The epic of Gilgamesh, is one of the oldest pieces of literature still read to date and the themes are still some that society can relate to. The trials and tribulations the main characters in this epic poem go through can easily be used to interpret challenges in people’s everyday life today. Gilgamesh the hero in the story who is also king to the great city of Uruk is blessed with strength, wisdom, beauty and is two-thirds god like. Gilgamesh is also very arrogant, self-absorbed and most certainly, lonely. The people of the city of Uruk pray to the gods for help with Gilgamesh and the gods send Enkidu. Enkidu is a wild, natural and carefree man who has subsisted in the woods. On a day when Gilgamesh is on his way to do what he feels is his birth right and sleep with a bride to be of one of his men Enkidu blocks him and challenges him to a fight. Gilgamesh who is undeniable the more powerful one of the two wins. Enkidu praises the king instead of being upset and causes Gilgamesh in return to embrace Enkidu as his friend. This is the beginning of a bond of friendship in which both are opposites but they balance each other out. This is also where the transformation of Gilgamesh begins we see how meeting his complement teaches him to appreciate humanity and the bond of brotherhood that grows between them. Gilgamesh finally realized that the feeling of loneliness that he felt was the yearning of his soul for a true friend.
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Although it is a very primitive way but Gilgamesh begins to show signs of selflessness as soon as he brings his new found friend Enkidu home. Gilgamesh introduces his new friend to his mother, Gilgamesh’s mother adopts Enkidu – he becomes not only the servant, confidant, and friend of Gilgamesh, but also he is referred to as a blood brother. The first journey that Gilgamesh proposes is an attempt to lift his friend’s spirits because he had noticed his weeping, “Gilgamesh speaks, why are your eyes full of tears, why are you listless, your strength turned to weakness?” (Gilgamesh, Tablet 2, 136-137). Gilgamesh has failed to get to know his friend and his action seem careless and selfish. When his intentions are to share what he feels would be a good time with Enkidu. Gilgamesh is not aware of the dangers in the forest and tells Enkidu they should journey into the forest and kill Humbaba. Enkidu attempts to speak some sense into Gilgamesh about the dangers of the wild but of course Gilgamesh still being selfish does not see his friend is trying to protect him. They set out to the forest Enkidu is entrusted to take care of the king of Uruk and bring him back home safe. Thought these two men just met there bond is immediate and while in the forest the trust Gilgamesh has in Enkidu is so great that when he wakes from sleeping tells his friends his dreams and feels comfort in his interpretation of them. When they finally reach their goal and confront the monster Humbaba in the forest the influence they have on each other is obvious. Gilgamesh the never wavering strong one has second thoughts and here come Enkidu and tell him those words of encouragement he needs to hear and Gilgamesh kills Humbaba. The men return home and are content for a while.
As time progresses the loyalty Gilgamesh and Enkidu have towards each other grows. Almost childlike the way Enkidu responds to the princess and also goddess Ishtar who attempted to kill Gilgamesh in a fit of rage because he refused to marry her. Enkidu says to Ishtar “If I could vanquish you, I’d turn you to this, I’d drape the guts beside you!” (Gilgamesh, Tablet 6, 154-155). Enkidu is referring to the guts of the bull of heaven the princess had released to kill Gilgamesh but it failed to do so instead the two friends join together and kill it taking its horns as a trophy. The men caring spirit towards each other even though the response is playful in nature it brings comfort to the other to know that they have each other’s back. Unfortunately the gods felt that the insult towards Ishtar was enough and decide to punish the two friends. In the mist of all their adventures Gilgamesh has still never experienced a loss and still he feels that he is invincible. In spite of all of Gilgamesh’s power, he is incapable of preventing Enkidu’s death.
Enkidu the great friend of Gilgamesh dies a death he considers to be a curse, he would have much rather a glorious death in battle but instead he lays in bed and waste away from an illness. This is the first time that Gilgamesh feels lost and helpless even his mighty strength cannot save his friend. Also Gilgamesh will get in touch with his human side and feel fear for he finally has come to the realization that he is human and death comes to all even him. Gilgamesh says, “The fate of mankind has overtaken him, Six days and seven nights I wept for him, I would not give him up for burial, until a worm fell out of his nose. I was frightened” (Gilgamesh, Tablet 10, 58-61) Gilgamesh referring to his friend Enkidu, that even after his death he was holding on to the hope that just maybe he’s friend would wake up somehow. It took him seven days to finally realize that he is powerless against death. Gilgamesh gives his friend a lavish burial ceremony, lays him to rest in what he describes as a perfect resting place. The king also serves many offerings to the rulers of the underworld so that his friend is taking care of. Gilgamesh also calls on his craftsmen and has them build a statue in the image of his great friend covered in gold and other precious metals and stones to forever immortalize his friend. The fact remains Gilgamesh realizes his full humanity when Enkidu dies and he decides to go on a quest to search for immortality.
Gilgamesh still consumed with pride will go on one last journey to seek eternal life, for he fears that his death will one day come just like it did for his friend Enkidu. Gilgamesh has become more aware of the vulnerability that comes along with being human. Without knowing he has also learned to care for another human being other than himself. Gilgamesh still full of pride refuses to give up and begins his journey. Along the way Gilgamesh encounters a few obstacles, first it was a pair of serpents that guard the entrance of the mountain he intends to pass. He pleads with them to let him through and tells them he is searching for eternal life, even though they tell him that he will never find it he is relentless and refuses to give up so they let him through. Next, he encounters Siduri the tavern keeper who tell him again immortality is not for humans but Gilgamesh refuses to listen, he pleads saying he is heartsick for his friend and to please allow him to cross or he will never have peace within. But Siduri advises him and tell him that he should be content and enjoy his life and tells him “This, then, is the work of mankind” (Gilgamesh, Tablet 10, 90). The king of Uruk has ability to live life to the fullest to be merry, but instead he refuses and continues his search for something that is not attainable to human beings. Gilgamesh reaches the sea which is the last obstacle he believes he needs to cross to reach Utanapishtim the oldest human known to man and the only human who has been granted immortal life by the gods. Gilgamesh believes that by reaching him he will find the answer he’s looking for and be granted eternal life.
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After finally crossing the waters of death Gilgamesh finally reaches Utanapishtim and tells him the purposes of his journey is to seek eternal life. Gilgamesh says “Enkidu, my friend whom I loved has turned into clay! Shall I not lie down like him, and never get up, forever and ever?”(Gilgamesh, Table 10, 265-267). In an effort to gain compassion from Utanapishtim this great King of Uruk will go into great detail in telling him of all the hardships he had to endure in his journey to reach the only person that may be able to tell him how to obtain immortality. Utanapishtim, does the opposite of what Gilgamesh expect him to do, instead of feeling pity for Gilgamesh he points out that all the hardships he has endured are by choice. Gilgamesh does not want to hear that instead he presses to know the reason why he has been granted immortality; finally he learns the story of the flood and why the gods granted Utanapishtim everlasting life. Utanapishtim gives Gilgamesh one chance to everlasting life and challenges Gilgamesh to stay awake for a week, he fails when he wakes Gilgamesh says “What then should I do, Utanapishtim, whither should I go, Now that the Bereaver has seized my [flesh]? Death lurks in my bedchamber, and wherever I turn there is death!” (Gilgamesh, Tablet 10, 246-249). With nowhere else to go with his quest of eternity Utanapishtim sends Gilgamesh home not before telling him to count his blessings and enjoy his life. He also gives him a plant of everlasting youth that again Gilgamesh fails to take care of and drops it allowing a snake to eat it. Gilgamesh weeps and finally realizes that although he searched far and wide for the secret of immortality, he found nothing and lay exhausted. Gilgamesh returns home and for the first time he looks at his great city of Uruk with pride.
The Epic of Gilgamesh showed the reasons of Gilgamesh’s grief and why his attempt to do the impossible was so important to him. In a way Gilgamesh was looking to see if there was anything he could do and maybe be able to bring his friend Enkidu back to life. Enkidu shows Gilgamesh true friendship and love. It also showed how loyal friends could be to each other and how fast a friendship is born. The two friends learn from each other and support each other through all their journeys together. As Enkidu becomes more civilized by leaving his wild nature behind him, Gilgamesh was becoming a more selfless human being and leaving the tyrant king he used to be behind him Even though the two men had nothing in common in the surface they took notice of each other’s kindred spirits. Friends on impulse who formed a bond for no apparent reason but in return give us a glance at what it means to have a best friend and confidant. This also tells us that it doesn’t matter how much humanity evolves the bonds we form with friends or family are just as important today as they were centuries ago.
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