The Epic of Gilgamesh is an enlightening story that is filled with knowledge and wisdom that can teach everyone . Gilgamesh shows a great change from the beginning of the epic to the end, which can teach us all a lesson about life and death, and more importantly about our lives and how we should or shouldn’t live our lives. At the beginning of the story we see Gilgamesh as someone who thinks he is better than everyone, who treats his people unkindly and who uses people and things unfairly.
At the end we see someone who has held, and lost, the secret to immortality, but in return, gains a new perspective towards living life. Gilgamesh is the king of Uruk, a beautiful city, but he treats it as his own playground. As a reader of this epic, we tend to feel bad for the people of Uruk, and not to think very highly of Gilgamesh. Even though it is said that he is two-thirds divine and one part human, that does not make him any less or great of a good human being.
There is a quote from a story from our time, “With great power, comes great responsibility” often a misquote from the bible, “to whom much has been given, much will be required. ” It means as much now as much as it did then, and it’s something that we intuitively, and maybe unconsciously, follow when determining whether or not we like a certain person, two-thirds divine or not. Right away we see someone who has great power but it isn’t funneled into the right areas and is mostly thrown around because of the lack of passion and motivation.
Without his power going into something that is worthwhile to his needs and wants, Gilgamesh ends up taking advantage of his citizen’s possession and even the citizens, themselves . We learn how from a quote from Gilgamesh on how he treats the city of Uruk, it’s people, and how they feel about it from this passage below. “The City is his possession, he struts through it, arrogant, his head raised high, trampling its citizens like a wild bull. He is King; he does whatever he wants … the people suffer from his tyranny…” (pg. 72) The gods intervene by creating Enkidu after hearing the citizen’s pleas and cries.
This is where the actual story of Gilgamesh’s Transformation starts; we learn that the gods create his equal, a soon to be tamed wild beast that is Gilgamesh’s equal in power and strength that eventually becomes his best friend. Unfortunately, this seems to spark another interest in Gilgamesh’s mind, this is where we learn of Gilgamesh’s ultimate fear in life, mortality. Although, we know it’s a problem that we don’t want our hero of our story to have, it has a bittersweet connection to us as human beings. Most of us,when one of our major faults is corrected, we jump on to another problem that affects us in a different way.
Of course, we don’t always react immediately and it isn’t normally in such a way as Gilgamesh, but we are able to connect to it in a way. Because of Gilgamesh’s fear of mortality, he wants to kill Humbaba, a creature feared by everyone who guards the forest of Enlil, to be remembered as the one who did so. Enkidu tries to convince him otherwise because of respect for the beast, but fails to do so, and actually ends up contributing whole heartedly into the quest with Gilgamesh because of their great friendship. Their friendship overall is very strong and one that could be argued as homosexual.
Which, when thinking of their relationship more as a romantic one, can make us better understand how Enkidu’s death is the ultimate reason for Gilgamesh’s frantic disposition and his increasing obsession about his fear of mortality. Because of Enkidu’s outlook on life and how different his outlook is compared to Gilgamesh, his commitment to such a journey, for such an outrageous thing, it would be to Enkidu really shows how deeply they care for each other as people. Which, in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethic’s (Book VIII) that type of relationship can be the best kind of friendship two people can have with each other.
Belief is definitely stirred up, while reading, that throughout Enkidu’s journey with Gilgamesh, he knows that he will not be alive by the end of it. The interpretations that Enkidu tells Gilgamesh about his dreams seem to be incorrect and rather foreshadow Enkidu’s dreams later on in the epic. Gilgamesh’s dreams seem as if someone will save him, which leads the reader to believe that Enkidu, since he is the one doing the interpretations, will eventually give up his life, in one way or another for Gilgamesh’s.
From this, we know that he deeply cares for Gilgamesh and wants him to succeed in killing Humbaba, so that he will be forever remembered. You can see how Gilgamesh’s obsession for immortality increases because of Enkidu’s death, from this quote. “Must I die too? Must I be as lifeless as Enkidu? How can I bear this sorrow that gnaws at my belly, this fear of death that restlessly drives me onward? If only I could find the one man whom the gods made immortal, I would ask him how to overcome death. ” (pg. 159)
There is obviously no doubt that Enkidu’s death seriously affects Gilgamesh, and even drives him to search harder for the cure to his fear of death. After many trials and tribulations on his own journey, Gilgamesh finally finds what he is looking for, an answer of sorts from the immortal Utnapishtim. It can be assumed that Gilgamesh misunderstands and misconstrues what he says about finding the key to immortality by how Gilgamesh reacts to this quote: “There is a small spiny bush that grows in the waters of the Great Deep, it has sharp spikes… If you find this plant and bring it to the surface, you will have found the secret of youth. (pg. 196) Gilgamesh’s reaction is exactly how Utnapishtim expected him to react. Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that he will find the secret of youth, if he finds this plant, which Gilgamesh thinks is a material sort of secret that he can use, but really it’s really the knowledge that Utnapishtim wants Gilgamesh to learn. He wants Gilgamesh to have a cathartic moment, because those moments are what we as human beings learn from the most.
In a way, that’s one thing, we as a reader of this epic, can learn for ourselves that really beneficial to the way we live our lives. Cathartic moments need to happen in order to learn the real wisdom and knowledge and add them into our lives. This catharsis is exactly what Utnapishtim is gifting to Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is actually going and putting in that last effort, he finally has found the cure to his ultimate fear, which eventually gets stolen from him.
Gilgamesh cries out that he will never be able to get that plant again, and gives up on that quest mostly because of his ultimate transformation from his catharsis. At the end, he repeats the words that were first spoken to us from the narrator about the beautiful city of Uruk, how masterfully it was constructed, and the gorgeous landscape around the city. He has grown an appreciation for the city and the people that he used and took advantage of in the beginning. He has done what the gods wanted and transformed into what can only be assumed as, a soon to be great king.
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