From the ancient lands of Mesopotamia, historians put on record one of the oldest story of man, and his existence on the Earth. Through the story of King of Urk, Gilgamesh, we are made to understand true meaning of our life and the inevitability of death. Written somewhere around 2000 BC in Sumerian language, it has been translated into various other languages but Herbert Mason’s story of Gilgamesh brings us more close to the character and the evilness that still keeps on dominating our soul.
Gilgamesh was a half man and half God but he was not only selfish but evil too.
He was a god like man but with the attitude and behavior like man. The following essay will bring out the selfish part of Gilgamesh’s nature and his evilness and tyranny. “As King Gilgamesh was tyrant to his people He demanded from an old birth right, The privilege of sleeping with their brides, Before the husbands were permitted.
” (Mason 2003) Gilgamesh had both divine and devilish qualities and by his tyrant ways, he became the cause of displeasure to Gods. Among all the men, Gilgamesh was the greatest with both the god like virtues but with flaws in their character.
He was fieriest of all warriors and the most ambitious of all builders until Enkido appeared as his parallel and to outdo him, Gilgamesh was very ferocious. He unleashed unnecessary battles and wore out his subjects, coxed many of them into forced labor, raped the woman whom so ever he desired, whether she was wife or a daughter of a noble or a bride. Only Enkido’s friendship would calm him. He was a creature who would run in the wild among the animals, but God made him friend to Gilgamesh to the extent that they became inseparable.
Both of them together gave a crushing defeat to the Humbaba, who was the evil guardian of the forest. Gods got angry and sent on the Earth the Bull of Heaven to punish Gilgamesh but Enkido killed him too to save his friend’s life. Later Gods told to Enkido in his dreams that one of them had to die and it was Enkido that was supposed to die. When Enkido died Gilgamesh could not bear his death and took on the journey to get his friend’s life back. On the way he met Utnapishtim, his spiritual father who gave him a chance to attain immortality but for the purpose, he had to stay awake complete for six days and seven nights.
Gilgamesh agreed to the condition and sat down on the shore, but as soon as he sat down he fell asleep. Utnapishtim told his wife that all the mortal men never speak truth and Gilgamesh would also deny he had fallen asleep. Therefore he asked his wife to keep the loaf of baked bread at Gilgamesh’s feet every day as a proof that he slept without even waking up complete for six days and seven nights. Then when Utnapishtim woke him, Gilgamesh as was expected replied he just dozed off and in answer to him Utnapishtim showed him the decayed loaves of bread, that were lying under his feet since first day.
Gilgamesh anguish knew no bounds. Wife of Utnapishtim’s requested him to take mercy on Gilgamesh. At her behest, he showed Gilgamesh a place where he could find a secret plant, which could make Gilgamesh not only immortal but also young again. The plant was to be found at the bottom of the ocean. Gilgamesh tied stones on his feet, and sank deep into the bottom and plucked the magic plant. But he did not use it as he got rather suspicious so he decided to take the plant back to Uruk and put this plant on to test on an old man to confirm if it worked.
Urshanabi helped him to cross the Waters of Death, several leagues inland, and on the way when Gilgamesh and Urshanabi stopped to have something to eat and sleep, a snake just arrived at the spot and ate away the magic plant and went crawling away. When Gilgamesh rose to find the plant gone, he bent on his knees, wept bitterly and was forced to say, “For whom have I labored? For whom have I journeyed? For whom have I suffered? I have gained absolutely nothing for myself, I have only profited the snake, the ground lion! ” (Mason 2003) The story came to an end with Gilgamesh standing in front of the gates of Uruk.
He invited Urshanabi also to get a glimpse of and appreciate the beauty of the city including its greatness, strong and high halls and its grand work. At the base of its gates, also lay constructed stone of lapis lazuli above on, which was inscribed the whole account of the exploits of Gilgamesh. Each work of art gives the cosmic vision of contemporary society and along with that bestows in hereditary the new way to live and so is Gilgamesh. Though Gilgamesh grieved for his friend yet here too he showed his selfishness as in his death he began to visualize his own death too.
He wanted to find the way towards immortality as Utnapishtim had attained after the floods. He took upon arduous journey and dangerous paths to fulfill his aim, but of no avail. In the end when he failed, he accepted his fate as a mortal man. He realized it is the immortality that he could not attain and accepted his fate as a mortal man. When he reached at the gates of the city, there too he was showing his selfish motives. He was asking Urshanabi to appreciate his wealthy possessions and felt pride at his creativity.
Epic Gilgamesh is a replica of the western civilizations of today whereby in our selfish pursuits of materialistic wealth, we are always taking on an arduous journey of scientific and technological developments. And this selfish pursuit is more of attainment of the immortality but in-spite of overpowering and taking control of various diseases, natural disasters and enemies it is the immortality that we cannot attain. No science has been able to control death because death is destiny we all have to lead ourselves to.
Mason, Herbert. 2003. Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative. New York: Houghton Mifflin Books.