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Heroes’ Noble Intentions in Epic Poems: Sundiata, Beowulf and Gilgamesh Essay

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Updated: Sep 7th, 2022

Epic poems and heroes

Epic poems are literature works that tell about legendary figures, usually from the ancient oral sagas, in which heroes overcome obstacles and defeat the enemies to achieve glory. Sometimes, the main characters go on a quest to find their boon or save someone they love. Sundiata and Beowulf both have noble intentions which motivate them to fight the difficulties during unordinary adventures, while Gilgamesh is searching for the unique artifacts to be the only one who possesses them.

Sundiata and his motives

Young Sundiata of Mandinka had to live with the physical weakness and political attacks towards himself and his mother from queen Sassouma and her son Sankaran. King Konate respected an old prophecy and had a son with an ugly hunchbacked woman named Solomon, despite being married already. Sundiata, crippled from birth, was meant to become a mighty king, but Sassouma exiled an unfavoured stepson along with his mother and siblings into the Mema kingdom following the king’s death (Niane 26). Sundiata’s strong spirit allowed him to use these hard times to his advantage: he grew tall and strong and later protected the Mandinka people from the Sosso invaders. The character’s main motives were in protecting his family and being the best warrior he could be.

Beowulf and protection of the people

Beowulf, a hero of Geatland, had to defend the great hall Heorot from the troll-like Grendel, a monster who could not stand the sounds of celebration and joy and killed many brave warriors in their sleep. During the battle, the character refused to use any weapons as he considered himself to be equal to Grendel in strength and won (Beowulf line 960). The monster was killed, and later Beowulf had to protect his people from the vengeful mother of the beast, although even the hero’s original sword refused to harm a woman. He defeated the enemy using a different weapon and saved the Heorot from destruction once more (Beowulf line 1955). Later the hero sacrificed his life to protect the land of Geatland from the dragon.

Gilgamesh and his search for artifacts

Unlike the other two heroes, king Gilgamesh has never had the desire to protect his people or family. A wild man Enkidu challenged him to a test of strength in a wrestling match, and the two became friends after the king won. Gilgamesh then proposed a dangerous adventure: they went into the Cedar Forest to defeat its Guardian, Humbaba the Terrible (The Epic of Gilgamesh 30). The main motive of this quest was to achieve eternal glory, not to protect fellow men or their loved ones. The two warriors killed Humbaba and later the Bull of Heaven, which angered the gods and made them take Enkidu’s life in suffering (The Epic of Gilgamesh 49). This event caused Gilgamesh to start looking for eternal life, but his new quest proved to be pointless, as “when the gods created man, they let death be his share” (Gilgamesh 82). The hero seems disappointed at the end since his search for glory was not as successful as he dreamed.

Conclusion

Epic heroes are legendary and possess unordinary powers, but their motives can be different. Sundiata was protecting his family and learning to be a great warrior so that he could defend the people later. Beowulf had a noble desire to protect the men from the terrible monsters. Gilgamesh, on the other hand, wanted glory and fame and searched for dangerous quests to achieve his goals. Whether the reasons behind heroes’ actions are selfless or not, ordinary people will praise their exciting lives for centuries.

Works Cited

Beowulf. Translated by Albert Haley, Jr., Branden Press, 1978.

Niane, Djibril. Sundiata, An Epic of Old Mali. Translated by G. Pickett, Pearson, 2006.

The Epic of Gilgamesh. Translated by Maureen Kovacs, Stanford University Press, 1989.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "Heroes’ Noble Intentions in Epic Poems: Sundiata, Beowulf and Gilgamesh." September 7, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/heroes-noble-intentions-in-epic-poems-sundiata-beowulf-and-gilgamesh/.

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IvyPanda. (2022) 'Heroes’ Noble Intentions in Epic Poems: Sundiata, Beowulf and Gilgamesh'. 7 September.

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