Conflict Between Gods and Humans in Gilgamesh and "The Odyssey"

Topics: Epic of Gilgamesh, Odyssey, Odysseus Pages: 5 (1779 words) Published: September 16, 2007
Elaborate sacrifices, wonderful feasts, jubilant celebrations, all of which are acts that demonstrate the reverence of humans for the supernatural gods; a common motif in both the ancient Mesopotamia depicted in Gilgamesh, and the ancient Greece of The Odyssey. What seems to be a perfectly harmonious relationship between men seeking protection and Providence from their guardian gods is actually quite complicated and can potentially turn tumultuous. In the aforementioned two epics, the earthly interests of men often clash with the wishes of the gods, and conversely, the gods often act blatantly without regard for humans, resulting in the classic conflict that pit men against gods. The ultimate foundation of this conflict in both The Odyssey and Gilgamesh is ironically a shared characteristic between men and the anthropomorphic gods: human ego and the consequent tendency to place ones own interests above those of others.

In the epic Gilgamesh, the conflict between the protagonist Gilgamesh and the divine gods is the direct result of differences in divergent interests. Gilgamesh is two thirdsgod and one third man (Lawall 13) and consequently he can overpower any mortal as the ruler Uruk. The citizens of Uruk states that Gilgameshs arrogance has no bound by days or night (Lawall 13), an apt description considering the fact that no earthly challenge can stop Gilgamesh. He is free to do whatever he wants on earth as a sort of demigod. Hence, it is only natural for the egotistical Gilgamesh to seek more power in order to strengthen his status and glory, but in the process he must confront the supernatural gods and their interests on three different occasions.

The first occasion involves the creation of and subsequent destruction of Enkidu. For the gods, Gilgameshs unchecked power on earth is a threat to harmony as well as their authority. Consequently, it is in the gods best interest to suppress Gilgameshs growing strength. Hence, the goddess Aruru creates Enkidu, a mirror image of Gilgamesh, hoping to use him as deterrence for Gilgamesh. However, Gilgameshs ultimate goal is to consolidate more power, not to lose it due to divine obstacles. He convinces Enkidu to become his sidekick as they battle Humbaba. At beginning of the journey, Enkidu is reluctant to fight, but Gilgamesh gives him numerous encouragements. He tells Enkidu not to speak like a coward (LaWall 20) and to let [his] courage be roused by the battle to come (LaWall 20). Gilgamesh is essentially instilling his own arrogance and the vainglorious pursuit of power into Enkidu, and consequently at the end of their adventure, Enkidu possesses a similar temperament as Gilgamesh. It is he who suggests that that Humbaba must be killed when the beast begs for mercy. Therefore, Gilgamesh is twice as powerful with the companionship of Enkidu, using the gods divine obstacle for his own interest. Nevertheless, the gods are not deterred and realizes that the only way to ultimately suppress Gilgamesh is to kill Enkidu. As a direct result, Gilgamesh, whose pervious disregard for death is replaced with complete fear. He becomes a tormented soul, a shell of his former glory. All in all, Gilgamesh and the gods are essentially playing a tug-of-war over Enkidu, they both want to use him as a way to satisfy their own goals.

The second occasion involves Gilgameshs conflict with the equally egocentric Ishtar. At first, Ishtar offers to marry Gilgamesh, a demand that is rudely rejected as the arrogant Gilgamesh defames Ishtar for her treachery toward her previous lovers. For the first time, the egotistical nature of both man and god is exposed simultaneously. The goddess has repeatedly harmed her lovers without regard for their wellbeing, acts that she later openly admit to her father as abominable behaviourfoul and hideous (Lawall 25). In fact, her behaviors are not much different than the acts of violence that Gilgamesh ruthlessly commits at the beginning of the epic; they both...
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