Humanity vs. Divinity: The Role of Religious Perspective in The Epic of Gilgamesh and Beowulf

To remember

Beowulf preparing to cut off the head of the monster Grendel, illustration from Hero-Myths & Legends of the British Race, 1910.
  • Throughout history, civilizations largely defined by their practiced religions;
  • religion often influences both societal structure of a civilization + how it chooses to record its own history.
  • examining ancient poems The Epic of Gilgamesh and Beowulf reflect religious ideologies of Sumerian and Anglo-Saxon civilizations
  • Epic of Gilgamesh highlights importance of Gilgamesh’s humanity during his journey for eternal life, reflecting ideologies of polytheistic Sumer,
  • Beowulf proclaims Beowulf’s faith in God as reason for his success as warrior + king, reflecting ideologies of Anglo-Saxon Christianity.
  • religious justification of Gilgamesh & Beowulf’s royalty highlights significant historical difference in how both texts were affected by the religions of their regions,
  • Epic of Gilgamesh >narrator uses ideologies of ancient Mesopotamian polytheism to justify King Gilgamesh’s reign over the city of Uruk.
  • role of Beowulf as King of the Geats justified through values of Anglo-Saxon Christianity,< Beowulf claims leadership = result of his unfaltering loyalty to God rather than his own accomplishments.
  • Beowulf = similar to Gilgamesh > exhibits superhuman feats of strength > holds no divine ancestry >> divine aspect of his rule = faith in God. (battle with the dragon threatening the Geats)
  • Gilgamesh serves as his own source of divine right, drawing a further distinction between the two heroes in the way that their humanity is represented by each text’s author.
  • Epic of Gilgamesh places importance on humane over the divine
  • author of Beowulf places importance on the divine over the humane.
  •  Gilgamesh questions mortality + seeks out Utanapishtim, sole survivor of the great flood,
  • Utanapishtim insinuates that death is not a monumental experience; all things must die eventually, + dying is no more consequential than sleeping. => Gilgamesh finds solace in ephemerality of life + embraces his humanity.
  • => focus taken from divinity + placed on humanity
  • in Sumer during time of polytheism = life heavily centered around the gods.

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Preceding

Stories of the beginnings, and one Main book composed of four major sections

Gilgamesh

Between gods and animals: becoming human in the Gilgamesh epic

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Additional reading

  1. Genesis Among the Creation Myths
  2. The flood, floods and mythic flood stories 2 Mythic theme 1 God or gods warning
  3. The flood, floods and mythic flood stories 3 Mythic theme 2 Hebrew story of the flood
  4. The flood, floods and mythic flood stories 6 European myths
  5. The flood, floods and mythic flood stories 8 South America

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Related

  1. Chronological timeline of English literature (Oxford)
  2. Men, Monsters and Library Book Hoards: The Lay of the MA Dissertation
  3. Top 3 Medieval Tales to Read and Why
  4. Gaining Appreciation for a Epic of Old English
  5. Tolkien was right: Scholars conclude Beowulf likely the work of single author
  6. ll. 53-85
  7. ll. 164-188

Undergrad Lit Review

Throughout history, civilizations have been largely defined
by their practiced religions; religion often influences both the societal
structure of a civilization and how it chooses to record its own history. By examining how the ancient poems The Epic of Gilgamesh and Beowulf reflect the religious ideologies
of Sumerian and Anglo-Saxon civilizations, where the poems respectively
originated, a greater understanding of how religion has been historically used
in literature to accentuate the power of a nation’s ruler – in this case
Gilgamesh and Beowulf themselves – can be achieved. However, it is imperative
that the differing religious perspectives of each poem’s author are considered
in order to fully understand the significance of this religious accentuation. While
The Epic of Gilgamesh highlights the
importance of Gilgamesh’s humanity during his journey for eternal life, reflecting
the ideologies of polytheistic Sumer, Beowulf
proclaims Beowulf’s faith in God as the reason for his success as…

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