The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of earliest known pieces of literature. Through years of storytelling and translation, The Epic of Gilgamesh became a timeless classic. This story is believed to have originated from Sumerian poems and legends about the king of Uruk, Gilgamesh. Throughout the epic, many themes arose about women, love, and journeys and the one I would like to discuss is the theme of death. Also, I will discuss if Gilgamesh accepts morality at the end of the story and the development of Gilgamesh’s character throughout the story.
The story mainly focuses on the character Gilgamesh and this wild man created by the gods, Enkidu in which Gilgamesh and Enkidu later become good friends. Together they go upon quests to defeat creatures and upset the gods to help Gilgamesh find immortality. The first journey they go on is to defeat Humbaba, a monstrous creature in the Cedar Mountains. Next, they defeat the Bull of Heaven that the goddess, Ishtar had sent to punish Gilgamesh. Lastly, the end of the book focuses on Gilgamesh’s reaction to the death of his new and loved friend Enkidu that takes him on the journey to find immortality and gives the epic one of many themes, death.
Death is an inevitable fact of human life, which is a lesson learned by Gilgamesh when his dear friend Enkidu is killed. From then on Gilgamesh finds himself being scared of dying. This fear pushes Gilgamesh to search for the power of immortal life. Gilgamesh becomes bitter that only the gods can live forever and this says a lot about Gilgamesh’s character. Many times Gilgamesh thinks he is a god and abuses his rights as a king for example by raping the virgin brides of his city.
With this mind set, Gilgamesh is an arrogant and selfish king by leaving his city to go on this very long quest for himself in which he doesn’t know when he will return. On the way to fight Humbaba in the Cedar Forest, Gilgamesh and Enkidu tell each other life is short, the only thing that lasts is fame. From this first account, it may seem as though Gilgamesh was doing this for the fame and to be remembered. But when Enkidu dies while fighting Humbaba, one can tell a change in Gilgamesh’s character. Since Enkidu was his close and only friend, it makes it more visible that everyone is mortal.
One may say that, by going into the forest and facing Humbaba, Gilgamesh makes a name for himself and changes the views of the people in his city. The great accomplishment of killing Humbaba makes him a better person because he protects his city and for his love of Enkidu and his people. This is a considerable amount of change from the beginning of the story. There are no major changes in the character of Gilgamesh until Enkidu enters the picture. Enkidu is the primary reason for the ultimate changes in the personality and maturity of Gilgamesh.
The main factor contributing to the changes in Gilgamesh the love that develops with Enkidu. Enkidu is made to make Gilgamesh more human. In the first paragraph of the book the gods are angry with Gilgamesh and send down an equal of himself, they send down Enkidu. After becoming friends, Gilgamesh changes because he has an equal to be with. From Cedar Forest, Gilgamesh is met by Shamash, the Sun God, who tells him, “You will never find the life for which you are searching. ” This upsets Gilgamesh because he has traveled so far for someone to tell him he cannot have what he wants and is looking for.
For there, Gilgamesh travels to see Siduri by the sea. Siduri will not let Gilgamesh pass to through to see Utnapishtim, the only man with eternal life. She says, “Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find that life for which you are looking. ” Once again someone tells Gilgamesh that what he is looking for does not exist. From there, he is to find Urshanabi, the ferry woman. Urshanabi takes Gilgamesh over the ocean and waters of the death. He finds himself in Dilmun, the place where Utnapishtim lives. Utnapishtim asks why he has come and Gilgamesh tells Utnapishtim the whole story about Enkidu dying.
He proceeds to tell him far he has traveled and that he wants to know how to become immortal like him. “There is no permanence,” Utnapishtim says. Utnapishtim offers him a test and all he has to do is stay up for six days and seven nights. Gilgamesh fails at the task and was not grant immortality. After a seven day rest, Gilgamesh was awakened and was told of this plant that restores a man’s youth. Gilgamesh retrieved this plant but while bathing a snake ate the plant. Gilgamesh is left with nothing. Gilgamesh never received the immortality he was searching for, but he got immortality of a different kind.
When he returned to his people he ruled differently, kindly and lived through his subjects. Death wasn’t the ultimate lesson Gilgamesh learned about, it was the ultimate lesson of life and even though people die, humanity lives on. Through death Gilgamesh goes through character changes that will affect him forever. Gilgamesh realizes that he cannot be immortal and learns the value of friendship. Death is something that had never occurred to the great Gilgamesh but through the series of events throughout the epic he comes to terms with it and betters himself as person.