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Examples of Heroism in the Epic of Gilgamesh


The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest recorded poems in literature, written sometime between 2000 and 1400 B.C. The poem is organized into columns and tablets, similar to chapters in a book. It tells the story of a king's journey to prove his valiance and find immortality. Gilgamesh was two-thirds human and one-third god, so the struggle to find everlasting life was a recurring theme throughout the poem. During his journeys, he faced many obstacles and repeatedly displayed heroism, even in the face of death.

Defeating the Beast Humbaba

Gilgamesh showed heroism when he defeated the monster Humbaba. The giant creature lived in the Cedar Forest and intimidated all who lived near by, refusing to allow anyone to pass through the forest. The people in Gilgamesh's home town of Urok urged him not to fight the monster, fearing the battle would lead to Gilgamesh's death. Even though Gilgamesh was anxious about the battle with Humbaba, he cleverly tricked him by offering his sisters to be the beast's wife and mistresses. The creature didn't expect Gilgamesh's attack and was taken captive, eventually to be beheaded. Gilgamesh's craftiness and determination allowed him to kill Humbaba and return home. He was a hero because he wasn't afraid to put his own life in jeopardy for the sake of others.

Climbing Mount Mashu

The voyage to the top of Mount Mashu is an example of Gilgamesh's endurance and heroism. The cliff was steep, treacherous and impossible for mortals to climb. A scorpion guard lived at the top of Mount Mashu and watched over the steep cliff. Because the scorpion guard was shocked by Gilgamesh's bravery, agility, strength and rock-climbing skills, he allowed him to pass through the gate at the pinnacle of the mountain. The scorpion guard wished Gilgamesh well on his future journeys and hoped the gods would be with him. Gilgamesh was a hero because he wasn't afraid to face unbeatable odds.

Killing the Bull of Heaven

Gilgamesh honorably used self-control when Ishtar, the Queen of Heaven, tried to manipulate him. The goddess was sexually aroused by Gilgamesh's beauty and tried to seduce him, according to Ira Spar at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. However, Gilgamesh was disgusted by her selfish attempts and rejected her advances. Because Ishtar's ego was destroyed, she sent a Bull of Heaven to kill and devour Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh and his best friend Enkidu killed the creature with a sword and ripped out its heart. This example shows Gilgamesh's heroism in not only defeating the monster, but in demonstrating his integrity when tempted by Ishtar.

Discovering the Plant of Eternal Life

King Gilgamesh cared about his kingdom more than he cared about his own fame, glory or praise -- the sign of a true hero. He was willing to give up his safety, well-being and even immortality for the greater good. When he found the plant of eternal life, his first thoughts were of his people. He wanted to give the plant to elderly individuals in his kingdom who would soon die without supernatural intervention. Gilgamesh wanted wisdom more than power. He was loyal and devoted to his people, unselfish and willing to sacrifice his own life for others. Gilgamesh's character-building journeys taught him that his achievements, rather than immortality, were the key to his long-lasting legacy, according to Ira Spar at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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