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Various societies across the world have separate histories, values, customs and cultures which the society members identify themselves with. This essay will, therefore, discuss the different societal stories on the Epic of Gilgamesh, The Last Days of Socrates, The Song of Roland, and Antigone stories. After that, the paper will carry out a detailed analysis of the stories by comparing and contrasting these societal works. To understand this analysis, we shall first describe the brief historical backgrounds of every story.
Initial descriptions of Gilgamesh described him as one-third human and two-thirds god, and this description made him stand out as the wisest, most handsome and most influential of all superhuman beings or mortals since time memorial. Being the king of Uruk and very elegant, Ishtar, a goddess, got attracted to Gilgamesh and asked him for a marriage relationship. Ishtar was well known for her spitefulness and cruelness, and she treated her ex-lovers terribly (Gale). Being aware of her characteristics, Gilgamesh declines her invitation to marriage. This declination angers Ishtar who asks King Anu to create a frightening bull to strike Gilgamesh. In one of the most dreadful encounters, five hundred men are killed on the spot by the beast; however, the bull monster is overpowered by Gilgamesh and his friend, Enkidu.
However, after this battle between the bull against Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the latter succumbs to death from injuries sustained. The relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu was as a result of several battles between the two of which none of them emerged as a clear winner, after which they became great friends. Another character comes in the story known as Utnapishtim, who after building an ark to save people from floods, was granted wickedness by the supernatural beings. At this point, Gilgamesh is advised by Utnapishtim to return to Uruk and rule as the king. Based on this advice, Gilgamesh retreats to his homeland and becomes the king (Gale). Gilgamesh later dies as a beloved king and failed to achieve his main dream of immortality.
The last days of Socrates was a work done by Plato which sought to discuss the trial and final death of Socrates. This trial was based on the corruption allegations and heresy, which enabled Plato to compile the story to explain one's responsibility for his or her actions, the impacts of an individual's actions on the society, and the belief regarding soul immortality (Sellars). This story revolves around two people, a father and a son. Socrates' son, Euthyphro accused his father of killing his servant. The servant in question had killed another servant colleague, and as such, Socrates probably murdered him as a sign of revenge. This controversial death led Socrates and his son to discuss the issue of holiness in the society.
Socrates emphatically tries to defend himself from the corruption and murder allegations in the course of his trial. However, Socrates displays arrogance during the trial and goes ahead to insult his accusers by stating that every rightful man is responsible for his actions, so is he. Because of his arrogance, the prosecution uses this to sentence him to death by being made to drink hemlock. The sentence fails to take place immediately, and so he is jailed in Athens. His friend, Crito, comes to his rescue while in prison by offering to help him escape from jail (Sellars). However, Socrates turns down Crito's offer and chooses to instead remain in prison and deal with his fate. His decision to stay in prison is informed by his great philosophy which dwells on being responsible for one's actions. Additionally, Socrates remained in remand to avoid hurting his Athens supporters. As such, Socrates believed in the immortality of the soul by championing for death and murder.
Antigone was the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, hailing from Greece. Antigone and her sister Ismene later served as Oedipus' guides, following him into the exile from Thebes. They followed their father throughout his exile journey until the point of his death which took place around Athens. Back in Thebes, Antigone's two brothers were involved in serious conflicts. The two brothers, Eteocles, and Polyneices were fighting over Thebes land (Chanter). While Eteocles was trying to defend Thebes city and his crown, his brother Polyneices was constantly attacking Thebes land. At the end of it all, both the brothers died mysteriously, and their uncle, called Creon became the king of Thebes kingdom.
However, the death of the two brothers will later reveal some hidden rivalry that existed between Creon and Polyneices. This is revealed when Creon organized a respectable funeral service in honor of Eteocles and instead left the body of Polyneices lying unburied. This happened because Polyneices acted as a traitor to the land of Thebes through his frequent attacks. Following these events, Antigone being moved by this level of Creon's injustice and the love for her brother Polyneices picked the body and secretly buried it (Chanter). On hearing this, Creon ordered for the execution of Antigone and was confined in a cave where Antigone hanged herself. Interestingly, Creon's son who loved Antigone committed suicide on hearing what had happened to his friend, Antigone.
The Song of Roland is a story told to describe the Roncevaux Pass battle which occurred where Charlemagne's receding Franks after a failed contest in Spain was confronted by Basques. The soldiers who were caught in this incident were murdered on the spot (Butler). Roland was among the Frankish leaders who were caught in this attack and from this incidence, he lived to be a remembered legend. Another incident where the name Roland appears is when England is invaded by William the Conqueror, and Roland's song got sang to motivate the Norman troops before they could join the Hastings Battle. As such, the song of Roland serves as an identity of French culture and history and is associated with the related actions of Charlemagne.
While these works were done at different times in different settings, they seem to have some common themes concerning how right and wrong are perceived in the various societies in which they originated from. To begin with, these stories are guided by social norms which dictate whether an action is right or wrong. As such, the stories try to live by the social rules and at the point of deviation, the act is considered evil (Butler). The stories try to portray the theme of doing what is right before the rightful thinking man in society. However, there are some circumstances when the characters in these stories go out of their way and do what is contrary to the social norms.
An example of this occurrence is in the Antigone story where the king instead of burying the two bodies, he chose to only organize a funeral for one of the bodies and leave the other one lying unburied. This before the society was wrong and as such, prompted Antigone to pick the abandoned body for burial perhaps being guided by the social norms. Additionally, in the story of the last days of Socrates, we find that Socrates believed in what was right before the society irrespective of other people's views. As such, he denied the attempts by his friend, Crito to assist his escape from the prisons. He turned down this offer probably because he did not want to go against the wishes of the Athens society and also, he did not want to betray his conscious.
All the stories are a reflection of strength which was depicted in the participants of the stories. As such, the stories try to define the mightiness of certain individuals in society and how their bravery played a role in saving society's life. For instance, the Epic of Gilgamesh presents a scenario where Gilgamesh bravely confronts the bull in a fight considered for the mightiest in the society where he eventually emerges as the winner. Later on, Gilgamesh returns to Uruk where he becomes the king because of his strength in fighting the bull which had threatened the society. In these stories, however, the theme of weakness is not discussed since the works are centered on the legendary tales.
In these stories, women have been portrayed as important agents of change in the society whose efforts are aimed towards helping a situation which requires an immediate response. Throughout the plots of these stories, women have taken a center stage in respect to making a change in the society. In the story of Antigone, we find that the main character, Antigone felt sorry for his brother whose body was helplessly lying unburied. This was after Antigone's uncle had deliberately abandoned the body and instead, only organized a funeral for Eteocles' body. Also, women have been discussed as having a voice in the politics and governance of society.
For example, in the story of the epic of Gilgamesh, Ishtar was a goddess of Uruk. This indicates that women also have a voice in matters about the governance of the social issues and its politics and due to their wisdom, could be consulted on serious issues affecting the society members. Additionally, Antigone's courage to bury the body of his brother, an act which later leads to her death portrays women as courageous society members and are not threatened by being killed for their actions.
Of the legendary stories, I find the Epic of Gilgamesh as the most appealing. This is because, the story of Gilgamesh portrays two important characters, Gilgamesh and Enkidu who after fighting in the battlefields for so long, joins to form one formidable force. It is this force that resulted in the victory pitting Gilgamesh and the canning bull whereby although they won the battle, Enkiddu succumbs to injuries while Gilgamesh, later on, becomes the ruler of Uruk. On the other hand, of the two stories, I find the Song of Roland as the most difficult to identify. This is because; the story fails to give clear indications of the legendary themes in its plot, making its analysis difficult.
In summary, both of the works of the four stories discussed above discuss legends in the society. The theme of legendary arose after the characters did some acts perceived by the society as very challenging. Additionally, the works try to expand on the need for doing what is right in the society and as such, discourage wrongful acts.
Butler, Isabel. The Song Of Roland. Kessinger Pub., 2009.
Chanter, Tina, and Sean D. Kirkland, eds. The returns of Antigone: interdisciplinary essays. SUNY Press, 2014.
Gale, Cengage Learning. A Study Guide for The Epic of Gilgamesh. Gale, Cengage Learning, 2015.
Sellars, J. (2014). Plato's Apology of Socrates: A Metaphilosophical Text. Philosophy and Literature, 38(2), 433-445.
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