A Detailed Analysis of the Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh is a depiction of an Ancient Sumerian king, with his travels and exploits. The epic is from twelve tablets, although the twelfth is considered more of a sequel to the original epic, and may not have even been written by the original authors (Jastrow, 2011). Various versions of the epic exist, but the most complete and comprehensive version resides now in the British museum, and is the primary source for readings and translations. The tablets were found in what was an ancient library in Nineveh, as part of a royal collection.

With references to what could possibly be the ancient flood with Noah from the Bible, the epic is considered one of the oldest pieces of literature in existence. While the most complete version of the epic has been signed by an author, it is widely considered that there were probably multiple authors who were anonymous.

We are told that Gilgamesh, the mighty king of the city of Uruk, is part god and part human.

This draws some similarities with ancient Greek literary subjects, such as Hercules. The humanity of the half-gods is often considered a distinct disadvantage. Death, being the biggest drawback implies an end to all things from the subjects point of view. While full-blooded humans are afraid to die, it is something that we all accept at one point or another in our lives. Even if we don’t come to terms with it, it will come nonetheless.

The gods, being immortal but with human qualities, are probably unable to comprehend the internal struggles in the minds of men with regards to death, as it’s something they themselves will never supposedly experience.

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Numerous times, lapis lazuli is brought up in the epic. In the ancient times, lapiz lazuli was a symbol of wealth and status. To have it ground into a fine blue powder to form pigments for art made the material an exorbitant cost to artists. In the epic, a lapis lazuli tablet sits by the city gates, detailing the epic itself. Gilgamesh also has an amulet made of lapis lazuli that he uses as a reminder for the sacrifices that he has made to the gods.

During his reign, Gilgamesh was oppressive and cruel. As an answer to their prayers, Enkidu, known as The Wild Man, came into existence. At first, Enkidu was a punishment to Gilgamesh, causing all sorts of trouble for the outlying farmers and impacting the food supply for Uruk. Gilgamesh uses a temple harlot to tame the animalistic desires of Enkidu, calming him down, and bringing him to civilization. After a lengthy trial of combat between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, they become friends, almost inseparable as comrades.

We can notice a few items from the early interactions and depictions of Enkidu by the authors. The very people who begged the gods for deliverance from a tyrannical king ended up with a being that started to terrorize their fields and livestock. Tyrannical figures are viewed as uncaring for their subject, but this must not have been the case for Gilgamesh. Even though he was a difficult king to serve, he cared enough about his people to do something about this savage Wild Man who was causing chaos for Uruk.

It’s interesting that Gilgamesh uses sex as a weapon to tame this Wild Man. His understanding of male sexual frustration (since there’s no implication of shenanigans with the Wild Man and livestock) was probably derived from the human side of his demi-god state. All it took, was for Gilgamesh to use the priestess from the temple to satiate those instinctual desires. The relief of that frustration turned this Wild Man into Enkidu, with the animals of the wild no longer wishing to associate with his company. Even though the priestess probably couldn’t refuse the order of Gilgamesh to do her task, she still deserves a medal for going through with it all. Especially considering that Enkidu was able to keep going for six days and seven nights.

Throughout the epic, Gilgamesh lives a life of his own choosing. He rules how he wants, he (along with Enkidu) goes into a forest to slay a bull. After the death of Enkidu, he decides that he isn’t going to give in to his human half and end up dead. As with any story that has an epic quest with an epic goal, one always expects eventual success given how generic story-lines are fed to us in our day. Even in his demi-god states, the mistakes of Gilgamesh are displayed for all to see. He’s shortsighted, searching for a goal to remove his mortality when others would argue that he should already be happy with his lot in life as a demi-god, and not a full blooded human being.

Unlike the normal, happy-go-lucky endings that we’re used to, Gilgamesh ultimately fails in his quest for immortality. The epic of Gilgamesh does not follow the normal tropes that we’ve been exposed to in our upbringings, and to me has been a refreshing experience. Life is hard, and things don’t necessarily turn out how you want them to. To constantly have a pie in the sky view of your life story will give you hopes and dreams that you may not end up meeting in the end, leaving you feeling that you never accomplished what you were supposedly capable in this life.

The failure of Gilgamesh is a victory in that he realized that immortality was always just out of his reach. While he wasn’t able to become immortal, the very acts he accomplished while stretching for that goal were certainly noteworthy. The city of Uruk itself was his accomplishment, and his immortality. Now, thousands of years after the writing of the epic, it’s main character has finally achieved what nobody else can. Immortality through the telling of his story. It’s now easy to argue that Gilgamesh has attained a similar legendary status as Upnapishtim, the epics version of Noah, who indeed was able to gain immortality throughout the events of the great flood.

Could Gilgamesh have been content with his city of Uruk by itself? Probably, but in the epic we hear about his boredom, laziness, and complacency. Instead of it ending there, we then learn of a demi-god who cried out against his fate, refusing to live out his life and end up in the land of the dead. We’re given insight into basic human instincts, and how it took a woman to be able to tame a wild man. Without her, Gilgamesh could very well have lived out his life differently. In life, Gilgamesh and Enkidu had a brotherly love. And though Gilgamesh fought his inevitable death, he would eventually join his brother.

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A Detailed Analysis of the Epic of Gilgamesh. (2023, Feb 13). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/a-detailed-analysis-of-the-epic-of-gilgamesh/

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