Ancient Mesopotamia’s ideals and religious morals in 1750 B.C. were slightly similar to early Greek civilization ideas of power. Mesopotamia’s moral values changed over the course of time, moving from a heroic age to a religious manifestation where God was constantly seen as the crucial assessor of good and evil. Although Greek civilization developed more than 500 years after Mesopotamia, their beliefs of glory and God as a daunting ruler were comparable. Mesopotamia’s notion of justice is exemplified through the Epic of Gilgamesh however; Homer’s Iliad depicts Greek civilization ideas of power and rules. Both stories display fears towards overpowering heroes and gods shortly forgotten and adopting Hammurabi’s and Hesiod’s ideas demonstrating the transformations and thoughts of justice that both societies underwent during their early developments.
The Epic tale of the Sumerian hero Gilgamesh in which a “person’s success is measured by glory or fame as a hero” (Baikley, 3) epitomizes Ancient Mesopotamia’s heroic age. Knowledge and bravery were the most appraised characteristics a man could behold. The strong could rule and be kings, destroying all they considered a threat to their power. They were brave enough to quarrel with the Gods, who propagated justice upon men. Gilgamesh, son of Lugalbanda and the fifth king of Uruk, “accomplished in strength” (Baikley, 7) triumph over monsters and defied the Gods, but never defied those endowed with immortality and strength, who might hurl upon mortals their primary fear -death- because “when the gods created mankind, death for mankind they set aside, [and retained] life in their own hands” (Epic of Gilgamesh, 11). Gilgamesh’s arrogance established enemies among his people. He knew neither justice nor compassion and robbed lesser people of their most precious possessions taking the maid “the warrior’s daughter, [and] the noble’s spouse!” (Baikley, 6). His lack of respect towards the Gods eventually punished him, taking the life of his beloved best friend. The Epic of Gilgamesh confirms the control that the Gods had over mankind. Their system of justice, however, was somewhat inconsistence, as the slightest behavior easily infuriated them, were they ultimately “decided to bring a flood over [mankind]” (Epic of the Flood, 14). The flood was brought to those who sinned and disrespected the Gods, where, supposedly, only the righteous heroes survive (Baikley, 13). Greek heroes experienced similar fates at the hands of the gods; as portrayed in Homer’s Iliad. In this story “gods mingle freely with mortals and aid their favorites” (Baikley, 108). Agamemnon, leader of the Achaeans, angers the god Apollo and consequently brings misfortunes to his people. Apollo’s rage burned pyres and killed mules and people for nine days until a most unfortunate treaty, which created a conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles, calmed him. Agamemnon’s injustice against Achilles was founded on mere greediness; this depicts the moral values of a materialistic ancient Greek civilization, where the “[strife] for heroic values” was lacking upon men (Baikley, 108). Like Mesopotamia’s Flood, the Achaeans were punished for exasperating the gods. Unlike the Mesopotamians’ belief of gaining fame by triumphing against monsters, as in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Greeks gained fame by victories and conquests of other civilizations.
The gods and rulers established justice in the Ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Greece. Both civilizations lacked established rules that would assure fair justice to mankind. Leaders like Agamemnon, Achilles and Gilgamesh could seize what they pleased from lesser people without punishment. Depending on the circumstances rulers and gods decided justifiable punishments that were mostly based upon anger, disappointment and greediness, thereafter leaving immorality and depravity aside. Both civilizations feared the wrath of the gods, and thus took sacrifices to appease them in order to be free and live a long life.
In ancient Mesopotamia a new era was approached, where sacrifices for the gods did not seemed to be enough. Mesopotamians drifted away from their ancient beliefs of the heroic era, “constructing a stable and meaningful way of life based on more permanent values” (Baikley, 4). Hammurabi, a ruler of Mesopotamia, constituted a social reform with nearly three hundred law codes that would secure the general welfare and bring justice to the people. Hammurabi’s specific laws established punishments that would favorably judge those who fractured the codes. A similar chronicle intervened Greece’s primitive monarchy, as depicted in Homer’s Iliad. Hesiod, a Greek poet, expressed optimism about a new and better future, an attitude that led him to suggest moral values that would prevent injustice by the mythological power or “age of iron, [where] there was little or no justice or happiness” (Baikley, 120).
Hammurabi’s laws covered everything from the basics of the land and companionship to the laws of trade and ascertained judgment. The degree of the crime and the person’s social status mainly determined the severity of punishment that the person would receive, death among the most extreme, with the attempt to eliminate all that was evil. Honesty was crucial since bringing a false accusation against another man often resulted in death. Thieves and those who “attempted fraud [and had] stirred up strife, [would] be put to death…” (Baikley, 27). Other types of punishment included demand for money or food and being thrown into the water. Women had even greater restrictions than men. They were prohibited to divorce just because they disliked their husband and if they were caught lying with another man “they [would be bound] and throw[n] into the water” (Baikley, 28). Men, on the other hand, were able to have concubines in different circumstances. In terms of Hesiod, his ideas were not concrete laws like Hammurabi’s but more like moral opinions that men should follow in order to be more civilized and honest. Hesiod believed that men should not take advantage of women or the weaker people. He asserts that “those who practice violence and cruel deeds” should receive punishment from the gods (Baikley, 124). Otiosity was considered a sin. Instead, a good work ethic that brought food to the table and created wealth was highly admired. “Wealth should not be seized […] the gods soon [would] blot [anyone who tried] him out and make that man’s house low” with limited wealth (Baikley, 125).
Although Mesopotamians’ tyranny and the Greeks’ monarchy changed over time to more just and democratic laws, the notion of involuntary crime in Mesopotamia was neglected in the codes, where honest deeds might have ended with a severe punishment. Hammurabi’s physician’s laws, for example, stated that “if a physician operates on man […] and causes that man’s death […] they shall cut off his hand” (Baikley, 31). Both Hammurabi and Hesiod believed that the earth should be cared for and maintained as an ideal of moderation. Women were considered inferior to men; according to Hammurabi, for example, if a woman had “gadded about, neglecting her house and belittling her husband, [she] should [have been] thrown into the water…” (Baikley, 29). This illustrates Hesiod’s belief that women came after men’s wealth and should not be trusted. The Mesopotamian’s codes were based on an “eye for an eye” philosophy that many took to be the correct way of dealing with problems. Unlike Hesiod’s codes, on the other hand, they did not establish moral values that contributed to the edification of the society. While Hammurabi’s laws were “given by the gods” and punished by the people, Hesiod’s moral ideas were given by the people and punished by the gods.