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The Epic of Gilgamesh is about a historical figure an actual king who reigned over the Sumerian city-state of Uruk around 2700BC. After his death people worshipped Gilgamesh, renowned as a warrior and builder and widely celebrated for his wisdom and judgment. The city of Uruk was one of the great cities of ancient Mesopotamia known today as the Middle East region. Today Uruk is positioned in southern Iraq.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is written in Akkadian (Babylonian language) on elven tablets. The tablets actually name their author; Sin Leqi Unninni completed his work before the destruction of Nineveh. This author must have completed his work sometime before 612BC. Gilgamesh fame started to appear in Victorian times approximately 3000 years after Gilgamesh. In 1839 an English traveler named Austen Henry Layard excavated the ruins of Nineveh and found the tablets of The Epic of Gilgamesh. But there was a great difficulty in translating them. Not until the discovery of the Stone of Darius they were able to translate these tablets since the stone of Darius contained several languages which included the Persian language.
Scholars found out that The Epic of Gilgamesh contained numerous errors and doubts, its strange cast of Gods and its unfamiliar theory about the creation of the universe. Scholars were amazed by the story and the exciting adventure that celebrated relationship between men, it asks what price people pay to be civilized and question the proper role of a king. Gilgamesh describes the philosophy that man can only be free through full of his illogical position in a meaningless universe and finding the meaning of his life despite the certainty of death.
The Epic of Gilgamesh offers a general introduction to Gilgamesh, king of Uruk. Gilgamesh was two thirds God and one third man. He built magnificent temple towers that surrounded his city with high walls. Gilgamesh was physically beautiful, strong, and very wise. He began his reign as cruel king, he didn t respect his subjects, and he raped any woman that he liked whether she was the wife of his warriors or the daughter of a nobleman. After his oppression on his subjects and his foul manners, the Gods heard his subject s prayers and pleas and decided to keep Gilgamesh in check by creating a wild man named Enkidu. Enkidu was as magnificent as Gilgamesh, he became Gilgamesh s best friend and Gilgamesh s heart was shattered when Enkidu died of an illness inflicted by the Gods. Gilgamesh then traveled the world and learned about the days before the flood and other secrets of the Gods, and he recorded them on stone tablets.
The epic begins with Enkidu. He lives with the animals doing what animals do. Grazing in the meadows, drinking at their watering places. A hunter discovers him and sends a temple prostitute into the wilderness to tame him. When Enkidu sleeps with the woman the animals rejected him since he was no longer one of them. Now he is part of the human world. Then prostitute teaches him everything he needs to know to be a man. Endiku is outraged by what he hears about Gilgamesh s extreme conduct, so he travels to Uruk to challenge him. When Endiku arrives, Gilgamesh was on his way into a bride s wedding chamber. Endiku steps in and block Gilgamesh s path. The two men wrestle for a long time and Gilgamesh comes out as the victor. After that they became friends and set about looking for an adventure to share.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu decide to steel trees from a distant cedar forest forbidden to mortals. A terrifying demon named Humbaba, the devoted servant of Enlil (the God of earth, wind, and air). The two heroes make the risky journey to the forest and they fought side by side the monster. With assistance from Shamash (the God of the sun), they were able to kill him. Then they cut down the forbidden trees and made a raft from the trees. Upon their return, Ishtar (the goddess of love) encountered them and she was full of lust towards Gilgamesh. But Gilgamesh rejected her, she was full of rage and asks her father Anu (the god of the sky) to send the Bull of the heaven to punish him. The bull comes down from the sky and he brings with him seven years of famine. The bull wrestles with Gilgamesh and Endiku and they kill the bull. The gods meet in council and agree that one of the two friends must be punished for their wrongdoing and they decided that Enkidu must die. Then Enkidu becomes greatly ill and he shares his visions of the underworld with Gilgamesh. When he finally dies Gilgamesh is heartbroken.
Gilgamesh can t stop grieving for Enkidu, and he can t stop worrying about his own death. Exchanging his kingly cloths for animal skins as a way of mourning Enkidu, he sets off into the wilderness, determined to find Utnapishtim the Mesopotamian Noah. After the flood, the gods granted Utnapishtim eternal life and Gilgamesh hopes that he can tell him how he might avoid death. Gilgamesh s journey takes him to the twin-peaked mountain called Mashu, where the sun sets into one side of the mountain at night and rises out the other side in the morning. Utnapishti lives beyond the mountain but there are two scorpion monsters that guard its entrance. They didn t allow Gilgamesh to pass through he started pleading them and then they allowed him to pass.
Gilgamesh entered the dark passage to emerge in a beautiful garden by the sea. There he meets Siduri, a tavern keeper, and tells her about his quest. She then warns him that seeking immortality is useless and that he should be happy and satisfied with the pleasures of this world. Then she directed him to Urshanabi, the ferryman. He takes Gilgamesh on the boat across the sea and through the Waters of Death to Utnapishtim where he tells Gilgamesh the story of the flood and how the gods met in council and decided to destroy mankind. The god of wisdom Ea warned Utnapishtim about the god s plans and told him how to make a gigantic boat in which his family and every living creature might escape. When the waters receded the gods regretted what they have done and agreed that they would never try to destroy mankind again. Utnapishtim was rewarded with eternal life. Men would die but mankind would continue.
When Gilgamesh insists that he be allowed to live forever, Utapishtim gives him a test. If you think you can stay alive forever, he says, surely you can stay awake for a week. Gilgamesh tries and directly fails. So Utnapihtim orders him to clean himself up and put on his royal cloths again and return to Uruk where he belongs. Just as Gilgamesh was leaving Utnapishtim s wife convinces him to tell Gilgamesh about a miraculous plant that restores youth. Gilgamesh finds the plant and takes it with him, planning to share it with the elders of Uruk. But one night a snake steals the plant while its leaving it sheds its skin and becomes young again. When Gilgamesh returns to Uruk empty handed but he accepted his mortality and he now knows that he can t live forever but mankind will. Now he sees that the city he had rejected in his grief and terror is a magnificent enduring achievement the closest thing to immortality to which a mortal can desire.
The epic of Gilgamesh portraits Gilgamesh to be part god and part man, where he suffers from immoderation. He is the greatest of all men and both virtues and his flaws are outsized. He is the fiercest of warriors and the most ambitious of builders. But until Enkidu appear his equal Gilgamesh was a relentless ruler, he disrespected his subjects, forced labor and his illogical use of power. Enkidu was the opposite of Gilgamesh he showed him the true meaning of friendship and his passing was devastating toward Gilgamesh. After Enkidu s passing Gilgamesh abandoned his glory, wealth, and power. Where he begins a quest to learn the secret of eternal life. What he finds instead is the wisdom to strike harmony with his divine and mortal attributes. Being rejected to immortality Gilgamesh resumes his proper place in the world and becomes a better king.
The epic of Gilgamesh reveals many themes these themes are essential and important and are still used today in our daily life. The first theme is the epic is using live as a motivating force. In the epic of Gilgamesh we that love both erotic and nonsexual motivates change in Gilgamesh. Endiku changes from a wild man into a noble one because of Gilgamesh and their friendship changes Gilgamesh from a terrible king into an exceptional king and hero. Because they are evenly matched, Gilgamesh s connection to Endiku makes it possible for Gilgamesh to identify with his people s interests. The love the friends have for each other makes Gilgamesh a better man in and when Endiku dies Gilgamesh grief and terror made him seek immortality.
The second theme in the epic is about the certainty of death. In the epic Gilgamesh learns that death is certain and inescapable fact of life. In the epic we see that Gilgamesh is unpleased that only the gods can live forever. Both Gilgamesh and Endiku say on their way to the forbidden forest that life is short and the only things that lasts is fame. But when Endiku is cursed with a painful death and dies. Gilgamesh is terrified by death and he tries to seek immortatily from the gods. In the epic we see that even the gods reminds Gilgamesh of the beauty and life of the mortals.
The third theme in the epic is gods are dangerous. Gilgamesh and Endiku learn all too well that the gods are dangerous for mortals. They believed that the gods live by their own laws and frequently behave as emotionally as children. Piety is important to the gods, and they expect to be obeyed all the time. In the epic of Gilgamesh God is considered both a partner in a covenant and strict but loving to his people. Gilgamesh shares certain elements with the Old Testament. Both Gilgamesh and parts of the bible are written is similar languages and they both comes from the same region they were both written. Both shares some of the stories such as the serpent as the enemy who deprives humans of eternal life and most important the flood. In both the bible and Gilgamesh disobedience to a god or gods brings sever consequences.
Other themes in the epic were seduction, doubling, journeys and baptism. Let s start with seduction, there are two important seductions in Gilgamesh one was successful and one failed. When the temple prostitute seduces Endiku he loses his animal attributes but gains his humanity. The other seduction that failed was the seduction of Ishtar on Gilgamesh was he rejected her bringing disaster on himself and Endiku. Doubling in epic appears more than one time, for example the resembelence between Gilgamesh and Endiku. Other example the two scorpions guarding the twin peaked mountain. The gods Ea and Shamash champion the human heroes. Almost all of the action in Gilgamesh begins with a journey. Starting with the journey of Endiku from the wilderness to Uruk and Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh journey with Endiku to the cedar forest, Endiku journey to the underworld, then their journey to the twin peaked mountain then Gilgamesh s journey to Urshanabi to find Utnapishtim and finally his journey back home to Uruk. Finally the last theme baptism, baptism appears throughtout the epic. Signaling a continual renewal and rebirth of the characters, Endiku washes and anoints himself after he tastes cooked food at the shepherd camp. Gilgamesh washes himself after he returns from the cedar forest. Utnapishtim orders his boatman to baptize Gilgamesh before he returns home. Finally Gilgamesh in a pool of pure water when the snake steals the magic plant.
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