The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Notion of the Monster

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Discuss the treatment of one of the following in The Epic of Gilgamesh: the notion of the monster.

The stereotypical image of the ‘monster' is generally viewed as some form of ogre,

for example the ogre found in the fairy tale Jack and the beanstalk is an indication of many

people's view. Other accepted stereotypes of monsters are found in mythology or legends,

the Cyclops in Greek myth being another example, with its one eye and broad body, the

Cyclops is a picture of fear. The aim of this essay is to identify whether "The Epic of

Gilgamesh" successfully highlights the ‘accepted' idea of the monster usually found in Epic

tales, and also whether any other characters portray traits which are often associated with

ogres and giants. These traits are reflected in the text through action, words or the fear of


In "The Epic of Gilgamesh", Humbaba the guardian of the forest is the ‘monster'

figure within the text. Humbaba is protecting his territory, and through Gilgamesh's

description, he is portrayed as a beast. "When [Humbaba] roars it is like the torrent of the

storm, his breath is like fire, and his jaws are death itself". This interpretation, as well as

Gilgamesh's use of the words "Ferocious" and "Fear" creates an image of Humbaba as a

Monster. Gilgamesh uses vivid imagery to portray Humbaba as the giant that he is. Even the

name ‘Humbaba' means ‘Hugeness', which indicates to the reader the notion of a monster.

In the real sense of the word, Humbaba is a ‘monster' in the way in which he is not human.

This does not necessarily suggest that Humbaba depicts the characteristics usually

associated with beasts of his type. The language used by Humbaba indicates he is harmless,

just looking to execute his orders to guard the forest:

Gilgamesh, let me speak. I have never known a mother, no, nor a father who reared me. I was born of the mountain, he reared me, and Enlil made me the keeper of this forest. Let me go free, Gilgamesh, and I will be your servant, you shall be my lord; all the trees I tended on this mountain will be yours. I will cut them down and build you a palace.

Despite his portrayal by Gilgamesh as a monster, Humbaba shows none of the traits

commonly associated with giants. He shows compassion and bids to serve Gilgamesh in

return for his life. He has never known love of anyone yet he shows more emotion than

both Enkidu and Gilgamesh. This suggests that although Humbaba may be a monster on the

exterior, inside he is perhaps more human than any other main character.
When looking at Gilgamesh and the notion of the monster, Gilgamesh is eager to establish himself as a hero and feels the way he must do this is by destroying Humbaba. Gilgamesh is portrayed at the beginning of the story as a tyrant and this characteristic remains with him during the tale until he hears Humbaba's pleas for his life and takes pity on him. "O Enkidu, should not the snared bird return to its nest..." Gilgamesh has tyrannical attributes, which are often associated with monsters. Although he shows compassion for Humbaba for a brief period, Gilgamesh still kills him after being encouraged by Enkidu despite Humbaba's negotiations. Similarly in the Grimm Brothers fairy tale "Little Red Cap", The wolf eats Little Red Cap despite her innocence. This furthers the idea that Gilgamesh displays the notions of a monster. The fact that Gilgamesh has killed an innocent being indicates to the reader that it is Gilgamesh who portrays more monstrous attributes. This is ironic as Humbaba, the actual ‘monster' in a physical sense, can be seen as less of a beast than Gilgamesh. The notion of the monster can therefore be viewed as a physical being, a state of mind or a characteristic of a being.

Enkidu is the third character to reinforce the notion of the monster within the text. His actions can be viewed as a cause and effect of...
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