Gilgamesh vs. Sappho
The stories of Gilgamesh and Sappho both are a part of the forgotten literature. The pieces of their stories were mostly lost however some of the poems of Sappho and Gilgamesh were discovered lately. Gilgamesh is the central part of the Akkadian poem “Epic of Gilgamesh”. He was a demigod who was a defender for the city of Uruk, who after the death of his friend Enkidu traveled to meet Utnapishtim, the builder of the giant ark to survive the world-destroying flood. He is also considered as a king, part man part God, who reigned between 2800 to 2500 BC, the city of Sumer (Mason, The Epic of Gilgamesh). The Greek poet Sappho was known for her lyrical poetry. Most of her poetry was lost but one of her poem “Ode to Aphrodite” was found in full form. She belonged to a wealthy family of Lesbos and was exiled to Sicily in 600 BC. Her poems discuss her love for a man Phaon whose death devastated Sappho. This essay is aimed to compare the story of Gilgamesh with Sappho and will discuss how they are similar and different from each other.
Gilgamesh and Sappho differ in the behavior of kindness. Gilgamesh’s character where was a protector and caretaker of the city It was also ruthless and harsh for his disobeyer. He built walls temples and towers in the city to protect it from outsiders and cultivated lands with orchards and fields. He was known for his cruelty and punishing his prisoners. He also raped his prisoners and exploited their poverty. He forced his people in building temples and towers and punished them. In contrast, Sappho’s character was loving and she was liked in the island of Lesbos. She believed being good can bring peace to the world “What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon be beautiful.” (Sappho). She was bestowed by the gift of love and poetry. When she left she home island she brought back an amazing man named Phaon. Sappho was treated like a queen on the Island
Both Gilgamesh and Sappho were given the gift of love by the Gods. When Gods heard the plea of his poor subjects They gave made a man named Enkidu and sent him to Gilgamesh. Enkidu was an amazing man like Gilgamesh and he became a friend of Gilgamesh. the poem mentions what he thought about love, “I learned that love is wrung from our inmost heart until only the loved one is and we are not.” (Gilgamesh). Enkidu was an important character in Gilgamesh’s story. He lived with the animals and animals adored him. Enkidu betrayed Gilgamesh’s friendship when God’s sent a prostitute to him in the woods and he slept with him. Gilgamesh also was offered by the goddess of love, Ishtar but she got rejected by Gilgamesh and she asked her father to punish him. Sappho was bestowed by the love of Phaon who was an amazing young man and an admirer of Sappho’s poems. Her loving self is reflected in her poetry. “Love shook my heart, like the wind on the mountain, rushing over the oak trees.”, “Love is a cunning weaver of fantasies and fables.” (Sappho). Sappho and Phaon met when Phaon visited Olympia to take part in the games and they fell in love.
Gilgamesh and Sappho were betrayed by their lovers. Gilgamesh who considered Enkidu as a partner and a good friend was punished by Gods due to his cruelty. They sent to Enkidu a beautiful prostitute who filled Enkidu’s heart with lust and offered to sleep with him. Enkidu spoke to the harlot: “Come, Shamhat, take me away with you” (Gilgamesh). Enkidu betrayed Gilgamesh when he learned the true meaning of being a man from the prostitute and understood his relation with Gilgamesh. Sappho, on the other hand, was fair and loyal in his relation but she was also betrayed by her lover Phaon who secretly loved a slave Mellita. Sappho found out about the betrayal when Phaon once murmured Mellita’s name in his sleep. The betrayed shook her and this can be seen from her lyrical poems,”Love shook my heart (Sappho).
The difference between Gilgamesh and Sappho lie in the fact that they had different concepts about being old and dying. Gilgamesh hated being old and he found aging as an end to life. He traveled the world to find a cure for aging and went to find Utnapishtim, who survived the flood destroying humankind. Gilgamesh wanted to find a method to stay immortal and young forever. Utnapishtim did not tell him the secret to stay immortal. It is mentioned in the poem “Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find that life for which you are looking…” (Gilgamesh). In contrast, Sappho when discovered she is being old she accepted the fact and accepted it as a process of life. Gilgamesh’s was selfish to look for a way to immortality and Sappho, in contrast, wanted to understand the process of life and this helped her in accepting death more easily. She wrote in one of her poems “Death is ill; ’tis thus the Gods decide: For had death been a boon, the Gods had died.” (Sappho).
Gilgamesh and Sappho were similar in various ways. They both were amazingly beautiful and were bestowed by the gift of love from the Gods. They both got betrayed by their lovers and the death of their lovers left them broken. Gilgamesh and Sappho were different in their kindness level. Gilgamesh ruled on his people with cruelty and savagery but Sappho was loved and treated as a queen by the people of her island. They also differ in their concepts about aging and mortality. Where Gilgamesh hated death and traveled to find a way to stay immortal Sappho accepted death and considered it as a process of life, and she was happy at the end of her life. Gilgamesh understood at the end of his life that he built a magnificent city and considered this achievement as the closest thing to immortality.
Kovacs, Maureen Gallery. The epic of Gilgamesh. Stanford University Press, 1989.
Mason, Herbert. Gilgamesh: A verse narrative. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003.
Obbink, Dirk. “Ten Poems of Sappho: Provenance, Authenticity, and Text of the New Sappho Papyri.” BIERL, A. y LARDINOIS, A.(Eds.) (2016): 34-54.