As you read, consider the following questions:
- Using the list of traits above, which traits apply to each epic hero in the texts?
- What is similar and/or different about heroes such as Gilgamesh, Achilles, Hector, and Odysseus?
- How do the characters view the gods, and how do the gods treat humans?
- What do we learn about what each society considers proper or improper behavior, again based on the text itself ?
- Is family love or romantic love more important in the text, and why?
The texts chosen for this chapter were influential in their own times and beyond. Gilgamesh was an ancient Sumerian king whose story was valued and retold by other cultures who invaded the area. The Bible remains one of the most widely read books in history. Homer’s epics form a cornerstone of western literature, and the two plays selected from ancient Greek drama influenced countless writers after them. Only the plays were originally written works; the other texts were part of an oral tradition before they were written down. Even then, the subject matter of the plays is not original to the authors: The audience knew the stories of Oedipus and Medea already. Homer was not the first (or the last) to compose poems on the Trojan War and its aftermath. Originality was not particularly prized in an oral culture, where only the best works were worth memorizing. Homer’s fame comes from how well he tells his version of events.
Thumbnail: Parthenon, Athens Greece. Image used with permission (CC BY 2.0; Steve Swayne).