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Male bonds between warriors are to be found in ancient epics the world over. These are depicted as intense, long-lasting relationships, generally more important than relationships between men and women, and capable of surmounting all manner of obstacles in the course of life. The relationship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh, in the oldest of all the epics, is absolutely central to the whole story. Other examples of this male bond in ancient literature include Achilles and Patrocles in Homer’s Iliad, and Rama and his brother Lakshmana in the Ramayana, the oldest epic of India. The friendship between David and Jonathan depicted in the Biblical Old Testament also belongs to this tradition. In nearly all these cases, the death of the beloved male companion plunges the survivor into deep grief, causing him to mourn at length. (There is a slight variation on this in the Ramayana, when Lakshmana appears to die only to be miraculously revived, but, when faced with the prospect of losing him, Rama too breaks out into woeful laments.) The loss of the beloved male companion also sometimes leads the survivor to mighty and drastic action, as in the case of Achilles after losing Patrocles. Gilgamesh, too, embarks on his great quest for immortality after losing Enkidu.
There has been much speculation and varying interpretations of the real meaning and nature of this male bond. At times, there might appear to be a sexual aspect, but overall, it can be said that the greatest value of this type of friendship lies in the element of comradeship, of going forth in battle together, the sense of shared dangers and victories. These friendships are depicted as a pairing of great heroes who together can overcome all manner of obstacles when one alone might not prevail, as the following quotes from Gilgamesh illustrate: 'A slippery path is not feared by two people who help each other … The mighty lion .. two cubs can roll him over’ (Tablet V). This emphasizes the overwhelming importance of companionship for those who face danger and battle and have to prove their mettle. It is a lot easier to do this with a trusted friend always by one’s side. Certainly in the case of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the two also complement each other in their differing qualities. Although he is a great king, Gilgamesh feels incomplete until he finds Enkidu.
Over and above the specific function of these pairings in any specific epic, there is a “narratology” function as well. That is, the story-teller makes use of the secondary, male-bonding character (actually a fairly modern sociological term) to give the narration an opportunity to voice the hero’s thoughts and motives. This kind of narratological function is called “the HJoratio character” after the famous bonding of Hamlet and Horatio; the companion character has conversations with the hero, giving the story-teller a chance to voice the inner thoughts of the conflict or dramatic situation. A good early example is from The Mabinogion, a very early Welsh epic that introduces the character of the warrior Arthur. He has a “seneschal” named Kay who follows him into battle, fights at his side, and forms one half of a conversation about Good and Evil and similar thematic ideas. The Greek epics, as well as even the epics of Scandinavia, all rely in these pairings. Given the "personal" nature of early hand-to-hand combat, the warrior pairings are also quite "authentic," since a good combat strategy is to have someone "have your back."
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