From the time that people drew together, and began relying on one ruler, there were certain standards a king must uphold. Whether it was the stocking, and division of surplus foods, or the partitioning up of land to the nobles, the king was the ultimate word on such matters. The citizens of the land should be able to look to their leaders, during these times, and in times of trouble. It is through epic tales that we are granted a look into the past, and at the leaders who once held sway over the lands.
Here we have two tales depicting for us the lives and roles of such great leaders, separated by over 3000 years. Our first legend is of Gilgamesh, who was seen as the link between his people and their gods, and was to maintain justice, the laws, and the defense of his citizens. Beowulf's legend shows the relationship between kings, and nobles, as well as nobles, and their serfs. Since man first gathering together, and electing a leader, they have relied on those of authority to keep them safe, from a world of unpredictability, and mysteriousness. Much in the same way Beowulf is depicted as the ultimate Germanic warrior; Gilgamesh is the supreme Mesopotamian ruler.
The story of Gilgamesh tells about the 5th ruler of the kingdom of Uruk, who ruled in approximately 2500 BCE. In this we see how early Mesopotamians viewed their Kings, as partly divine, and guardians of the laws; many of these laws can be found in the Code of Hammurabi, giving a snap shot into the lives of early Mesopotamians. The tale unfolds with Gilgamesh’s people praying to their gods because, “His arrogance has no bounds by day or night. No son is left with his father, for Gilgamesh takes them all, even the children; yet the king should be a shepherd to his people.” For the citizens of Uruk, a king should be there to guide his flock, not work the men to their death, for his own personal amusement.
The people also prayed that, “His lust leaves no virgin to her lover, neither the warriors daughter nor the wife of the noble; yet this is the shepherd of the city, wise, comely, and resolute” Gilgamesh is too busy messing around with all the women of his land, instead of ruling his people. We can see sarcasm in this prayer, because Gilgamesh has turned his back on his duties. Here are characteristics a just ruler should show towards his people, yet Gilgamesh is not doing any of this, because he is caught up in carnal lust.
The goddess Aruru creates Enkidu, who challenges Gilgamesh, to rise up and be the king his people require. His place in the tale is that of conscience, to remind the king to uphold the laws of the land, and protect his people. To go out into the world and destroy that, which would destroy his people. Later on in the tale we are told of Enkidu’s death, and how Gilgamesh laments his friend, going on a quest for eternal life. In the end he realizes the only ones allowed immortality are the gods, but man can live on through thoughts and his deeds. In...