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Psychology Analysis: The Epic of Gilgamesh

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1517 words Published: 28th Sep 2017

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Jungian analysis is a deep psychology of the unconscious and includes the interpretation of dreams as well. Jung believes that most dreams are attitude-compensations. The attitudes that dreams balance are those of the ego. Carl Jung believed that myths and dreams were the main way to the self-realization because he believed that they allowed humans to understand and relate to parts of their psyches which would have otherwise been unreachable. Dreams offer the ego information, advice, constructive criticism, and even sometimes wisdom. If the ego is open to acceptance rather than defensive, it can evaluate these alternative perspectives and decide whether to accept or reject them. Jung developed a process called individuation, which was the therapy he created which tries to deepen a person’s experiences psychologically. Responding to dreams required interaction of many aspects of the personality, which he titled the archetypes: the Self, shadow, animus, and anima. He defined an archetype as a universal and recurring image, pattern, or motif representing a typical human experience. Archetypes are patterns and behaviors; are primordial images which are part of our psyche and social systems. Archetypes can grow on their own and present themselves in many different ways. When people dream, they form images unconsciously. The images that are formed in these dreams correspond to the sacred images, stories, and myths of primitive people. Archetypes are similar to instincts and they also reveal themselves in peoples unconscious by these powerful symbolic images; they are collective meaning they are held in common by a social group. They appear simple on the surface, but they are very complex. The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest written stories in the history of earth and it comes from ancient Sumeria. Many believe it was first written on clay tablets, showing the adventures of the historical King of Uruk-Gilgamesh. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, he travels between his conscious and unconscious in order to solve inner problems and grow out of his own fear of death. Through the Jungian analysis one can determine how the myth of Gilgamesh fits into the unconscious of every human.

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Gilgamesh is a king that oppresses his kingdom and forces his people to build a wall around his land, which inside he is guilty of committing atrocious acts. Gilgamesh is one third mortal and two thirds divine, because his mother was a goddess. He is an arrogant king who constantly oppresses and wrongs the people of his kingdom. He is struggling throughout the epic with the gods, his kingdom, and most importantly, himself. In order for an individual to reach their unconscious, there needs to be a specific dreamer established an in Gilgamesh, the dreamer is the hero of the story-Gilgamesh. He must go through the process of individuation, which is “the psychic life of the individual, the archetypes interact in a pattern which both reflects and fosters the development of the personality” (Devinney and Thury, 2005). The natural process that individuals go through which causes the need for self-realization and leads people to explore and integrate parts of themselves which they have never looked into before is individuation. It helps people become different from others in their society. In order for Gilgamesh to discover and uncover who he truly is, he must encounter the shadow, the animus and anima and most importantly-the self. In the epic, the ego is the conscious “I” of the self that works to produce and preserve its self-defined identity. In the process of individuation, the conscious coming-to-terms with one’s own inner self usually begins with a cutting off of the individual’s personality and the hardships that go along with that process.

The second archetype in the individuation process is the anima and animus. Jung stated the anima was the unconscious feminine component of males and the animus was the unconscious masculine component of females. Jung believed the anima and animus act as guides to the unconscious, and that every individual must form one and building that connection is a very difficult but rewarding process, and that it is necessary for psychological growth. They are determined by the gender of the dreamer themselves. Due to Gilgamesh being a male, he has an anima, which is the personification of all feminine psychological tendencies in a manes psyche. The first animia in the epic is Gilgamesh’s mother, the goddess Ninsun. In the beginning of the myth the reader discovers that Gilgamesh is worshiped like a god, even though he is part human as well. His mother acts as a guide and confidant throughout the myth, and he receives word of Enkidu through dreams that his mother interprets for him. She leads him to the next stage of growth for himself by giving him the information about his new companion, Enkidu.

For Gilgamesh, he still is unaware of a lot of his own personality and this is where the third archetype comes into play. The shadow is the same sex as the individual, but has the complete opposite personality and self-image. The shadow for Gilgamesh is Enkidu, he is a replica god of Gilgamesh himself-but he is uncivilized and beast-like. He represents the great opposite of Gilgamesh, but they are identical in authority and vigor. He first appears to Gilgamesh as an enemy, informing the shepherds that he will go to Gilgamesh’s kingdom and will challenge him in front of his people and state that he is the strongest around. They quarrel in Gilgamesh’s city and he beats Enkidu which caused them to become friends and also causes Gilgamesh to have a bigger insight to his unconscious. When Gilgamesh and Enkidu travel through the forest, they encounter another shadow archetype. Together they embark on a trip into the forest where Humbaba, the king of this forest lives. Humbaba signifies all the personality characteristics that Gilgamesh wants, including strength, courage and glory. Gilgamesh believes that by killing Humbaba he will create some immortality for himself and his people.

On their way back home, Gilgamesh comes to an anima, Ishtar the goddess of fertility. She is drawn to Gilgamesh’s beauty and strength and she recommends for him to marry her, but Gilgamesh refuses and continues to insult her with stories of her past lovers, which causes her to become extremely angry with him. Ishtar is a negative anima, who can cause Gilgamesh to demolish himself. Ishtar sends the Bull of Heaven to kill Gilgamesh but Enkidu kills the bull, which causes him in the end to suffer a slow death from the gods, and ultimately hurts Gilgamesh because he lost his comrade. With Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh goes crazy and eventually becomes his shadow and takes on those characteristics.

Gilgamesh turns away from his kingdom and takes on the beast-like personality Enkidu displayed when they first met. A third shadow archetype is displayed in the land of Utnapishtim, where Gilgamesh winds up on his search for immortality. Utnapishtim is the land of gods, where they live and thrive. Gilgamesh longs for the gods immortality, it is shown here the fear that he has for death and why this search is so important to him. The gods inform him if he stays awake for seven days and seven nights and they will grant him with immortality-but he fails at this challenge and therefore he fails at reaching his goal of becoming immortal.

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On his return back to his kingdom Gilgamesh has won his wish of immortality in a different sense, he found his self through the journey. By encountering all the archetypes Gilgamesh builds his inner self and builds his personality in many different ways. The archetypes he encountered represented his unconscious dreams and wishes, and he discovers his self through his unconscious discoveries.

Using Jung’s theoretical perspective to analyze the epic myth of Gilgamesh, one discovers Jung’s belief that myths and dreams were intertwined. Jung attempted to uncover ways that individuals could determine their inner selves and he found that myths and dreams were a way to reach into ones unconscious. Through Jungian analysis, a reader can interpret a myth to better understand the personality characteristics of humans. The fear of death that haunted Gilgamesh also haunts many individuals in our society and societies prior. This epic shows the reader that any individual can discover their inner self through understanding different archetypes including, shadows, anima’s and animus’, and lastly inner selves which will help them break into their own unconscious. Gilgamesh’s heroic journey has been dignified because it is more than just a great journey story; it is also an unbelievable academic quest. Gilgamesh has courage and determination which is important for him to defeat the obstacles he was faced with during his journey, but he also must have undeterred tolerance, internal strength, and willful self-examination.


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