What are the similarities and differences between Iliad and The Epic of Gilgamesh?  

Asked on by vaan57

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Although the Iliad and The Epic of Gilgamesh both fall in the genre of heroic epic, they have many differences.

Period and Setting: Gilgamesh appears on the Sumerian king lists as one of the historical kings of Uruk, a Sumerian city in Mesopotamia, while the Homeric heroes are Greek and Trojan. Gilgamesh lived around 2700 BC while the Trojan war occurred some 1500 years later, around 1200 BC. Uruk is approximately 1000 miles southeast of Troy.

Historicity: Both are fictionalized accounts of important historical events. 

Political Structure: Uruk was a highly centralized theocracy, but the Greeks as portrayed in Homer existed as a group of small, independent states, only loosely allied with one another through a system of family ties and diplomacy. Both epics are concerned with the relationship between justice and the legitimacy of authority.

Religion: Both epics reflect polytheistic beliefs with the gods actively intervening in human affairs and also often having affairs with humans. Nobles are usually distinguished by having some divine blood.

Style: The Homeric epics have greater evidence of oral composition, using elements such as ring composition and heroic epithets, whereas Gilgamesh seems a more literary text, written within a scribal environment.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is a very interesting question to think about. Of course, one of the major similarities you will want to focus on is the way in which both of these incredible works of literature are true epics, in every sense of the word. Both focus on epic heroes and their mighty deeds, but also their human weaknesses. Likewise the heroes have to undergo challenges and conflicts as part of their quest or struggle. Lastly, both works of literature are epics in that they summarise or convey a particular culture's characteristics from one generation to the next.

However, thinking of the differences between these two works, The Iliad is of course set during the Trojan War, and arguably contains many heroes that could be considered to be "epic." This is in contrast to Gilgamesh, who is trying to find immortality and is forced to confront his own mortality on his journey. Likewise in The Iliad, the war is waged by humans, but the pantheon of gods and goddesses take sides and have a big impact on the outcome. This is different for Gilgamesh, who is not strictly "human" himself.

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