Western Humanities

Western Humanities






Western Humanities

The Epic of Gilgamesh is a poem from an ancient time in Mesopotamia. It introduces us to a King called Gilgamesh who ruled the kingdom of Uruk. He is described as being more of a god than man. His physical features were those of a god, very strong, attractive and with a wise mind. He was able to build ziggurats which are also known as temple towers. He also built very high walls that encircled his city. When Gilgamesh started ruling over Uruk, he was very cruel to his subjects. He raped the women he found attractive and didn’t care whether they were the wives of his warriors or daughters of noblemen. He was able to complete his building projects by using forced labor.

The subjects of Gilgamesh suffered under his ruling and lamented to the gods. The gods however heard the Lamentations of the people and created a man called Enkidu. Enkidu was as good as Gilgamesh. When the gods sent him to Uruk, he lived with animals, suckled their breasts, grazed in the meadows and drunk at their water place. A hunter found him and used a temple prostitute to tame him in the wilderness. When Enkidu slept with the temple prostitute, the animals started rejected him because his behaviour had changed into a civilized one. The prostitute also taught him the ways he needed to know in order to become a man.

Enkidu becomes very angry at Gilgamesh after he hears about his extreme way of leadership. Enkidu decides to travel to Uruk to challenge the leadership of Gilgamesh. When Enkidu arrives at Uruk and finds that Gilgamesh wants to forcefully go to the chambers of a bride. Enkidu stands on the doorway and prevents him. This leads them to a fight that Gilgamesh wins. After the fight they start becoming friends and looks for an adventure they could experience together. They decide to go for their first adventure to a cedar forest thatnot permitted to mortals and steal the trees. It was guarded by a demon named Humbaba who was a servant of Enil, the god of earth air and wind

Gilgamesh and Enkidu made their journey to the cedar forest and together they managed to fight Humbaba with the help of Shamash who was the sun god. They were able to cut down the forbidden trees are made a humongous gate and a raft that they used to float back to Uruk. Ishtar, who was the goddess of love was filled with lust for Gilgamesh after their arrival to Uruk. Gilgamesh however pushed her away. The goddess became very angry with Gilgamesh and asked her father Anu, who was the god of the sky, to punish him by sending the bull of heaven. The bull came down and caused famine that lasted seven years. Gilgamesh and Enkidu successfully wrestled with the bull and killed it.

This did not make the gods happy, so met and decided on how to punish the two friends. Enkidu became very ill and the illness made him suffer extremely. His death broke Gilgamesh’s heart. Gilgamesh couldn’t stop grieving from the passing of his friend that he started wearing animal skins. Enkidu’s death made him think about his death and it didn’t make him happy. He decided to take a journey to the wilderness in search of Utnapishtim who was the Mesopotamian Noah to find out how he could avoid death too. Utnapishtim was given eternal life by the gods after the floods.

On his journey, Gilgamesh comes across a mountain called Mashu, whose peaks resemble like twins. From this mountain, the sun sets on one side and rises on the other. Utnapishtim lived to the further side of the mountain and its entrance was guarded by two scorpion monsters. The scorpion monsters however did not grant Gilgamesh passage to the tunnel that led to Utnapishtim.In darkness, he came across a harrowing path that led him to a sea that had a beautiful garden. At the garden he met Siduri who was the keeper of a tavern. He told her of his quest and decides to help him fulfil his purpose. She refers him to a ferryman called Urshanabi who would help him get to Utnapishtim.

Urshanabi takes Gilgamesh to Utnapishtim on a boat journey. Utnapishtim narrated the story behind his immortality of how the god of wisdom, Ea warned him about the plans of the gods to destroy humankind. How Ea helped him in making a big boat that his family and the offspring of other living creatures would use to escape from the floods. He also told him about the regret of the gods after the flood receded and their decision on not to kill humankind another time. Gilgamesh still insisted on wanting immortality. Utnapishtim gave him a test and challenged him to stay awake without sleeping got a whole week, which he failed. Utnapishtim ordered him to clean up,wear his royal clothes Dane travel back to Uruk.

As Gilgamesh was departing, Utnapishtim wife convinced her husband to tell him of a plant that gives back youth. Gilgamesh found the plant but unfortunately a snake stole it from him while he was camping. Gilgamesh returned to Uruk without anything from his journey. He had come to terms that he couldn’t live forever. His perception on the city changes as he had refused to be associated with in his grief tosomething that is impressively beautiful, a place where any mortal looks forward to experiencing immortality.

The significance of “The Epic of Gilgamesh” isto get to know the society of the Mesopotamians and how they came to develop the early literal forms. As shared by (Gale,2015), it helps us identify and appreciate the literal texts that were used in the Mesopotamian culture. The narrative is also appearing to be mythological because it talks about supernatural beings and capabilities. According to ( Gale, 2015), it plays a larger role in reflecting on the social attitudes and beliefs. An example is the role that the prostitute plays in taming Enkidu. This means that during those days prostitution was accepted.

According to (Poe, 2015), “The Epic of Gilgamesh” is also significant because it distinguishes on what makes a good leader. In the Mesopotamian culture, we are able to draw a conclusion that leaders were considered to represent and relate to gods and also act as a go between god and mortals. Thus good leaders were those that acted morally and used their power wisely. We get to see how Gilgamesh abuses his power by being cruel to his subjects but later changes because of the influence he gets from Enkidu. Through this we also draw a conclusion that good advisers make leaders behave morally upright. (Poe, 2015)


CL Gale. (2015), A study guide for The Epic of Gilgamesh

RS Poe. (2015), Engendering epic, heroism as constructed masculinity in the epics of Gilgamesh and Beowulf