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Epic of Gilgamesh

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Like any story, epics are only as captivating as the actions of their main character. The development of an epic hero begins with the buildup and occurrence of an event that either triggers or happens due to the tragic flaw of the hero. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the protagonist fills the classic example of a hero through some obvious and sometimes more subtle aspects of the story. Without a hero, there is no epic. Likewise, without Gilgamesh, there is no epic tale of his triumph. Through his changes in character and environment, Gilgamesh completes his compelling journey as an entirely changed person. I believe that person is a hero. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is a brute tyrant who rules the kingdom of Uruk with an iron fist. The epic states, “Gilgamesh does not leave a girl to her mother. The daughter of a warrior, bride of a young man” (Tablet I Line 57-58). This explains Gilgamesh’s practice of the king’s rite, or the taking of a girl’s virginity by a ruler prior to her being wed. Any ruler who would put such a law in place clearly rules their land out of fear and force rather than respectful loyalty from his people. In this part of the book we assume that Gilgamesh is a power hungry tyrant and the people of Uruk are unhappy. Gilgamesh is then introduced to his counterpart, Enkidu, as the Gods’ answer to the prayers of the oppressed people of Uruk. They create a Gilgamesh-like figure to counter Gilgamesh’s powerful reign. The two become great friends and go on to slay mythical beasts such as Humbaba, a large creature created by the gods. During this part of the epic we see the relationship Gilgamesh and Enkidu grow and Gilgamesh’s true colors shine. Gilgamesh would not have been able to overcome Humbaba, without the encouragement of Enkidu. Humbaba tries to persuade Gilgamesh to spare him his life and it is Enkidu who reminds Gilgamesh that if he does not kill Humbaba, Enlil the god who Humbaba guards for would hear of what the men planned to do immediately following his release. Enkidu encourages Gilgamesh to “finish him, slay him, do away with his power, before Enlil the foremost hears what we do!” (Tablet V, Line 85). Had Enkidu not been with him, he probably would have given in to Humbaba’s pitiful cries and spared him his life, ultimately endangering his own life and Enkidu’s life. He is condemned to death by the gods in order to punish both himself and Gilgamesh for killing the creatures of the gods. Enkidu was created for Gilgamesh and he also has to ultimately die for Gilgamesh. Had Enkidu not been put to death, Gilgamesh would have never searched for the answer to achieving immortality. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh has no idea what to do with himself and decides to journey to the only man who has been granted immortality by the gods and goes to him to find the truth. Gilgamesh discovers that the fate of every person is death and it is inevitable, he learns that he has been too busy trying to find a way to escape death that he hasn’t actually lived the life he should be. Instead of being bitter Gilgamesh realizes that if he becomes a great ruler, his legend will live on longer than he ever could. However, had Enkidu lived on Gilgamesh would have remained the same and never come to the realization that the best way to live the fullest life is to be the wisest king. We see the exact moment where Gilgamesh changes “Enkidu, my friend whom I love has turned to clay! I am not like him! Will I lie down never to get back up again!” Gilgamesh spoke to Utanapishtim, saying: “this is why I must go on, to see Utanapishtim whom they call “The Faraway”’

This is why Gilgamesh never suffers a tragic downfall throughout the entire story. In fact, the worst occurrence Gilgamesh must endure throughout the epic is the death of his friend, Enkidu. Gilgamesh’s deepest moment of despair is described when Gilgamesh cries, “Deep sadness penetrates my core, I fear death and now roam the wilderness” (Tablet IX, Lines 2-3). Gilgamesh’s dramatic reaction here shows the devastating effects of Enkidu’s death. However, at no point in the story does Gilgamesh suffer a downfall from a tragic flaw. Instead, at the end of the story, Gilgamesh comes to terms with his mortality and accepts death as his fate. While Gilgamesh fights in epic battles on a journey and undergoes character change, his tragic flaw fails to be prominent enough to suffer him a tragic downfall. In fact, not only does Gilgamesh dodge a tragic downfall, he also develops as a hero because of the death of Enkidu. His death and their journey together allowed for Gilgamesh to grow as a character and thus Enkidu served his purpose as a living being.

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