In the The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh sets on a journey to uncover his individuality and transforms from a brutal leader to a mature and astute king. The quasi-divine Gilgamesh debilitates his people by battle, forced labor, and his abuse of power.
Gilgamesh is considered to be the greatest of all men until Enkidu is sent and counterweights Gilgamesh’s virtues and flaws. When Gilgamesh becomes fearful for his own death, because of the loss of his partner, he seeks eternal life. He unfortunately does not obtain eternal life, but instead he obtains the wisdom he needs to rule as a better king.
This journey is what proves to make Gilgamesh an epic hero. Although, Gilgamesh is considered to be truly an epic hero in the end, there are some aspects of this poem are that are unusual. An epic is considered to be a narrative is in a decorous language that celebrates the accomplishments of a legendary hero. The Epic of Gilgamesh is technically considered an epic because it contains an epic hero, the hero seek immortality, and a worldwide setting.
. In order to be considered an epic, there must be an epic hero which appears to be missing at the start of the poem. He lacks the ability to do great deeds for others’ sake rather than his own glory. There are some aspects that appear to be unusual in the poem. Gilgamesh does not start off with a heroic moral status, which is what is needed to consider an epic hero.
Gilgamesh gains this heroic moral status with the help of Enkidu. If Gilgamesh had never lost Enkidu, then he would still be a tyrannical ruler. He constantly boasts and abuses his power, such as when he would rape the women in his kingdom whenever he would desire. According to the narrator, “Gilgamesh would keep no girl to her mother! The warriors daughter, the young man’s spouse,” (101).
The narrator is saying that Gilgamesh would take the young women on their wedding night and rape them. He robs the women of his kingdom of their dignity and virginity. Gilgamesh’s obscured abuse of power angered the gods, which is why they created Enkidu to balance his flaws. The characteristics that determine an epic hero includes beauty, strength, and a high pecking order. Gilgamesh has all of these characteristics, plus he was part god.
Gilgamesh has superhuman abilities, which makes him unmatched to any monster, including ones created by gods. Gilgamesh, with the help of Enkidu, was able to conquer Humbaba. Enkidu, who was raised in the woods is fully aware of Humbaba’s strength, tried to convince Gilgamesh to not go near the monster. Enkidu says to Gilgamesh: “He can hear rustling in the forest for sixty double leagues” (110). What Enkidu is saying to Gilgamesh is that Humbaba can tell when someone enters the forest because he can hear everything. This does not frighten Gilgamesh, because he knows that they will be able to kill the monster with their unmatched strength.
Without the help of Enkidu and the journeys they conquered, however Gilgamesh would not be able to find the wisdom he needs to strike harmony with his people which is what truly makes him an epic hero.Gilgamesh, fears for his own death, suddenly abandons his glory and chooses to seek immortality. To be considered an epic, the hero must seek to obtain immortality which is what he does. An aspect that appears to be unusual is the amount of vulnerability he shows. Gilgamesh says to Enkidu, ” And the dream I had was very disturbing” (116).
Gilgamesh has four nightmares and has Enkidu explain them, but he also needs comfort after every dream, which is surprising because he is supposed to be very strong minded. Enkidu sometimes makes Gilgamesh appear more human than god because he does require a decent amount to reassurance, something that would not be expected of a god. The tavern keeper says to Gilgamesh, “The eternal life you are seeking you shall not find. When the gods created mankind, they established death for mankind, and withheld internal life for themselves” (138). What the tavern keeper says to Gilgamesh is that eternal life is not meant for humans, even if someone is part god.
Gilgamesh ignores the tavern keeper. He tests Gilgamesh and asks him to stay awake for a week but he fails. Utnapishtim then tells him to leave but also tells him of this plant that he can acquire under the waves. He finds the plant, but a snake steals it when he swims later that night. Gilgamesh finally figures out how he can elude death: he cannot. He learns that death is substantial and that people will die but the human race will continue to live on. This realization changes him completely. He realizes that by searching for eternal life, he his wasting his precious life.
Together, Gilgamesh and Enkidu go on quests to across the world to defeat monsters and seek immortality. The first journey they go on together is to defeat a monster, Humbaba, in the Cedar Mountains. After, they travel to defeat the Bull of Heaven that Ishtar sent to chastise Gilgamesh.
Finally, his fear of death takes him on a journey to find immortality. Gilgamesh travels to a tavern at the end of the world to find eternal life. On his journey to find immortality he seeks Utnapishtim who may be able to help him. He travels through the twin-peaked mountains to reach the end of the world to meet Siduri. She reluctantly sends Gilgamesh to the tavern keeper, Urshanabi who takes him across the ocean and through the Waters of Death to Utnapishtim which completes his empty-handed journey. The farther the hero travels the more noble his actions are. Traveling farther distances shows that the hero is willing to make sacrifices for their ultimate goal, eternal life. Gilgamesh’s search for immortality, heroic characteristics, and willingness to travel far distances made him a legend among his kingdom and the world.
His empathy for the loss of his best friend moves him to leave his kingdom and travel across the world to find eternal life. He is at a disappointing loss for recapturing his youth, but he is able to bring back the acumen he has gained on his journey back to his kingdom.This obtained wisdom enhances his heroic status. Gilgamesh is also very similar to another famous epic, The Iliad. The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Iliad share many similarities. Both epic heros have a companion whom they value deeply.
Gilgamesh’s deepest friend is Enkidu and Achilles’ closest companion is Patroclus. Without Enkidu, Gilgamesh would continue his tyrannical rule. Patroklos’s main purpose was to bring Achilles back into the war. Gilgamesh’s fear was death, while Achilles feared having legacy forgotten. Although they both have different fears, they both desire immortality above all else.Gilgamesh did not achieve his ultimate goal, but he was able to offer hope and pride to his people, which is what makes The Epic of Gilgamesh a true epic poem.