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Book Discussion: Epic of Gilgamesh and Sunjata: Protagonist Comparison

Updated on April 2, 2013

The following is my comparison of Gilgamesh and Sunjata as they relate to their respective narratives.

Comparison of Protagonists

Gilgamesh and Sunjata, protagonists of the poems which bear their names, are two unmistakably similar characters. Nonetheless, they exhibit certain differences in the following ways: The narrators portray each character in much the same way, while each character presents himself rather differently. Each man also has traits about him which differ wildly from his counterpart.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

The narrator in the Epic of Gilgamesh portrays him to be a wise and strong man. The first things we learn about Gilgamesh are that he is "wise in all matters!", and "saw what was secret, discovered what was hidden [and] he brought back a tale of before the deluge"

(Tablet I, 5-8)


Sunjata, after he is born (his parents having gone to considerable lengths to get us to this point), seems to have everything he needs right from the get-go. Sunjata has the favor of his parents, he was born into a good family, and he has his own delilu [magic]. Gilgamesh starts out as an untamed king and needs to be brought to a sense of humanity bu Enkidu, who, ironically, had only recently been brought to any sense of humanity himself. Gilgamesh, being king, has a very long way to go (the entire story) before he starts looking very kingly. It is only at the very end of the story that he seems to have everything all together, whereas, Sunjata, from the very beginning, has everything he needs to make it through to the end of the story. Every challenge Sunjata faces is met with exactly the necessary requirements to be surpassed.

Oddly, while Gilgamesh, the king who only truly becomes such at the end of the epic, portrays himself as an amazing person with all strength and power which is unmatched except by the gods, Sunjata is not immensely boastful. Sunjata does not go looking for a fight, but, rather, he lets fights find him (and they do). One thing that is certain about these two characters is that their respective journeys did not make them who they came to be. They chose the journeys they experienced based on who they already were, and, in Gilgamesh's case, became someone even better.

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