A Look at History’s Superbros
Every guy has a bro. They are the person who is always there for you, thick or thin, through the good times and the bad. They are the characters that make sitcoms funny and buddy cop movies possible. Truly there is no stronger male bond than between a guy and his bro; a pair who have been around since the beginning of written language, as is evident by their place in some of the oldest manuscripts in human history: The Iliad and The Epic of Gilgamesh. Both feature perfect examples of the power and camaraderie of male friendship and showcase the full range of emotions associated with losing someone you love. In this essay, I’d like to explore the nature of relationships between fire-forged battle companions and take a closer look at the tragic deaths of Enkidu and Patroclus and the effects they have on the heroes of both tales.
During the times in which these two epics were written, the idea of marriage and courtship were drastically different than they are today. Women and men simply didn’t exist in the same social circles as each other, and a person’s spouse was rarely their soul mate or best friend as many people view them today. This drove men to seek profound emotional relationships, not with their wives, but with the male friend whom they felt closest to. The most similar parallel in modern society is when two men refer to themselves as “bros”. Whereas most male relationships over the last century have taken a turn for the stern and unemotional, bros relish in their friendship and feel a closeness that is rare to find in today’s society, such is the case with Gilgamesh and Enkidu as well as Achilles and Patroclus.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s friendship begins after an intense wrestling match in the streets of Uruk, because nothing says best friends forever like a good beat down between rivals. To celebrate their newfound bromance, they embark on a quest to slay the most terrifying monster in the land, The Bull of Heaven. Thus, we find that this age old trope of two best friends going on adventures truly is ages old, beginning in Sumer, the oldest civilization in the world. Enkidu starts as a perfect counter to Gilgamesh, who is too proud and conceited for his own good. He finds a friend in the primal being of Enkidu, and through the narrative both grow as characters through their bond. Together, they make up for each other’s faults, using their own strengths to make up for the other’s weaknesses and in doing so are able to challenge the gods themselves.
Achilles and Patroclus provide a separate dichotomy from the previous heroes. They are more different than each other than Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but still keep in the style of uniting to become a whole stronger than their individual parts. Patroclus serves as the reign-bearer, the only person whom Achilles will listen to. He is the level-headed anchor to Achilles’ rage filled temperament. In addition, he is loyal, choosing to side with Achilles when he abandons the war effort and does not return until the Trojans are bearing down on the Greek ships. The act of defying Agamemnon and the entire Greek army for his companion speaks wonders to the lengths Patroclus is willing to go to stay true to his friend.