The Song Of Roland and The Epic of Gilgamesh: Journeys of Becoming an Epic Heroes

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“We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world.” (Campbell) An epic hero starts off their journey as someone not yet heroic, and is cautious of the road ahead of him. Along the way, he learns valuable lessons. They must gain courage and be open to self improvement. He comes back a better, selfless person who made a big achievement. In the end, he helps more people than just himself. Two well known epic heroes, Roland, the hero in “The Song Of Roland” and Gilgamesh, the hero from “The Epic Of Gilgamesh” start off as ignorant and arrogant, letting their power and strength get to their heads. The selfish to-be heroes do not realize their obvious flaws, and are pulled into conflicts because of them. Only after facing grueling challenges on their journeys, Gilgamesh and Roland learn important skills. They return from their journey, changed for the better, making a positive impact not just on themselves, but on others too.

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In the beginning of the story, Gilgamesh believes he is unquestioningly powerful. Thinking he can get away with anything because of his status as king of Uruk, he takes advantage of his people. His overinflated self image is similar to that of Roland’s. Although it is not mentioned much, Roland’s refusal of sounding the olifant is a good example of his defiant behaviors. Oliver responds to Roland’s hesitation to call for assistance by saying“‘Companion, it is your doing. I will tell you what makes a vassal good: it is judgement, it is never madness; restraint is worth more than the raw nerve of a fool. Frenchmen are dead because of your wildness.” (p.702). Both heroes feel nearly unstoppable. But reality will inevitably hit them. Gilgamesh pays for his hubris, losing his friend Enkidu after messing with the beast Humbaba. In Roland’s case, he nearly dies as a Saracen attempts to take his sword, Durendal. The heroes have to face the consequences of their hubristic past actions on the journey to become an epic hero.

The heroes have managed to overcome the challenges that force them to get over their old ways. They will continue on their journey a changed man, with a new purpose. The heroes shed their ignorant shells to start putting their self improvement to use. Gilgamesh, heartbroken by his mortal friend Enkidu’s death, looks for the secret to eternal life. Roland attempts to destroy Durendal to keep him out of the hands of the pagans, but after his efforts prove unsuccessful, Roland realizes the power of his sword. Roland’s christian faith, which he is defending, is intertwined with his sword; “‘Ah Durendal, beautiful and most sacred, the holy relics in this golden pommel! Saint Peter’s tooth and blood of Saint Basile, a lock of hair of my lord Saint Denis, and a fragment of blessed Mary’s robe: your power must not fall to the pagans,” (p.705) These moments mark a sort of turning point in the story, when the heroes change their paths, caring for something more than just themselves.

“We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves.” The heroes have learned important lessons on their journey. After overcoming difficult challenges and becoming heroes, Gilgamesh and Roland must redeem themselves by helping others. “But in doing that you save the world.”(Campbell) The heroes must put their awakened knowledge to use to benefit the lives of others. Gilgamesh learns from his journey to be a better ruler, improving the lives of his people. Roland does not live to see the effect of his self improvement, as in the process he died fighting for both his religion and his country. He dies a martyr, his efforts making his death meaningful.

In the process of becoming an epic hero, both Roland and Gilgamesh sacrifice themselves to help others. Gilgamesh goes through unimaginable struggles to help his people by becoming a better ruler.

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