Aug 31, 2019 in Literature

The Role Of Divinity In Ancient Epic Poetry

There are different forms of ancient epic poetry in existence that can aid in identifying the traits of traditional literature. Some of the poems include the “Epic of Gilgamesh” and “Odyssey” by Homer. A trait that can expound the characteristics of the above poems is the role of divinity in both. The following is an essay expounding on the role of divinity in the traditional epic poetry with reference to the two stories. The essay will define divinity and then outline its role in each. An analysis will show that the two epics portray that divinity had a significant influence on the traditional poetry due to the influence the gods had in people during the time.

Divinity refers to the presence of a supreme being that has supernatural powers. Normally, those who believe in the presence of a divine being regard the being as holy and superior to the human beings. In effect, the people believing in the deity tend to unconditional respect to the being. People regard the divine beings as eternal, and they view them as a source of spiritual guidance. The concept of people believing in divine beings leads to religious beliefs. The Epic of Gilgamesh originated from Mesopotamia at around 3000 BC. The poem’s original writing was on stone tablets, but it has been interpreted in different languages to enable people access it. The Odyssey is a Greek tale that came about in 700 BC, but scholars believe that it has stories from as early as the 12 century BC. The main mode of the transmission of the stories was through oral method before their translation. Despite the age difference in their creation, the two pieces entail similarities, especially in the terms of divinity. However, they also entail differences in the same context.

The first similarity is that the two show clear distinctions between the gods and man. The two acknowledge the fact that man is mortal while the gods are immortal. For instance, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, specifically the story “immortality denied”, Gilgamesh tells Uta-napishti, “Oh, I look at you, your form is no different…you are just like me”. In the same story, Gilgamesh cites “one man could not discern another, nor could people be recognized amid the destruction” In this part, Gilgamesh acknowledges that man’s ability is limited compared to the gods’. He cited that every man is just like the other and went to the extent of citing that man could be easily destroyed by the earthly disasters. The same fact is recognized in Odyssey, verse 520 as it cites “he himself will heal me…if he will." In this context, the reference was to “The Shaker of the Earth”, a deity. Moreover, the verse went on citing, “nor any man who is mortal”. The verse clearly recognizes that the role of healing comes from a supernatural being and not from man. In this case, it is evident that the two stories recognized gods as powerful over human beings and that man was limited in terms of scope of his abilities.

In the two, there is another similarity in that there is a belief that man can achieve one of the divine traits of immortality by seeking glory. The two sets of poems assert that performing heroic actions that will last in the memories of the future generations was the only way a man could guarantee the immortality. It is in light of the above concept that Gilgamesh asks Enkidu for a hand in the Cedar Forest battle. The battle was against Humbaba. In the process, Gilgamesh explains to Enkidu that the motivation behind the battle was because human beings could not live forever, and the only way to guarantee that his legacy lived on was by doing something heroic. As a result, Gilgamesh asserted that he wanted to be in the books of history by citing that he yearned for his name to be “stamped on brick." He yearned for fame and a legacy. In the light of his desire, he saw the Humbaba battle as the best opportunity to claim an immortal title. Moreover, Gilgamesh was ready to die in the battle because it was also a way of leaving a legacy. In this case, he cited to Enkidu that they would “leave and enduring” name even if they lost the battle.

Odyssey portrays a similar theme. For instance, a scenario that identifies Odyssey’s glorification of human immortality is during an encounter with the Cyclops. The encounter left Odysseus’s men severely defeated. One of the fighters was Kyklops, and he had lost his eye in the battle. In effect, Odyssey told him that if a man ever enquired about the loss of the eye, he was at Liberty to state that Odysseus took the eye. This was an act of seeking glory, with the aim of leaving a legacy to the future generations.

The two stories also have a similarity in that the gods interrupt in the human lives. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the gods seemed to have excess power in that they had the authority to interfere with the different aspects of the lives of the people. For example, when the people raised complaints of Gilgamesh ruling in a dictatorial way, Aruru, came in for assistance. Aruru was a goddess of creation and as a way of interfering, the goddess created Enkidu. The aim of the goddess was for Enkidu to have equal authority as Gilgamesh. Another interruption in human activity was during a battle when the two brothers face Humbaba. God Shamash came in for assistance by defeating the monster. The story portrays the gods as ever powerful to the extent of Gilgamesh wishing that he had the immortal nature of the gods. The desire by Gilgamesh made him seek for glory for his legacy to live forever and also be close to the gods. The same case applies on Odyssey. Gods seemed to be interrupting with the lives of human beings due to their all-powerful nature. An example of Athene. The goddess played a vital role in the release of Odysseus. The goddess also took the extra effort to guide Odysseus during his journey back home after his release from Kalypso. In this case, the goddess acted as the protector of Odysseus during the times of need. The gods in the epic also act authoritatively as shown by Zeus. He offered punishment to Odysseus due to his wrongs and the wrongs of his people. Another god is Poseidon, who interfered with the lives of the people in a negative manner, especially that of Odysseus. The god even made the journey back home difficult for Odysseus.

Despite the above similarities, there is an evident difference in the concepts of the two epics. The main difference appears in the concept of how human beings perceived gods and immortality. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, there is the belief that glory is the only trait that can propel one to immortality. The fact is evidenced by the obsession of Gilgamesh to even risk death in search for glory. Even after the death of his brother Enkidu, Gilgamesh still believed that man could still find glory and die gloriously. This aspect of the story means people in the Epic of Gilgamesh idolized gods, to the extent of allowing them to control almost all aspects of their lives. In effect, the people because obsessed with the gods. However, in Odyssey, seeking glory does not necessarily make a man immortal. Odysseus learns the concept when his crew gets killed during a battle. In this situation, Odysseus imagine the anguish of his the family and the self-guilt makes him cease from going home. Odysseus did not see any benefits from the battle. In fact, he viewed it as anguish and a source of agony for his tribe. For this reason, the epic portrays an aspect of independence and lesser influence of the gods in the different aspects of life. The fact that Odysseus could see that humanity matter more than glory portrays and independence of mind.

In conclusion, the two epics portray that divinity had a significant influence on the traditional poetry. The assertion comes in because the gods portrayed an all-powerful nature in many aspects of the lives of the people during the time. Most of the poetry during that time acknowledged that supernatural beings were present, and they had an influence on the people’s lives. However, different epic poems portray the powers in different ways, with the Epic of Gilgamesh portraying an obsession to be like the gods. On the other hand, the story “Odyssey” viewed the gods in a less powerful way. It is evidenced in the poem when the character, Odysseus, recognizes that humanity is more important than seeking glory. However, despite the variations, it is clearly evident that human beings turned to the gods for guidance and the divine beings were significantly involved in numerous aspects of the lives of the people.

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