Monday, August 13, 2012

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Dating from the early 18th century BC, the Gilgamesh epic is one of the oldest known pieces of writing in existence. Throughout the poem are concurrent biblical themes, such as the flood, the correspondence Enkidu and the harlot have to Adam and Eve and a token of immortality being snatched away by a snake.

The story follows the friendship between two demigods, Gilgamesh and Enkidu. While Gilgamesh is part god and part man, Enkidu is part animal and part man, he runs with the wild animals and protects them by emptying the traps the hunters set. The hunters complain to Gilgamesh who seeks out Enkidu and wrestles him until both lay panting in the grass, the bonds of friendship forged forever.

They decided to attempt to defeat Humbaba, the guardian of Cedar mountain and emerge victorious, they then kill the Bull of Heaven, incurring the wrath of the gods who decided to sentence Enkidu to death. Gilgamesh spends the rest of the poem searching for a way to bring his friend back to life and ultimately immortality.  He tracks down a survivor of the ancient Mesopotamian flood, Utnapishtim, in his quest for immortality, and Utnapishtim tells him of a plant that grows in the bottom of the sea. Gilgamesh finds the plant and in a moment of euphoria decides to bathe while he wallows in his good fortune, leaving the plant on the shore. While he is swimming a snake slithers by and eats the plant, sheds is skin and slithers off, leaving Gilgamesh to once again confront the futility of life. 

There seems to be a lot of intense character development in this poem. Gilgamesh goes from being a despotic king, demanding the first night with all virginal brides. His people hate him and he seems relatively bored. Then he meets and challenges Enkidu and in a stanza or two they are best friends and decide to choose an adventure that will almost certainly lead  to death. Gilgamesh is transformed into the archetypal friend who seeks honor and prestige in the fame that defeating Humbaba will bring him over a quiet life of tyranny. 

Ultimately this poem is about love, friendship and the inevitability of death. Love, motivates Enkidu to change from wild beast to a man and Gilgamesh through his friendship with Enkidu changes from a tyrant into a hero compelled to seek out immortality. Gilgamesh is ultimately unable to escape mortality and learns that death is inextricably woven into the fabric of creation.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Henry V - William Shakespeare

In this essay, I will examine the rhetorical and dramatic effectiveness of King Henry’s speech to the Governor of Harfluer in Act 3 Scene 4 ...