Beowulf and Gilgamesh

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Comparative English Essay

Compare the Beowulf poet's presentation of the battles with Grendel and his mother with the Gilgamesh poet's depiction of Gilgamesh' battles with Huwawa and the Bull of Heaven.

Fame and glory have been the most admirable characteristics in the middle Ages and even before Christ in the ancient civilizations. The epics of Gilgamesh and Beowulf are stories of heroism and immortality gained through fame. The aim of the main characters, Beowulf and Gilgamesh, is to be a good warrior by being courageous, respectful and prudent, a protector and servant to their king (only in the beginning of Beowulf, as he later becomes king and Gilgamesh already is) and their country. In both poems the fights of the main characters with supernatural monsters and creatures in order to gain fame or to protect themselves are central scenes where Gilgamesh and Beowulf prove their heroism and the social codex of their society becomes perfectly clear. Therefore I will compare the battles of Gilgamesh with Huwawa and the Bull of Heaven, and Beowulf with Grendel and his mother and analyze the different meanings of the fights and their relevance for the whole epic.

First I will cover the fights in the Gilgamesh epic, beginning with Gilgamesh' and Enkidu's fight with Huwawa, the "guardian demon" (p. 25, line 14). Gilgamesh sets out to kill Huwawa to "cut the Cedar down and win the glory" (p. 19, line 12). Huwawa is described as supernatural, as evil, and at the same time he is guarding a forest; he is nature. "Huwawa's mouth is fire […] the demon hateful to the sun god." (p. 20, line 1-4). The gods hate Huwawa and to kill him is glorious and therefore Gilgamesh sets out to fight him. The monster lives in the "Cedar Forest that grew upon the sides of the Cedar Mountain, throne of Irini, forbidden dwelling place of immortal gods. This was the place the guardian demon guarded…" (p. 25, line 12 ff.). Even though the forest is dangerous, still and full of shadows, it is inversely also described as beautiful and full of confusion and noise: "There was the noise of swords, daggers and axes, confusions of noises in the Cedar forest. This is how nature is: wild, dangerous, unpredictable but also beautiful. And this is also how Huwawa's home and therefore also himself is described. This image of Huwawa being representative for nature is straightened by Shamash's interfering to help Gilgamesh fighting Huwawa, "Seven terrors are Huwawa's garments. The aura of Huwawa is the terrors. Helpless is the one who enters the Cedar Forest wears the seven."(p.25, line 6ff.), by raising up "thirteen storms to beat against the face of the aura of the demon Huwawa, beating their tempest feet off the earth wide open, splitting the mountains, (…) Gilgamesh was able to get at him" (p.27, line 14ff.). As Huwawa then realizes that he is overwhelmed, he offers himself as a servant for Uruk, but Enkidu, who himself is a child of the wilderness, but now got civilized by Gilgamesh, insists on killing Huwawa. On the one side this is strange as Enkidu is also wild, like Huwawa, but Enkidu entered the social life of a civilized nation and adapted its standards. Huwawa is wild and can't protect a cultured nation; therefore he must die to let civilization win. The wood of the Cedar Forest that is used for new city gates also shows how nature (the wood) is used by an educated nation to protect themselves from nature again and therefore is stronger than nature. Additionally the wood is a sign for Gilgamesh victory over Huwawa, so his glory is assured.

As a result of the fight with Huwawa, Gilgamesh has to battle the Bull of Heaven, sent by the goddess Ishtar who felt insulted by Gilgamesh as he refused her beauty. The bull comes down from heaven and the battle takes place inside the walls of Uruk, on civilized territory. After a few tries of Enkidu and Gilgamesh to kill the bull by their own, they fail, and try to battle the bull together "'Two people,...
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