The Epic of Gilgamesh is an extraordinary poem showing the tragedy of mortality. The poem is the earliest primary document discovered in history dating back to 2000 B. C. E. The document tells a story about a King named Gilgamesh who was created by gods as one third man and two thirds god. The epic tells the advetures that Gilgamesh goes on throught his life to determine his meaning. A lot of people in Mesopatamia in this time period felt as though they needed to dicover why they were here and what was going to happen after they died.
The culture in which Gilgamesh existed did not believe in an afterlife, and if they had any thoughts that there was anything after death it certainly wasn’t a pleasant thought. Gilgamesh’s journey beings with the creation of the city Uruk. The great king built the magnificent city that his achievements occur. Being that Gilgamesh is two thirds god he has incredible strengths that have never exsisted before. Gilgamesh is young and arrogant and treats the people of Uruk very harshly. Because of the way Gilgamesh mistreats his people it causes them to call out to the sky god and ask for someone as strong and immortal as Gilgamesh.
Their hope is that this person will be Gilgamesh’s match and will show him he is not as mighty as he believes. The gods create a wild man who is named Endiku who lives in the intense forest surrounding the land of Gilgamesh. Endiku was made with the strength of no human. He is discovered by a trapper running through the forest naked among wild animals. The trapper is so afraid by this that he goes to tell his father. His father tells his to go to Uruk and find a horlot to take with him back to the forest. When she sees Endiku she is to tempt him with her womanly ways.
The trappers father said that if Endiku succumbs to her he will no longer be amazingly strong and wild. The harlot named Shamaht meets Endiku at the watering hole where he comes to drink with the wild animals. She offers herself to him by stripping naked and flaunting her womanly traits. He is upset that this harlot has caused him to lose his strength and rowdiness so the harlot explains to him what he could have if he became more civilized. Shamahat offers to take hi to the city of Uruk where all the delights of civilization show true.
She offers to take Endiku to meet Gilgamesh who has similar strengths as him. Meanwhile Gilgamesh has dreams showing him signs of what is to come. In the first dream he is shown a meteorite falling to Earth which is so abundant that he cannot move it. The people come together to celebrate the meteor and Gilgamesh welcomes it as he would a lover or wife but Gilgamesh’s mother wants him to compete with the meteorite. It the second dream Gilgamesh dreams that an axe appears at his door, the axe is so vast that he cannot lift or move it.
As in the previous dream the people come to celebrate the axe and Gilgamesh embraces it as he would a lover. Again his mother wants him to compete with the axe. Confused Gilgamesh tells his mother his dreams and asks her what they mean. She tells him that the meteor and axe symbolize a great man with incredible strengths coming to Uruk. Gilgamesh will take in this man as he would a wife and the man will assist Gilgamesh perform many great things. Endiku comes to the city or Uruk during a celebration.
Gilgamesh the great king is claiming the right to have sexual intercourse with every new bride first on the day of her wedding. Endiku is disgusted with this and decides that he is going to block the kings way into the marital chamber. This enrages Gilgamesh and the two men fight viciously until Gilgamesh wins. Endiku excepts Gilgamesh’s authority and the two become great friends. The two men become lazy and weak living in the city so Gilgamesh proposes an adventure. He wants to venture to the Cedar Forest and cut down all the cedar trees.
In order to do this they must defeat a giant wild beast named Humbaba. The elders of the city, Endiku and Gilgamesh’s mother disagree with the adventure and try to talk him out of proceeding. Gilgamesh decides to go anyways and Endiku follows as a honorable friend should. Should Gilgamesh defeat the monster Humbaba, his name will forever be remembered. After an extremely long journey the two kill Humbaba Right before Gilgamesh cuts the head off of Humbaba the monster shouts out a curse on Endiku that out of the two men Endiku will die before Gilgamesh and never find peace in the world.
With the defeat of Humbaba the men cut down the cedar trees and use the wood to build a great gate for the city of Uruk. After the voyage to the Cedar forest Gilgamesh’s fame is spread wide attracting sexual attention of the goddess Ishtar and offers to become his lover. Gilgamesh rejects her with insults due to her ugly past of lovers. Gilgamesh’s encounter with Ishtar shows how risky the relations of humans to gods can be at least for humans. He has the right to reject her but should not have done so as insultingly as he did. He ends up paying a heavy price for bad manners.
Ishtar is very offended by Gilgamesh’s response that she goes to her father, the sky-god Anu, and asks for the Bull of Heaven so that she can have vengeance on Gilgamesh and his city. Working together again Endiku and Gilgamesh slay the Bull of Heaven. The gods decide that someone must be punished for killing Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven. So out of the two conquerors the gods decide Endiku should pay the price. Upset with the unjust decision Endiku curses the Cedar Gate, the harlot,Shamhat, and the trapper for introducing him to civilization.
He is reminded that he has enjoyed his life and done many things. After twelve days Endiku finally dies. Endiku’s death causes Gilgamesh to realize his fear of mortality and tries to find a way to live forever. On his quest he figures out that the gods will not grant him immortality and he must accept his destiny. A man named Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that death is essential because of the will of the gods and that all human effort is only temporary. Utnapishtim is the only man that has been blessed with immortality and tells Gilgamesh the secret as to how he became.
The gods had met and decided that the humans were out of control and to destroy mankind with a giant flood. The flood lasted for seven days and seven nights in the city of Shurrupak which stands on the banks of Euphrates. At the end of Utnapishtim’s story he offers Gilgamesh a chance at immortality. If he can stay awake for six days and seven nights he will become immortal but as soon as he sits down he falls asleep so he failed the test. Utnapishtim offers another chance, Gilgamesh must go to the bottom of the ocean and receive a plant of youth.
He does this and goes on his way back to Uruk but as he rests on a shore the plant is stolen by a serpant so this test as well is failed. At the end of the poem Gilgamesh lays before the gates to Uruk and admires the city he built and at the base of his cities gates lay a stone of lapis lazuli explain the reason for his notable deeds. In reviewing this story, you are able to determine the ways it has entertained, educated, and enlightened the Mesopotamian culture in ancient times. It shows examples of gender roles, the way you were supposed to live, and idealistic leadership.
The epic uggests that ancient Mesopotamian’s perspective of an ideal kingship by illustrating uncivilized behaviors of the Sumerian ruler. The epic reflects on the rulers past explaining Gilgamesh disappoints his gods and the Sumerian city with selfish behaviors like sleeping with many women, spending money, and treating his people like they were nothing. From this, we can determine that Mesopotamians believed a successful leader needs to be able to create responsible relationships with his people and obtain the ability to show respect towards those who do not have as much, if any, political power.
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