The Epic of Gilgamesh presents a fascinating interpretation on what means to be human, and informs us a great deal about how the ancient Mesopotamians saw themselves in relation to a seemingly chaotic natural order. An initial reading of the Sumerian epic presents a bleak and confusing outlook on the events of the story, was the story of Gilgamesh irrelevant? While his quest for immortality was ultimately in vain, and he would have to concede the uncomfortable fact of his own mortality, this is not the entire truth of the text. The story of Gilgamesh presents a much more optimistic view on humanity then this superficial interpretation; death is an inevitable part of all human existence, yet similar to Gilgamesh, we can all attain something meaningful with the time allotted to us. Gilgamesh learns this universal of the human connection through his relationship with Enkidu; their friendship is a source of joy for Gilgamesh, a relationship which enables him to accomplish great things and create a lasting legacy. The Epic of Gilgamesh serves as reminder, not only to the ancients to whom recited the tale but to the modern reader, that while we are destined to perish, what we do with what little time we have should define us, not the fear of the inevitable, thus the epic depicts human life as a thing of consequence, an end in itself. The Epic of Gilgamesh represents a monumental break from traditional Mesopotamian belief. Human life as characterized in the Enuma Elis creation myth, presents a rather bleak outlook on the natural order, and Man’s place within it. Tablet VI of the myth describes Ea fashioning mankind out of the blood of the defeated Kingu, freeing the Anunnaki from toil, man was intended to serve the gods,” After Ea, the wise, had created mankind, he imposed upon them the service of the gods.”1 Thus, the ancient Sumerians perceived themselves as tools for their gods; a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Yet, the epic portrays human life as something more meaningful then this. The Epic of Gilgamesh is celebration of what it is to be human, an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. This can be observed in the development of Gilgamesh. He begins the tale as an oppressive, overbearing king of Uruk, “No son is left with his father, for Gilgamesh takes them all.. His lust leaves no virgins to her lover.”2 Something is wrong; Gilgamesh has disturbed the natural order, and his people lament to the gods hoping to sedate him. In order to bring balance to Uruk the gods create an equal to Gilgamesh, the wild man: Enkidu. It is unclear whether Enkidu is meant to face Gilgamesh and overcome him, or merely that this wild man, with his connection to the natural world is meant to balance Gilgamesh’s divine nature, bringing him back down to the level of humanity. Yet at any rate the two are united and almost immediately develop a deep emotional connection. This friendship lies at the heart of the epic tell us it means to be human. The friendship is something that fundamentally alters the nature of the two men. Gilgamesh, in his relationship with Enkidu learns what it means to be human, to deeply care for something beyond his own self. This relationship is something just for the two men, not for the benefit of the gods, and end in itself. The friendship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu in The Epic of Gilgamesh is crucial to what the text informs us about the nature of human existence. Through his relationship with Enkidu, Gilgamesh affirms his humanity, and in the face of his own mortality seeks to accomplish great deeds. In this Gilgamesh wishes to create a legacy which will survive long past his own death, to have his “name established on bricks.”3Ultimately the deeds these two men accomplish come to give meaning to their lives; Gilgamesh, could be seen as the embodiment of an ideal wholly different from the humanity portrayed in the Enuma Elish, living life for the benefit of oneself and those around you, not solely as...
Bibliography: Bratcher, Dennis. 2013.”Enuma Elish: When on High…’The Mesopotamian/Babylonian Creation Myth.” http://www.cresourcei.org/enumaelish.html
Sandars, N. K. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Harmondsworth: Penguin.1972.
Essay Topic :6
The Epic of Gilgamesh And What It Means To Be Human
Dr. Lawrence Bruce-Robertson
February 9, 2015
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