The human species is unique on this earth in that we have intelligence, a written language, and the power to manipulate the world around us. Although we are capable of these things, it does not let us know what it means to be human. It is innate in the human condition to develop relationships with others. For example, it is part of the human condition that mother’s become extremely attached with their children, even before birth. It is their natural need and ability to care for others. As a result, humans have social characteristics and interact with each other. However, how do the relationships that humans build with one another effect the human experience? By analyzing early classic literature we can better understand the importance of human bonds and the influence of social relationships.
Classic literature is saturated with the dynamics of human relationships. However, the three that stand out the most include the relationship between Aeneas and Dido from the Aeneid, Gilgamesh and Enkidu from Gilgamesh, and Hamlet and Gertrude from Hamlet. Although these relationships are vastly different from one another, they provide excellent examples of human relationships and its effects on the human condition. In the story, the Aeneid, Aeneas and Dido develop a relationship encouraged by his mother Venus. With the help of Cupid who cast a spell over Dido, the Aeneas and Dido develop a romance with one another. While Dido is trying to get over her ex-husband, Aeneas is in the middle of an important journey. Along with the help of the deities, Aeneas and Dido are able to fall in love with each other. However, when compare this to other stories such as Gilgamesh, a much different relationship is observed. Gilgamesh and Enkidu have a bond that is completely different. These two begin as adversaries fighting against one another to prove their power and strength. Hamlet and Gertrude on the other hand develop a complex mother-son relationship that is filled with a mixture of love, denial, and animosity. The irony of these three relationships is that all end in tragedy. The tragedy is the end of these human relationships, creating a death to their union that can be observed both literally and figuratively. Despite how these relationships began, weather naturally such as mother and son or through the intervention of outsiders, social relationships are part of the human condition. It is only natural that people interact and create relationships with each other.
All three stories demonstrate the resentment, animosity, or hate that can arise in loving partnerships. Gilgamesh and Enkidu begin their relationship in battle. After being told about Gilgamesh’s behaviors and anarchy about Uruk, Enkidu intends to tame him and teach him a lesson. Enkidu tries to stop Gilgamesh from entering a lady’s bride chamber on her wedding night. Thus, a fight ensues. “So they grappled, holding each other like bulls; they broke the doorposts and the walls shook, they snorted like bulls locked together”, (61). Negative reactions to people in loving relationships can also be observed in the Aeneid. Although Aeneas and Dido should be in love with each other and are due to marry, Aeneas ups and leaves her on impulse. This causes Dido to become devastated. Seeing that Aeneas is going to leave him, she is consumed with rage and hatred, cursing him in her last breath. Here she states, “at once thou hast destroy’d thyself and me, Thy town, thy senate, and thy colony” (Virgil 104). Cursing him because he has left her to secure his destiny, she loves him to death and wishes him harm. This demonstrates the dynamics of human relationships. Although these partners love and care for each other deeply, people often hurt the ones they love.
This anger and resentment towards the ones we love can also be observed in Hamlet. Hamlet loves his mother. The reader is able to see this because he is fascinated by her and is always thinking of her. Furthermore, as they are bonded as mother and son, it is only natural that he would love unconditionally. Despite this, “Hamlet revels the disgust towards her marriage to his uncle, describing it as morally offensive, ‘incestuous’ and he admonishes his mother’s weakness, saying ‘frailty thy name is woman’” (Tuohy). He is blinded by anger towards his mother because she so blindly married Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle. Hamlet may be angry with his mother but it does not suggest that he doesn’t love her. It suggests that humans are able to have a complex range of emotions for an individual. Therefore it is possible to love someone yet be repulsed by their behavior and action. This is a unique trait of humans and the human condition. Humans can have more than one emotion towards another.
Human relationships are also associated with companionship. Of all the characters, Gilgamesh and Enkidu have a very close bond with one another and offer each other championship. Once Gilgamesh and Enkidu fought they became instant friends. They accompanied each other on brave missions. Together the two brothers, who are also the best of friends, battle Humbaba the demon of the forest and the Bull of Heaven sent down by the god Anu. The comradery and companionship that can be observed in this story offers, the “concept of personal allegiance” and the idea of “heroic-friendship” (van Sickle 4). Aeneas and Dido also suggest companionship however this is a companionship of another nature. The idea of companionship that occurs between Aeneas and Dido is the physical or sexual relationship. “Dido fetter’d in the chains of love, Hot with the venom which her veins inflam’d, And by no sense of shame to be reclaim’d (Virgil 83). Although this was against tradition, the two consummated their relationship before entering into marriage. This act alone sealed their relationship and their bond. Had Aeneas stayed and didn’t leave Dido he would have had to acknowledge their union the traditional way and marry. Companionship is part of the human condition. Humans seek out each other for friendship, companionship, unions, and marriages. Companionship signifies the importance of the relationships and also the length of a relationship. The characters involved in these relationships developed bonds that were important and long lasting. Despite this, all three of these relationships ended in tragedy.
Hamlet became devastated by the death of his mother. This occurred despite his feelings and resentment towards her. As his mother, Hamlet continued to love her unconditionally. His love for his mother and his rage towards his uncle gave Hamlet the bravo to defend his father’s honor and revenge his death. “Hamlet reacts when Gertrude drinks the poison. It is after the death of his mother that Hamlet spurns to action and finally kills the villainous Claudius” (Tuohy). Although the death is what helps Hamlet make the ultimate decision, at the end of the play Hamlet is an orphan. He has no father, mother, and uncle. Hamlet can inherit the throne that was dutifully his. However, the title comes in vain at the loss of his loved ones. While Gertrude died accidently by Claudius, Dido became so distressed by Aeneas leaving her that she kills herself. Through this relationship, the reader can see that Dido “is widely and fatally in love, impulsive, and romantic” (McLeish 130). She loves him so much that she cannot bare to live without him. Some people may see this as weak. However when we compare her actions to those of the other characters, she is acting in a way that may have been typical during this time period. This is because, “Dido’s behavior must have seemed excessive and over dramatic” (McLeish 133).
By analyzing the relationships in classic literature, a reader can better understand the dynamics of the human condition. Although some people are more social than others, every human will eventually develop a meaningful relationship with another. Some relationships are familial and automatic such as the relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude, and between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Other relationships are forced and brought together such as Dido and Aeneas. Although these relationships may have very different beginnings, the love and bond characters developed with one another are both intimate and personal. These stories are just that- a story. Yet, the relationships that occur within the stories have merit of truth. Brothers do and will fight with each other. In the same token, brothers will also fight for each other. Although people fight, it does not mean that they do not love one another. Relationships of love between lovers can often leave two people broken hearted. Despite the broken heart, people still care and love their partner as if they relationship was never broken. Lastly, these relationships demonstrate the human condition in that everyone will eventually pass from this world through death. Death is repeated throughout the three stories. Enkidu dies and sacrifices himself for Gilgamesh, leaving Gilgamesh mourning and in search for the answers of death. Dido literally kills herself, because she cannot live without Aeneas when he leaves her. Gertrude dies accidently by Claudius, leaving Hamlet an orphaned king. Death is part of the human condition and it is also part of these three stories, thus the most significant part being love and death.
The Epic of Gilgomesh. Retrieved from: http://www.aina.org/books/eog/eog.pdf
Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Edited by Cyrus Hoy
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Tuohy, J. “The Relationship between Hamlet and Gertrude.” More Matter Jamie. WordPress, 08 2012. Web. Web. 28 Nov. 2012. <http://jamietuohy.com/2012/03/08/the-relationship-between-hamlet-and-gertrude/>.
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