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The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the most renowned poems of ancient times. It is a collection of many different poems and legends among other literary works however they are based on the story of an individual man who goes by the name of Gilgamesh. The Epic is believed to be based on the heroic acts of this king of ancient times. The originality of the poem is believed to be from Sumerian legends and poems based on the king. They however were compiled into one longer Akkadian poem which ended up being regarded as the complete version of the poem.
Gilgamesh according to the poem was a king in the ancient times of the Sumerian dynasty and was believed to be demigod king who possessed superhuman strength and ability. Believed to be two part god and one part human, he had a human father who went by the name of Lugalbanda and a goddess mother known as Ninsun also referred to in some texts as Rimat Ninsun.
Gilgamesh in the poem is a king who was originally a tyrant if you will, he caused a lot of injustice to his people by doing as he deemed fit not considering the feelings of his people by doing such acts such as raping the women, it did not matter if they were just getting married or if they already were, overworking his people when it came to the effort of building the city wall of Uruk which was 6 miles long and 18 ft thick. (Fidel, 2001, 2002)
However the building of the wall succeeded in giving him fame in the long run as he was able to protect his people from invasion and external attacks.
In the poem Gilgamesh has a partner or a close friend who was so much like Gilgamesh in physique and behaviour but however he had a softer side to him. Scholars can assume that probably this friend who was known as Enkidu probably could have been Gilgameshâ€™s conscience. In the poems Enkidu was a man brought up by animals and later moves into Gilgameshâ€™s turf to try and help the people from the tyranny of the king. However instead of using force as you would expect in such attempts Enkidu befriends Gilgamesh softening him. Eventually Enkidu dies after he and Gilgamesh invade the Cedar forest and kill the guardian demon, Humbaba, even though it was against the wishes of the gods.
In the poem Gilgamesh after losing his friend Enkidu goes into a depression as we would say today, he reflects on his own life and the loss of his friend. He develops a fear of death and thus ends up travelling to the ends of the world in search of immortality. Here he is in search of the secrets of life and death. In a way this aspect of the poem approaches a question that has been questioned ever since the beginnings of time both by philosophers and people of religion. Through the Epic of Gilgamesh we can safely assume that the poem addressed this issue of immortality in the medieval times influencing later stories which were to have immortality issues involved.
Because of his friends death Gilgamesh reflects on the way he rules his people and so serves as a guide to helping him become a better version of himself. The story plays a role in future literary works of having a moral lesson involved. The roles of moral stories tend to make the readers reflect on the different ways they lead their lives and they tend to influence people to become better.
The original epic was crafted by the Sumerians but reworked and edited by the later cultures of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians. The earliest recorded version of the epic was edited by Sin-liqe-unninni and was found in the library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh.
It was written originally in the Sumerian language with cuneiform characters on 12 tablets.
In modern times the epic of Gilgamesh is widely known and has played a great role and influence on modern literally works.
In a nutshell what the story talks about is of a king who is oppressing his people and as punishment is sent a mirror image Enkidu. They together kill the giant Humbaba defying the godsâ€™ warnings, cutting down the forest and killing the Bull of Heaven. Enkidu has bad dreams of the destiny of tyrants and how they suffer in the after life in the House of Death. Enkidu tries to guide Gilgamesh trying to convince him to change his ways but eventually dies of an illness imposed on him by the gods. Gilgamesh scared of death goes to a man by the name Utnapishtim a man favoured by the gods due to his devotion and loyalty to them. He puts Gilgamesh to several tests which he fails and eventually is sent away by Utnapishtim who assures him that he cannot escape death. Humbled by the experience Gilgamesh returns back home and asks that his story to be inscribed in stone probably so as to teach others the valuable lessons he had learnt on his quest and on his life.
Utnapishtim who was loved by the gods was saved by the gods in the poem from a great flood which has so much likeness like in the story of the biblical Noah who was ordered to build the ark. The stories have so much likeness that scholars perceive that there is the likelihood that the epic poem may have had an influence on the writing of the Noah story.
The use of cuneiform of writing which is the earliest known method of writing using reed markings on wet clay tablets gives us an insight into early forms of writing. Also the works are the earliest possible known literature works ever found.
The epic also has played a role in showing that the Sumerians lived together in peace with the Akkadians who were from Syria from around 3,000 BC. The few times that the use of law to govern the people has been mentioned in the works goes on to suggest that this may have been the first law book, laws of Ur-Nammu King of Ur. It also provides us with information that Gilgamesh was the 5th king of Uruk.
The moral aspect of the poem guides us by telling us of the dangers of tyranny oppression and what ambition can do to a man instead it helps guide us on concentrating on the simpler things in life like having a simple life, resting enjoying a good relationship with others as well as enjoying love food and drink. The poem also has a conservationist angle to it urging people to take care of the environment when it depicts the issue of the cutting down of the forest so it can be assumed to be pro nature.
The epic also goes on to show that we all mankind are responsible for the actions that we commit and therefore should accept the consequences that come with them, if we lead a bad life being violent, proud, etc we should expect retribution or punishment for our actions.
Basically what I have deduced from the poem is that the poem has a central theme of seizing the day as it comes. Live for today and enjoy every moment of it.