Gilgamesh, Achilles and the Human Condition Essay

3880 Words 16 Pages
Gilgamesh, Achilles and the Human Condition

Gilgamesh and Achilles, each heroes of their respective epic tales, embody the whole array of typical heroic attributes. They stand above. They are men set apart. They operate somehow in that area that lies between average mortals and the gods themselves. They are stronger, faster, more wily than those they face in battle. They overcome. They are men who stand alone in their various strengths.

They are also susceptible to weakness. Each of them, at pivotal times in their stories, are reduced to debilitating grief. They are brought low. At least for a moment, they are given the clarity to see some of the errors in their ways. They stand alone. But it is now different from the typical
…show more content…
Maybe these heroes, in being given the opportunity to see who they really ought to be, are faced with the fact that their "actual selves" are in fact in direct opposition to their "true selves" i.e., the selves they could and should be.

As each of these episodes plays out, however, the reader is confronted with the question of whether or not these moments of breakthrough are ultimately fruitful. In other words, do the heroes, in fact, learn anything? In order to address this problem, it is necessary to grapple a bit with the tension between the potency of fate versus that of free will in these tales. Are these characters even able to learn? Are they able to make free choices regarding the unfolding of their lives? Or are they predestined to follow the classic path of the tragic hero? Is there any such thing as "the Choice of Achilles"?

What does all this say about the human condition, not just in literature but for ordinary, everyday human beings? Do we have any control over the type of persons we become? Is there a fixed destiny in store for all of us? Some combination of the two? Before these larger questions can be addressed, it is necessary to begin with the texts before us. And in order to learn something about the significance of these moments of vulnerability and breakthrough for these heroes, it is important to establish the respective contexts from which they arise.

The immediate cause for Gilgamesh's being brought