The Epic of Gilgamesh

Where is “Uruk”? Say the name out loud and listen closely. Some things never change, even if the spelling does.

In Gilgamesh, who are Gilgamesh and Enkidu? If they are metaphors for something else, what would that be? What is the nature of their relationship? Are they a Doppelganger? Do they remind you of any other stories from ancient (or modern) literature? If so, which stories?

 

Uruk is in Southern Iraq, along the Euphrates, which plays an important part in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Reading Gilgamesh, if not for the mention of the Euphrates, one might think Uruk were somewhere other than the Middle East, since the forest plays such an important part in the story, and you do not typically think of forests when you think of Iraq.

Gilgamesh is a boisterous king, two-thirds god, who is very proud of his walled-city of Uruk. Enkidu is a wild beast-man, created by the gods from clay in order to oppose and/or tame Gilgamesh. Enkidu and Gilgamesh end up becoming the best of friends. Then Enkidu dies, which profoundly impacts Gilgamesh, to the point that Gilgamesh grows his hair out and wears wild furs like Enkidu did. I guess in this sense you could consider them doppelgangers, but other than that, I would not say they are. I normally consider a doppelganger to be a double, a duplicate, an exact copy—which Enkidu and Gilgamesh are not. If anything, they are more polar opposites: Gilgamesh being the narcissistic man, and Enkidu being the naturalistic force of nature.

For some reason, while reading of Gilgamesh’s larger-than-life adventures, I sometimes caught myself thinking of Achilles from Homer’s Iliad—specifically Brad Pitt’s portrayal of him in the 2004 movie Troy; which is weird, because I have not seen that movie in years. Beyond that, there was an underlying sense of familiarity with the entire Epic of Gilgamesh, as if I had heard it all before. This is most likely because all of these great stories can probably trace their roots back to the same oral history, so they all share motifs and archetypes. If I were more studied, and if I had more than three days to read over the Epic of Gilgamesh, I might be able to place my finger on all these feelings of familiarity and which stories from ancient and modern literature Gilgamesh reminds me of.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

Myths and History

“Genesis” and “Exodus” tell cosmic stories, myths, if you will. However, they are also read as history by some. How can these two opposing viewpoints–myth and history–be reconciled? What similarities do you see in these two books of the Old Testament and The Epic of Gilgamesh? What are the differences?

 

The way I was raised was to take every word of the Bible as the literal truth, sent directly from God’s mouth to the writers’ hands without error. Since then, my views have changed 180 degrees. Now, I lump the stories of the Bible in with The Epic of Gilgamesh and the thousands of other myths from around the world. After all, even though three of the world’s major religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) accept the Old Testament or Torah as truth, that still leaves out pretty much all of Asia and the Native Peoples of the Americas.

Continue reading “Myths and History”

Myths and History

The Full Circle Theme of Death in The Epic of Gilgamesh

gilgameshtomb

In many ways, The Epic of Gilgamesh is a story of a king’s struggle to understand and overcome death. It does not start out this way, however. Gilgamesh first comes across as an arrogant, narcissistic king. In Tablet I of The Epic of Gilgamesh, he is described as “supreme over other kings, lordly in appearance,” and even “awesome in appearance.” Gilgamesh is only one-third a man, the other two-thirds god. He is the “handsomest of men … perfect” (Tablet I). His tales of strength are renown far and wide. He is most famous for building the high walls and ziggurats of his city Uruk. He is not a good man, taking advantage of droit du seigneur, also known as jus prima noctis, or the supposed right of kings to sleep with the bride before the groom. In fact, he is so bad, the gods create a foil for him: Enkidu. Enkidu is very bestial and wild, in direct opposition to Gilgamesh’s worldliness. They fight, but then become the best of friends. They might even be homosexual lovers, depending on how one reads the subtext.

Continue reading “The Full Circle Theme of Death in The Epic of Gilgamesh”

The Full Circle Theme of Death in The Epic of Gilgamesh