Gilgamesh and Sundiata: True kings
In the epics of Gilgamesh and Sundiata, there are two main characters of the same title. These characters are born in different parts of the world, have different upbringings, undertake different trials, cultivate different friends and listen to different advisors. Despite all these differences, both these characters have one thing in common; They are great kings. This is because both of them have three attributes that separate them from normal human beings and elevate them to legendary status. These attributes are, Strength, Wisdom/Cunning and the love and admiration of their subjects.
Both Gilgamesh and Sundiata possess incredible strength which enable them to perform incredible feats that elevate them in the eyes of their subjects and peers. Gilgamesh is described as a glorious man with perfect beauty and terrifying strength. “ Adad the god of the storm endowed him with courage, the great gods made hid beauty perfect, surpassing all others, terrifying like a great wild bull”(1). Some of the feats that performs that propel him into legendary status include killing Humbaba, the watchman of the forest; Humbaba was said to be armed with sevenfold terrors and equipped with jaws of death, but Gilgamesh is still able to overcome him. He is also able to kill the Bull of Heaven and travel through the mountain guarded by the man-scorpion and his mate. Sundiata is also just as strong as Gilgamesh in his own right. When he was just ten years of age he was able to lift a baobab tree and transport it to his mother, at eighteen he became the military leader of the kingdom of Mema and was already popular for his actions on the battlefield. He also uses his incredible strength to defeat Soumaoro kante, a very strong king. This strength enables Sundiata to be able to control Mali and neighboring lands.
Both kings also possess unnatural wisdom, which is evidenced in the way they handled their affairs. Gilgamesh shows wisdom when he is approached by Ishtar, the Goddess of Love. He acknowledges her beauty but refuses to be swayed by her advances because he understood that she brought disaster to all her lovers. This decision probably saves him from inevitable ruin. Gilgamesh’s wisdom helps him to rule his kingdom fairly and helps him bring an era of advancement and peace for his people. Sundiata also possess incredible wisdom, he is described as having great lucidity of mind (120) and this is evidenced by the countless tactics he employed during his numerous battles especially in his quest to retake his homeland. Sundiata’s exceptional wisdom helps just as much as his awesome strength in the course of his life
Most importantly both kings enjoy the love and admiration of the people. Gilgamesh is loved and adored by his people despite his early transgressions. “Gilgamesh sounds the tocsin for his amusement, his arrogance knows no bounds by day or night. No son is left with is father, for Gilgamesh takes them all; and is this the king, the shepherd to his people?” (1). This is evidenced by the reaction of his people to his death. “ For Gilgamesh, son of Ninsun, they weighed out their offerings; his dear wife, his son, his concubine, his musicians, his jester, and all his household; his servants, his stewards, all who lived in the palace weighed out their offerings for Gilgamesh the son of Ninsun, the heart of Uruk” (28). Sundiata on the other hand is loved because of his kind heart and his sense of justice, he is also greatly admired and respected because of his aura of authority which was within him since childhood. Sundiata is described as a king who is “feared because he has power, but knows how to wield it and is loved because he loved justice” (142).
These attributes explained above illustrate why Gilgamesh and Sundiata are Great kings. Despite having some flaws and a few moments of bad judgement: during the time of their rule there was peace and prosperity in their respective lands and their subjects also felt safe.
The Epic of Gilgamesh. English Version by N. k. Sandars Penguin Classics ISBN 0 140 044.100X pp. 61-125.