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Gilgamesh and the Incredible Hulk, Essay Example

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The character of Gilgamesh illustrates many of the characteristics associated with epic heros.  Ancient literature frequently described heros as being descended from Divine parents.Gilgamesh is no exception and his status as a demigod greatly influences his stature as a hero of epic poetry. Ancient ideas about heroism involved the idea of nature as a potential antagonist. For example, when Gilgamesh sets out to destroy  Humbaba the Terrible the conflict can be symbolically be considered to be a conflict between civilization and the preternatural forces of nature.  Courage and physical strength were required qualities in mythic heros.

Similarly, loyalty and honor were also prized. Gilgamesh shows his loyalty and honor by making a pledge to save his friend, Enkidu, from death. Gilgamesh vows to “reinvigorate Enkidu’s spirit and limbs” (Gilgamesh, 14). The qualities of the ancient hero give insight into the culture from which they emerged. Gilgamesh represents the values of the ancient world: Divine birth, physical strength, courage, and loyalty. These qualities are heroic by definition in ancient times regardless of the character’s particular vices or moral failings.

By contrast, a modern hero such as the Incredible Hulk shows a divergence from ancient ideas of heroism. Although the Hulk shares the characteristic of great physical strength with Gilgamesh, the “human” side of the Hulk is rational and passive. This shows that modern civilization values intelligence as much as physical strength. The fact that the Hulk’s physical strength is viewed as a curse rather than an heroic attribute shows an inversion of the ancient conception of heroism and physical strength. Another great difference in the conception of the modern hero is that there is no mention of Divine powers or Gods. Instead, science and  rationality are used to explain the dramatic conflicts and characterizations. The evolution of heroic myth corresponds to the evolution of human society from being a primarily mystical and religious culture to a secular and scientific culture.

Work Cited

The Epic of Gilgamesh. Trans. Maureen Gallery Kovacs. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989.

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