The epic of Gilgamesh is a fascinating must-read chef-d’oeuvre featuring the king Gilgamesh of Uruk and his companion and friend, Enkidu. The work is a reflection of the social values. Religion is a key social value depicted in the Sumerian society. There is the presence of gods and goddesses who have power over the mortal world.
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Gilgamesh’s words confirm this when he says, “Where is the man who can clamber to heaven? Only the gods live for ever with glorious Shamash” (George 7). There are also temples in the society like the one in Enlil, as well as religious rituals. After the death of his friend Enkidu, Gilgamesh sets on a quest to find immortality.
He travels in search of his ancestor, Uta-naphishtim, who possesses the secrets of immortality. There is a belief in the after life. In fact, he wants to know “truly, how…to enter the company of the gods…to possess everlasting life?” (George 18). Friendship is also a social value in the society. Gilgamesh and Enkidu form a strong bond of friendship between them. Together, they embark on a heroic journey to the Cedar forest and beyond.
Antigone is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles. Spiritual matters take a center stage in Theban society. There are numerous references to various Greek gods. There is a reference to Hades, Zeus and Apollo. In the beginning, Sophocles says “justice who dwells with the gods beneath the earth” (Sophocles 11).
The gods take a pivotal position in the Theban society. The story revolves around the issue of whether Polynices should get a proper burial according to the laws of the gods. Antigone elevates the religious laws above the state laws. Leadership in the society is another social value depicted in the play. Creon as the king offers defective and inconsistent leadership. He grudgingly orders Polynices not to get an apposite burial, an important ritual in the society, thus, punishing Antigone for doing it.
Family honor is another social value displayed in the play Antigone. Antigone’s desire to bury her brother sets her on a collision path with Creon. She has the determination to protect her brother’s honor and that of her family.
In fact, she must act to please “those that are dead” (Sophocles 77), as they hold more weight than the ruler does. She even tells her that they must do it out of their sisterhood and love even if it means going against their ruler. Creon, on his refusal, appears to be to protecting his family’s honor by punishing those against him in the war.
The last days of Socrates feature a group of dialogues by Plato on the trial of the eminent Greek philosopher Socrates on charges of corrupting the minds of the youth. Immortality and afterlife is a dominant social value in the dialogues. Socrates argues that the soul exists before birth and after death.
He does not fear death by virtue that it is not the end of the soul but only to the body. He even refutes the idea of breaking away from jail. Religion and religious beliefs are a social value that dominates the dialogues. In fact, he faces accusations of not recognizing the gods, which he does. He says, “He believes that the gods are our guardians, and we men are chattel of theirs” (Plato 62b). He says that the oracle at Delphi told him that he was the wisest of all of the men.
Socrates depicts ethics and personal principles when he refuses to compromise his beliefs. He eventually meets his demise by taking poison. The Athenian Jury had given him an option of jail and exile, which he declines. He is so steadfast that he could not break from jail, as it is against his principles. He also could not commit suicide, as it is against his beliefs. In fact, he says, “man ought not to kill himself because he possesses no actual ownership of himself, as he is the property of the gods” (Plato 62c).
Beowulf is an English heroic epic that presents courage as a critical social value. Beowulf is a courageous hero. He manages to kill Grendel, a monster who had terrorized Geats, the mother of Grendel and the dragon. His courage enables him to kill Grendel, a monster that had been terrorizing the people.
Religion is also a social value that is evident though not so strong. Beowulf is a pagan, a non-believer. Moreover, there is a mention of Almighty God (Haber 701) and the story of Cain and Abel. The author says about Grendel, “He dwelt for a time in misery among banished monsters, Cain’s clan, outlawed for killing Abel” (Haber 105-110). Grendel the monster, who terrorized the hall of Heorot after killing the sleeping soldiers, did not touch the throne of Hroogar, as a powerful god protects it.
The issue of right and wrong, strong and weak is strongly evident in the above works. Those who seek to do the right are virtuous, strong willed and courageous to meet the obstacles and death, as they stand by their principles (Buckler et al. 32). Socrates is wrongfully accused. He refuses to give in to his accusers and eventually meets his death. He dies for what he believes is the right.
In fact, he could not even entertain the idea of breaking from jail, as it would cause more harm to the Athenians than it would do right to him. Antigone is determined to offer Polynices a commendable burial. For this, she faces the wrath of the king Creon. She succeeds in her quest but eventually meets her death. Eventually, the right triumphs over the wrong, although this comes at a cost, mainly death being the result.
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Strength and weakness are also dominant in epic stories. The heroes courageously do heroic deeds that are near impossible to help others. Gilgamesh manages to complete a heroic adventure where he defeats an ogre in the cedar forest to restore the supply of timber to the kingdom. He also defeats the bull of heaven sent by Ishtar to plague Uruk. Beowulf, on the other hand, defeats the monster Grendel and a dragon despite the fatal wounds that lead to his death.
Religion and politics take a center stage in the societies depicted in the aforementioned stories. Each society is religious. There is the belief of existence of supreme beings in all the stories. Religion assumes a crucial part in the lives of the characters’ decisions and day-to-day lives.
Characters try to demystify immortality and afterlife. They want to do the will of the gods by going considerable lengths of consulting the oracles and performing rituals. They have build temples for worship of the gods. Politics plays a foremost role in the societies depicted by organization of government with kings in the societies. The rule of law is evident based on the presence of juries to uphold justice as evident in the case of Socrates. Wars fought control the societies and hence the leadership of the society.
The role of women in the societies depicted in the stories is a minimal one as compared to that of men. They appear in the periphery of societies. The only woman who plays a chief role is Antigone who is the main character and protagonist. She is courageous, resilient and does not fear death.
Mesopotamians, Greeks and Western Europeans value courage and wisdom. Various heroes like Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu achieve a monumental feat, overcoming main obstacles by defeating creatures sent by the gods. Beowulf defeated Grendel, a monster, and later a dragon. Antigone depicted courage by antagonizing King Creon and going against his rule. Socrates was courageous, as he faced the prospect of death, though he stood steadfast and died for his beliefs.
Wisdom is present in these societies. The heroes and heroines use their wisdom to overcome their obstacles. Socrates displayed much wisdom in his arguments for his defense. In fact, he claims that an oracle had told him that he was the wisest of all men. This gives the reason behind his trial in a bid to silence him by sentencing him to death. Nevertheless, he happily embraced it as a means to immortality. Death is also present in the end of the stories.
Death is inevitable to all. It is the stage to the afterlife. People must perform proper burial rituals to the dead. This is the source of conflict in the story. Of all heroes, Antigone, Gilgamesh, Creon, amongst others mentioned in the paper, Socrates is the most appealing and most difficult according to me. He is intelligent and extraordinarily courageous. He puts across exceptionally thoughtful arguments in his defense. He is also remarkably philosophical, which makes him also extremely difficult to identify and understand.
Buckler, John, MacKay, John, and Hill, Bennett. A history of western society.10.Volume A. New York: Bedford-St. Martins’, 2011.
George, Andrew. Epic of Gilgamesh. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993.
Haber, Tom. A Comparative Study of the Beowulf and the Aeneid. New Jersey: Princeton University, 1931.
Plato. The last days of Socrates. New York: Free Press, 1901.
Sophocles. Antigones. London, Routledge, 1999.