Love as a Motivating Force

Gilgamesh, Odysseus, and Oedipus

Common themes

Love Between Friends

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Gilgamesh's love for his close friend Enkidu motivates him to react this way when he dies:

"I will make the pleasure-loving people burdened down for you, And, as for me, now that you are dead, I will let my hair grow matted, I will put on a lion skin and roam the steppe!" (Tablet 8, lines 69 - 71)

Love Between Husband and Wife

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Odysseus' love for his beloved wife and desire to be with her again, motivates him to say these words to the Goddess Calypso, who has kept him stranded on her island for many years:

“Mighty goddess, do not be angry with me over this. I myself know very well Penelope, although intelligent, is not your match to look at, not in stature or in beauty. But she’s a human being and you’re a god. You’ll never die or age. But still I wish, each and every day to get back home, to see the day when I return. And so, even if out there on the wine-dark sea some god breaks me apart, I will go on— the heart here in my chest is quite prepared to bear affliction. I’ve already had so many troubles, and I’ve worked so hard through waves and warfare. Let what’s yet to come be added in with those.” (Modern Version, Book 5, lines 67 - 82)

Penelopes' love for her husband motivates her in staging a test of strength and skill for her suitors, a test she knows only Odysseus can pass. She addresses the suitors with these words:

“Listen to me, bold suitors, who’ve been ravaging this home with your incessant need for food and drink, since my husband’s now been so long absent. The only story you could offer up as an excuse is that you all desire to marry me and take me as your wife. So come now, suitors, since I seem to be the prize you seek, I’ll place this great bow here belonging to godlike Odysseus. And then, whichever one of you can grip this bow and string it with the greatest ease, then shoot an arrow through twelve axes, all of them, I’ll go with him, leaving my married home, this truly lovely house and all these goods one needs to live—things I’ll remember, even in my dreams.” (Modern Version, Book 21, lines 73 - 89)

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love Between Mother and Son

Jocasta's love for her son, who was also her husband, motivated her to hang herself.

Oedipus's love for his wife, who was also his mother, motivated him to gouge out his eyes.

"With the poor lifeless woman laid on the ground this, then, was the terror we saw: he pulled the long pins of hammered gold clasping her gown, held them up, and punched them into his eyes, back through his sockets." (lines 1436 - 1440)