Heroes and Sidekicks: Comparison between Beowulf and Gilgamesh
Can every hero do everything on his own? From comic superheroes like Batman and Robin to athletes like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin, the second banana has always been there to support the lead character. Depending on the situation, the contributions from a sidekick can be very beneficial but the need for one can also be in question. Heroes achieve success when they effectively complete quests and deal with adversity in addition to performing civic justice for the people who look up to them. Those three criteria’s determine whether a sidekick is beneficial for heroes like Gilgamesh and Beowulf.
Success in quests can often determine a hero’s status in a society. In the Gilgamesh story, both Gilgamesh and Enkidu embark on a journey to kill Humbaba, the guardian of the Cedar forest that is forbidden to mortals. Together, the duo manages to successfully complete the quest as both provide support to each other when needed. During the journey, when both of them get frightened of facing Humana in battle, they each reassure themselves that they can defeat the beast. Enkidu’s death causes Gilgamesh to embark on another quest where he hopes to find eternal life like Utnapishtim.
Unlike the previous quest where Gilgamesh had Enkidu, Gilgamesh did not have an assistant to help him through his quest. In the end of his solo journey, he returns to his kingdom, unsuccessful in retrieving the elixir that he sought after. Beowulf goes on a mini-quest as he travels to the underwater lair of Grendel’s mother to avenge Aeschere’s death. The courageous Beowulf dives and reaches the underwater lair and successfully kills Grendel’s mother. Beowulf manages to defeat the beast without any outside help from his warriors compared to Gilgamesh who needed support for Enkidu during his quest.
Performing civic justice for people who look up to them as saviors can often define a great hero. Before the arrival of Enkidu, Gilgamesh was known as a tyrant and was unsuccessful in protecting his people from himself. Throughout his kingdom he raped women that he desired until Enkidu was created to calm Gilgamesh’s selfish needs. His friendship changes Gilgamesh from a tyrant into a proper king and a hero. Without a sidekick like Enkidu to influence and support him, Gilgamesh would still have been known as the tyrant as he once was. Beowulf, who was known for his glorious battles, was taken in by Hrothgar to help protect the Denmark.
Beowulf returns the favor as he single handedly cleansed the Danish kingdom from monsters like Grendel who have terrorized the Danes. Without any help from any of his warriors, Beowulf succeeds in cleansing Denmark by using his exceptional strength and courage to overcome the challenges. After Beowulf becomes the king of Geatland, he successfully rules his kingdom bringing prosperity to the land until his death. After his death, he was remembered by his people as a successful king who was often looked on as a great ruler that protected the kingdom from foreign warlords.
Heroes are also distinguished for how well they deal with adversity. Ancient epic heroes like Beowulf faced adversity in the form of a dragon as his age hindered his ability to penetrate the dragon’s thick scales. Even at his old age, Beowulf was too proud to assemble a proper army to face the dragon as he reminisces his past battles as a warrior. While he was successful in slaying the dragon, the battle cost him his life even with assistance from Wiglaf. Although Beowulf completed his quests alone, the outcome of this battle could have been different if Beowulf had a worthy sidekick.
The duo of Enkidu and Gilgamesh also faced adversity in the form of a higher divine power. When the Bull of Heaven is let loose, Endiku assists Gilgamesh by holding the Bull of Heaven as Gilgamesh slays the beast. One can argue that despite Gilgamesh’s godly physical abilities, he could have had problems handling the Bull of Heaven by himself. The effect of Enkidu’s death was a lot to overcome for even the great Gilgamesh and he had difficulty in accepting his death. He outgrew his hair and wore animal skins as if he was trying to become his lost friend while sharing his grief with everyone he met during his journey.
No one was there to fill Enkidu’s void and that lack of support was evident during this journey. Heroes of the past achieved favourable social standing when they effectively complete quests and deal with adversity in addition to performing civic justice for the people who look up to them. Benefits of a sidekick are evident in the story of Gilgamesh whereas the story Beowulf provides evidence that heroes can do everything by themselves. The nature of the hero determines whether or not a sidekick is beneficial. Both tales demonstrate different approaches in combating evil yet it produces similar results in the end.