The Epic of Gilgamesh and Yvain, the Knight of the Lion: Main Similarities

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Through reading the Epic of Gilgamesh and Yvain, there are many instances where we can find unquestionable similarities. But since Gilgamesh is an epic hero, does the journey make Yvain an epic hero as well? I will discuss that in further detail, but we can see many similarities among them, the first one being for them departing on a quest. Even though the quests happen for different reasons, it still serves the purpose of demonstrating the question of their heroism. For instance, even though Gilgamesh and Yvain are considered heroes, they needed to go through different stages to get to that point. And as we can see, there were selfish and immature reasons for going on the quest. In the instance of Gilgamesh, he particularly went on the quest because he wanted to gain immortality, and he travelled staggering distance just to find out that he could not gain it, and then when he had the wish to go and defeat Humbaba, the monster of the cedar forest, even though there was no need in the city for cedar for construction purposes, he wanted to go on a mission specifically to gain eternal fame, for him to be remembered for his glorious quest. The other hero, Yvain, also shows signs of immaturity through his arbitrary movements as to leave on the quest without the king, in order to avenge his cousin and as well to see the hospitable damsel and the sire, the bulls in the clearing and specifically to see the stone and the spring itself, where a big storm would unfold and where the birds would sing in different tones after the storm. And after that the knight who embarrassed his cousin would appear. Besides the immaturity, another point of similarity between Gilgamesh and Yvain is their attachment to their best friend, and also how hostility turned into friendship. We can see similar scenes but different situations. Whereas in Gilgamesh there was hostility at the beginning concerning a conflict and reconciliation happened, which was surprisingly, in Yvain, as him and Gawain were battling, they didn’t recognize each other because of the armor, and when they did, they turned in the victory to one another. This shows that Yvain was much more committed to his friend than to his wife or the damsel who he was supposed to fight for, so she’ll gain her part of inheritance. We can see this instance as well as when Gawain invites him to the tournaments, and when he promises Laudine that he will be back in a year, but he was not, so once again it proves his attachment towards his friend and not his wife, which proves that his feelings were not truthful. And last of all, their third common trait is that they were both unable to commit, where Yvain shows his greatest weakness through not being able to commit to Laudine, which also applies to Gilgamesh when he is being offered marriage by Ishtar. This once again confirms that they didn’t get fully to the stage of maturity since they cannot take responsibility and in order to develop fully they needed to get to this stage. And not surprisingly, in the case of Yvain, the tale ends right at the point where he gets reconciled with Laudine, since it means that he has reached the point of him fully developing as a character.

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To begin with, when talking about immaturity, Gilgamesh was in a state of complete alienation from what is good and reasonable. He was a tyrant king who persecuted his own people, and as such he would never remain a hero. So his phase of emerging as a hero begun with Enkidu, without whose help none of that would be possible. The primary state of Gilgamesh is also portrayed in Mehmet Ali’s article, where he puts it this way: “An uncontrolled man of extreme emotions, oppressing the people of Uruk over whom he rules as a king.” (4).Before he met Enkidu, he was a king of an unstable character, who was cruel and childish and he was not able to identify with an ordinary men, having the strengths he possessed. But alone because of his strengths, he would not be considered an epic hero. But because of the change that happened when he met Enkidu, he started to feel more empathetic toward other people, but not too much. For instance, he did evolve since he has found his best friend and he asked for his advice besides his mother, so it was a step further. But on the other hand he needed his mother’s approval for him to be able to become friends with Enkidu, which again shows his immature behavior. As well he was seeking for immortality, but he did the purposeless quest in his own favor and not of the people, which shows the step of development that he achieved, which was not tremendous, but was still significant. We can see this as well when he wants to pursue the purposeless quest to the cedar forest, that he was not completely mature at that point, and that his reasons were again selfish, which is shown through Gilgamesh’s words: “ I must set my hand to cutting a cedar tree, I must establish eternal fame.” (20) Through these facts we are able to identify Gilgamesh’s development, but only to a certain extent, since he is so eager to do things just for his own fame rather than during other useful things instead, which would be for general welfare.

On the other hand, Yvain is also an immature hero, since he has bound knighthood to some acts of purposeless quest of which he would have no use of, except of satisfying his curiosity and avenging his cousin. Yvain is influenced by the quest story that he hears from his cousin and since the red knight humiliated his cousin, he decided to avenge him. Yvain was in no way obligated to do so by the court or the king, who probably would not send him to see the spring and the lovely damsel. It was again about fame and in this case, about revenge. Even though Yvain was immature, he could be considered an epic hero, since he undertook a journey and he was fighting to save the damsel and there is supernatural power present, just as in the Epic of Gilgamesh. We can see this at the point when he fights two devils and when he saves the damsel from being burned, and specially by having the support of a lion, which is very unusual. His encounter with the red knight was powerful as well but not for a great significance, since the other knight also possessed great strength, and it could have been a game of luck that turned into Yvain’s advantage. This can be seen through the narrator’s words: “Both are possessed of such courage that one would not for aught retreat a foot before his adversary until he had wounded him to death.” (7). But the most purposeless part of all of his journey was him wandering the forests, when he lost his sanity due to his carelessness. On the other hand, all this remains in shade when his forgetfulness is taken into consideration, because, first of all, he left the king’s court without a word of where he is going, and he kept on doing that throughout, which can be seen by his inability to stay in one place, but rather having the childish need to demonstrate himself over and over again. Yet another instance of his immaturity and madness is when he falls in love with Laudine, despite the fact that he has murdered her husband, so instead of him leaving the dwelling place, he retains himself there despite of what happened. First he was hiding when the other knights were looking for him and then when he had a chance to leave, thanks to the damsel, he made this statement that he is in love with Laudine, right at the point when she needed someone strong to defend her and the spring.

The second point of similarity is the strong bond of friendship, which exists between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, as well as between Yvain and Gawain. To begin with the friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, which is a platonic one and the start of their friendship is an unusual one. Even though it was expected for Gilgamesh and Enkidu not to get along because they were both strong and they represented competition to each other, their conflict turned into a friendship. Through their wrestle and release of anger, the two made peace, specifically with the interference of Gilgamesh’s mother Ninsun, who explained to Gilgamesh the origins of Enkidu, which means that Gilgamesh is not a mature figure since he needed him mother’s approval for a new friend. That was the transition that was needed for Gilgamesh to evolve, since he has found his best friend, he was now able to have empathy towards the people of Uruk and identify with them. Enkidu was the key point of change and betterment of Gilgamesh, who turned him into a hero worth of memory. What shows that their friendship was just platonic, is the fact that Gilgamesh was aware that the Humbaba quest will be a dangerous one, and still he had been so stubborn to convince Enkidu to go with him, even though Enkidu disagreed with the idea and he wanted to stop Gilgamesh from doing so. But we can see how single minded Gilgamesh is by how he addressed Enkidu by saying: “Here you are, afraid of death, what has become of your bravery?” (19).By the fact that Enkidu was not able to stop him, it shows that Gilgamesh hasn’t completely matured and as well that the affection that he had towards Enkidu was a platonic one. But it also shows Enkidu’s concern for his friend. Even though we expect Gilgamesh, since he is the king, to be the rational one, and Enkidu to be the impulsive one, it is the opposite and that’s why they are complementary to each other. The day Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh feels grief, not as much for his friend’s death as much as he laments his own future death, which shows that Gilgamesh cannot overcome his egoism, which is a step back.

We can compare this to the friendship between Yvain and Gawain. Even if the beginning of their friendship is unknown to us, we can see that they are strongly connected, through the fact that Yvain accepts to go on the tournaments with Gawain even though he is supposed to stay home and defend his lady and the spring, as he has committed to do. We see the way Gawain is leading Yvain into taking this step by saying to him: “Now ought your fame to be increased! Slip of the bridle and halter and come to the tournament with me.” (20). When Gawain gets so lengthy with his words and convincing, it was not hard to convince Yvain to accompany him. In the instance where he said that he must consult first with his lady, it shows respect towards her, but not love, since he is more loyal to his friend than his wife. This illustrates the transition from the path of maturity back to immaturity, since the day he has committed to Laudine he started developing as a person, but he was worried that in a way that undermined him as a knight, making him look soft and less appreciates, so he stagnated in his development the minute he had the desire to ask for his wife’s consent to go on the tournament. He has not failed his friend but rather he failed his wife, which shows the degree of loyalty towards Gawain, but he did it as well for his own fame. His wife gives him permission, since she cares about her husband’s wellbeing and reputation, but she also gives him a ring with the help of which he will keep winning which made her believe that if every victory will be granted to him, he will get sick of winning and return home. But it was not like that, he has overstayed, one year has passed and his lady’s love turned into hate, since he was unable to commit and defend her spring, as promised. His forgetfulness is his biggest disadvantage, and at this point the fault cannot go anymore on Gawain for inviting him. It was not anymore about friendship, it was more about carelessness until the point that he was told that one year has passed and he is hated by the lady. Only then he realized his fault, and the only reason he has left his comrades is because he felt guilty. Another point where we can see their friendship and that Yvain fails to keep the promise again and to hold to any commitment when his friend is in question, is the instance where he is supposed to defend the damsel’s cause for the inheritance, but in the middle of the battle he finds out that he is fighting against his comrade Gawain, so they both give up and turn the victory to one another. So the only one responsible here to take charge was the king, who made the decision towards them. In this instance it was appropriate for them not to fight when they realized each other, but Yvain’s forgetfulness cannot be justified. Combellack also finds the fault of Yvain to be in forgetfulness, as we can see through his words: “His fault is forgetfulness, which causes him to do wrong by failing to return home on the day his wife appointed for his return from the round of tournaments.” (10).

Last of all, we can see another significant similarity between Gilgamesh and Yvain, which is the inability to commit, their inability to take responsibility for what the need and leave the childish quests behind. In Gilgamesh’s case, he is offered marriage by Ishtar, and he refuses to commit, since he knows the fact that since she is a goddess, she can have all she wants, and also because he knows what has happened with the previous lovers that she had, that they have been thrown into the underworld or turned into different animals. From one side, the fact that Gilgamesh rejected her is not surprising since that implies that she would get bored of him too and he would share the same destiny, which he was not ready for and that also shows that he held himself higher than the gods, since he refused to take the offer from the goddess, but it also implies that he is not able to commit, and especially to make a commitment with a goddess, which would cost him a lot.

On the other hand, the relationship between Yvain and Laudine starts in an unusual way, since he has killed her husband who defended the spring, and with the help of the damsel who hid him, he managed to get her marry him, based on the fact that he proved stronger than her deceased husband and because she needed someone to protect her and the spring. We can see that while hidden, he watches her secretly and he falls in love with her, which is the most awkward moment for that, since she is grieving. When he manages to convince her to marry him, he is happy but he feels like he is missing out a lot of what he has been involved with and he sees the chance to go on the tournament with Gawain. At that moment, his love for her turns into a passing whim, and he forgets about his promise and departs with Gawain after he gains her consent. Since she is concerned about who is going to defend her spring and she feels sorry that he is leaving her, she wants to test his love and loyalty, and she thought that he will remember and come back. But when the year has passed, she started hating him and when he found that out, he started wandering the woods, instead of going and getting her back, which again shows that even after feeling guilty, he was not able to get her back, accept his mistake and regain her trust. Instead he wandered the woods, purposelessly, which shows the culmination of stagnation in his development. Going through many exceptional trials, such as fighting the two devils, and defending the damsel from being burned, he releases some of his guilt, but he is hopeless and he has nothing to live for. When he becomes known as the knight with the lion, his lady hears of him and she wants him at her service, he gladly departed and the lady was in disbelief when he revealed himself, since he has caused her pain and disgrace. Since he approached humbly and asked for her forgiveness and promised her not to do it again, without hesitation she accepted him as her husband. Through Yvain thinking that he has lost her, he gained more feelings for her and it will serve him as a remainder not to make the same mistake again. Only at the point when he was able to confess his mistakes and ask for forgiveness, only then reached his full development, since he was willing to commit again and he has learned his lesson.

To sum up with, the process of development of Gilgamesh and Yvain, on personal and hero aspect takes different paths. On one hand, for them to be complete as heroes, they need to give up their commitments and neglect their personal life, and on the other hand, to culminate personally, they need to give up the childish quests. While Yvain was able to reach full personal development, Gilgamesh was not able to meet his full potential since he was too arrogant to recognize his mistakes, but Yvain succeeded through realizing them. They can both be considered epic heroes because of the quests that they undertook, since it meant tremendous dangers and in the case of Yvain, even though his quest was pointless, only through making mistakes he got to the point of appreciating life and his wife and reaching full potential.

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