Every culture contains heroes. In epic tales/stories, this is an individual to admire and to live by their ways, and because of this he/she is the embodiment of the values and concerns of the culture of the author that created him/she. The values of every culture were shaped by the social conditions of that time and different attributes became valued. Cultural values are expressed in both actions of a hero and his motivations. As heroes, Gilgamesh and Rama reflect the values of the cultures that created them. First epic hero to be discussed is Gilgamesh.
The epic of Gilgamesh allows us to see the values and concerns about Mesopotamian culture. This epic shows us that one strong male leader, advised by a counsel of city elders, was the form of government during this time. However, there seems to be a concern with the privileges of the people, as Gilgamesh is expected to be a benevolent ruler. The outrage over his abuses leads to the creation of Enkidu in the story (Andrea, Overfield: Epic of Gilgamesh, 9). In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the representation of religion is similar to that of Greek and Roman literature. First, the Mesopotamians were a polytheistic society.
Many gods are attached to natural events: Ishtar the goddess of both love and war, Ea the god of water, Ereshkigal the goddess of the underworld, etc. This is common in polytheistic religions. These gods where talked about in the epic of Gilgamesh and had an impact on him for his journey of immortality (10). Second, the gods are personified. They have interactions, they pick favorite mortals to aid (or choose their least favorite to destroy/sacrifice), and they fight amongst themselves (11). For example, Enlil decides to destroy mankind in the Flood, Ea decides to save Utnapishtim by telling him to build a boat.
When the flood is at its most violent, Enlil is safe in his palace, while the other gods are cowered around the gates, soaking and miserable (11). There is gender separation suggested in the culture/religion as well. The king of gods is a male idol, which suggests a male dominance. Yet Ishtar is a major goddess, controlling both war and love, and because she controls two features of human nature that are dominated by emotion, it may suggest that Mesopotamians believed that women were guided by instinct and/or emotion more than reason.
This epic also provides us with how people in Mesopotamia viewed there gods. Gilgamesh and Enkidu show that the gods are dangerous for mortals. Gods live by their own laws and frequently behave as children throughing a temper when upset or when they are pleased and being loving. Piety is important to the gods, and they expect obedience and love. They can often be helpful, but angering them is wrong (12). Ziggurats were constructed to praise the gods and do offerings to flatter the gods and keep them happy. The next epic hero to be discussed is Rama.
The Ramayana allows us to see the values and concerns in early Hindu culture (1500 B. C. ). He is the main protagonist of the Ramayana. Rama is an epic hero who is the incarnation of the god Vishnu established human values in society. The hero was willing to give up everything no matter the cost to preserve the integrity of his kingdom. He dedicated his life to keeping social values and principles. He is the ideal man and one to whom all should aspire (Narayan, ix-xiii). Rama is ideal model of Dharma for Hindu culture and it was valued.
Human life is consumed in chasing materialism and sense pleasures. Ramayana makes it clear that these two pursuits should never be at the loss of your Dharma (righteousness). The ultimate goal of life in Indian culture is Moksha (freedom from the cycle of life and death and will not be reincarnated) and it can be attained only by relinquishing materialism and sense pleasures and by following a life of Dharma the best you can. Rama went into exile because he was doing his duty and was doing what was wished of him because it is his dharma (51-53).
Respecting his father’s word of honor, Rama had every right to question the injustice given to him and he was in not obligated to respect his father’s unjust promises (45). But true to his greatness, Rama, without disappointment expressed on his face, agreed to both the requests. To Rama, respecting his father’s words was one of the highest dharma’s (45). Rama was listening to Lakshmana, beloved brother of Rama, who could not just tolerate the injustice given to Rama. But Rama pacified Lakshmana, pointing out the need for following dharma.
The effect of Rama’s advising not only pacified Lakshmana, but also gave him a resolution to accompany Rama to the forest, despite the objections to it (51-52). Another value is the importance of one man being married to only one wife. Rama’s own father Dasaratha was married to 3 wives (5-6). In contrast to his father, Rama remained wedded and loyal to his only wife Sita. As king, he set example for future generations of men as to what constitutes a true quality for the respectability of a man in society.
Women in early Indian culture were so devoted to their husbands that they conducted Sati because they love their husbands so much that they wanted to be with them in the afterlife. Each time period in history has its distinct challenges. These challenges shape the values of each culture. In turn, these ideals shape their literature and their epic heroes. Gilgamesh and Rama are commanding figures because they are the embodiment of the ideals of their societies.