute and has little place in Uruk so he sets out for glory, while Achilles is very well accepted but then turns to more of a brute as the story progresses. Gilgamesh realizes he is afraid of death which leads him on his search for Immortality. Contrasting Gilgamesh, Achilles does not fear death until the end where he must make his decision to die in combat or live on.
Both characters share a quest for something they want and struggle to try and achieve it.
Achilles must ultimately decide his fate when faced with it as his most important decision. Achilles says, “My mother… Tells me two fates sweep me on to my death. If I stay here and fight, I’ll never return home, But my glory will be undying forever. If I return home to my dear fatherland My glory is lost but my life will be long.” (IX 422-427) Achilles may choose to accept glory and face an early death, or surrender his glory for long life. This brings out his thoughts on what he really wants for his life, not caring for material rewards but wanting more precious things which include glory and life. He must decide between fates and choose life or glory for himself. He decides in that moment that glory is more important to him and his life will be sacrificed for that eternal glory.
One lesson Achilles learns is to control his own values. His choices are not often well planned but emotionally based. The decisions have harsh consequences and the lesson to be learned is to have more self-control and put values into perspective. The decision he makes to stay and fight for glory rather than live a long life ends up being a decision he regrets. We find this later during The Odyssey, when Achilles states, “I’d rather slave on earth for another man… than rule down here over all the breathless dead.” (Odyssey XI, 556-558) When he values eternal glory over life it comes back to haunt him almost literally as he is tortured by it in the underworld.
Gilgamesh is a fierce warrior but his friend Enkidu calms him and keeps him focused. Once firmly focused on glory, wealth and power, the death of Enkidu makes Gilgamesh fear for his own life in which he sets out to find Immortality. He searches for Utnapishtim who is the one mortal that was given the gift of eternal life. He finds he is not fit to be immortal and cannot complete the task required for immortality, including losing the plant that can make people young again with life.
At first Gilgamesh weeps over this loss but soon finds his place. When his adventure concludes, he does not find the secret to living forever but comes back to be a better king where he truly belongs. Immortality is for the Gods and the one time it was granted to the mortal, Utnapishtim was a single occurrence and will not happen again.
Both of these characters have several similarities and differences. Both of these stories have more than just a single lesson that can be learned from the characters strengths and flaws. Achilles the great runner, and renowned warrior and Gilgamesh the unstoppable brute and king of heroes both have many strengths as well as weaknesses. Overall it is important to remember one’s own values and strengths and to find a place to fit in just as these characters struggle to do. Material things do not last forever and life and glory are very precious but not everyone can have everything they desire. Both Achilles and Gilgamesh struggle to achieve this and personify this human want for what they do not have and what they cannot achieve.
Gilgamesh is also not considered to be a complete hero by some standards. “If we think a hero ought to be brave but self-sacrificing, noble, modest, and good, then Gilgamesh falls short in all but bravery.” (Moseley) Gilgamesh does strive to be brave and accomplish his glory and immortality but is not as much of a hero as Achilles can be described as. Gilgamesh seems to let this quest for immortality blind him to much else that a hero should care about. The audience should not take too much from Gilgamesh other than his Bravery. He does not provide much well induced thought that the audience should use for any of their own personal decisions.
Achilles does provide more for the audience with his struggle of life and death. This is apparent especially in Achilles other appearance in The Odyssey where he talks more about his decision is already made. Any reader could have their own views on the subject and own decisions they would make on life but Achilles provides an in depth look that some may not consider. “Most heroes struggle for an honorable death.” (Ford) Achilles struggle is his choice of dying honorably even if it means dying sooner or living without the honor and living much longer. His choice of a warriors death soon comes to be his regret. The audience can learn from this in any of several ways they would like but ultimately all life is precious.
Achilles learns that his choice was the wrong one for him. Honor may be a huge part of life but in dying a person’s honor lives on. Achilles learns the hard way what is most important to him and should be considered by the audience as well. Honor is so important to him but the one life he has was sacrificed for honor which he regrets. While he does his best to handle his own and make his own decisions he still lets society and what we may call modern peer pressure control his final choice. “In addition to the possibility of winning glory, the Homeric hero is motivated also by aidos, “shame.” By and large, this aspect of the ancient mentality is typified in the person of Hector, Achilles’ great Trojan opponent.” (McDonough) Honor and life are two conflicting roles here in Achilles life and his search for greatness leads to his downfall.
While Achilles gets his choice of death or honor, Gilgamesh is let down by his search for immortality. “But with the subsequent death of Enkidu, a life of heroism loses its meaning, and for Gilgamesh now, only immortality as a human seems to remain as an acceptable option; but such is unattainable, for only gods are immortal while humans must die.” (Abusch) Gilgamesh may be very powerful and heroic in some aspects but he is still human and will suffer death. The audience can learn from Gilgamesh’s mistakes and trials he goes through as many lessons are learned by him that can be passed on by reading. The story of Gilgamesh was originally told orally and gave lessons to those who listened through word of mouth.
Gilgamesh and Achilles do share many common characteristics but both have their own goals and endings for their lives. Both beginning to fight for glory and honor with both ending in a different attitude than the originally set out with. The great warrior Achilles wanted honor so bad that he gave up his own life early to maintain it, but for him life was more precious and his decision was not what he truly wanted. The great warrior Gilgamesh fought for glory and his best friend Enkidu.
After losing his best friend he learned that life is not forever and the search for immortality begins leading to Gilgamesh not reaching his ultimate goal. The little relationships these characters have and rushed life style lead both of them down a very adventures road but the ending is not what they thought it would be. Both of these characters can teach readers several things though their journeys.
Both of these stories relay the message that life is precious. Honor lives on after death and is very important but as Achilles learned, you only get one life and it is very precious. Gilgamesh searches for eternal life but as a mortal he cannot achieve it. The story tells of immortality being only for the Gods and mortals are doomed to die. No matter how hard somebody tries to escape death, it will always catch up to them even if they are the greatest hero or warrior on the earth. These characters have very rushed lives and are very action based and do not take their time in many of their decisions.
Life does go by quickly and there were several chances for the characters to grasp that more carefully than they do. Mortals have their place in life and there are always things that cannot be changed no matter how much they wish them to. Life is precious and should be treasured by everyone no matter what their status or condition. These stories both really show the importance of life and how much it can mean to even the greatest people.
In the end of these stories it is apparent that both characters are not exactly where they had planned to be. Both characters are mortals in a world ruled by higher power. No matter how great the hero of the story is there is always something greater. Their quest for glory and greatness leads them eventually to their graves just as all men go.
These stories have many lessons that can be learned from the characters actions, words, attitudes, and the world around them. The problems of the characters search for life, glory, fame, and anything else they desired lead to great adventures with many lessons to be learned. No matter how great each of these characters were at fighting or winning battles they were still stuck as mortals in the world and doomed to suffer the same ending all men face. With the numerous struggles and variety of conflicts these characters encounter, any reader is sure to learn a few things when reading about the fate of these heroes.