Literature: The Importance of The Epic of Gilgamesh

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Published: 28th April 2008
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Strange how man is shown to be evil and corrupts when we reach the top. With Gilgamesh as the ultimate ruler he had no morals, he knew what was right and wrong but he just didn't care. Feeling as if her were above the laws the commoners abided by. The overwhelming force of Gilgamesh is counterbalance by that of Enkidu.

Enkidu is the essence of innocence and nature. As he lived like an animal he knows nothing of man. He cannot commit sin and dirty himself as man has, in this way he is pure. His great innocence overlaps the raging inferno of power that is Gilgamesh. They are exact opposites that cancel each other out. When Enkidu was frightened, Gilgamesh was brave. And vice-versa. It is only through his introduction to humanity that Enkidu is weakened. Like Adam and Eve, knowledge has weakened him. It seems likely that he would've lived quite happily in the wilderness were it not for the harlot that was sent to woo him. (Their term, not mine)

Even though Gilgamesh succeeds in throwing Enkidu during their wrestling match, he still submits to the occasional whim and judgment of what would be, for lack of a better word, his inferior. The only reason for which I can think of that this would be are the prophetic dreams Gilgamesh has before Enkidu confronts him. They seem like they were put in place by an editor to maintain the story's continuity than for any other reason. Even the dream descriptions were far shorter and less vivid than those that occur later in the story.
There is a streak of latent homosexuality that exists within the story. During the beginning Gilgamesh was judged negatively as he enjoyed the company of women. But then he became a great and beloved ruler as Enkidu stayed by his side. Also the wording of the advice Gilgamesh's goddess-mother gave him when referring to the man who would be arriving soon was a little too intimate. Rather than telling him to love Enkidu like a brother, she told him to love him like a new bride. This and many other words used when the two talk about their feelings for each other have a certain duality that leaves me wondering.

It's odd that the gods chose not to change Gilgamesh, but give him another that completes him. It seems that once the gods created something/someone they didn't alter it directly afterward. The question arises, is this because of their respect for their creations or were they considered by the Mesopotamians to be unable to alter the nature of something which already exists? When people pray to the gods they listen as if a neighbor is making a complaint. Rather than the Olympian or Norse gods who would expect their worshippers to show immediate and constant obeisance, the Mesopotamian gods spoke to their subjects as if they were on equal footing. Although sacrifices were common and it was always a good idea to consult the gods in any major action, it lacked the certain fire and brimstone, thunderbolts, damnation, hell, and torture that we've come to know and fear.

Is it possible that if Gilgamesh had struck the death blow against the blessed giant Humbaba instead of Enkidu that Enkidu may not have called down the curse of the gods upon him? It seems likely given that Humbaba was the guardian of the sacred cedar forests, but that could've been just an excuse to get back at Gilgamesh for having rejected one of theirs. In this case his death was merely the result of scorned love. But then the question arises, why did Gilgamesh not seek revenge for the death of his comrade? One semi-divine such as he may have tried such as the Greek figure Herakles. But instead he looks for the secret of eternal life. Enkidu told him of his vision of the afterlife, the dust and damnation. But it would seem strange that Gilgamesh would not wish to follow an individual he loved so much into death rather than try to avoid the inevitable. Thus the conjecture can be made that Gilgamesh was not really that sad over the death of his friend. The realization of his own mortality and the concept of his unavoidable demise was what upset him and drove him to such lengths.

If this is true then we see that Gilgamesh never really changed at all from the beginning of the story. He was really just using whatever resources were available to achieve his own ends. It was he that proposed that Humbaba be killed, it was he that suggested they cut down the cedar forest guarded by the giant, it was he that angered the gods and killed the bull of heaven, and it was he that tried to cheat death. Everything he did was for his own personal gain and all the negative consequences fell on the innocent.

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