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The Epic of Gilgamesh, is among one of the "oldest stories in the world" (Mitchell, Pg. 1), set in the panoramic beauty of Uruk the Mesopotamian city or contemporary Iraq, the home of Saddam Hussein. According to Grandfield, Saddam identified with the ancient monarch when he set out on his quest for eternal life, and this is mentioned in his novel Zabibah-wal-Malik. Mark Bowden noted that, Zabibah and the King, is an allegory and refers to the invasion of Iraq by the United States, and also mentions Saddam's own policy that "people need strict measures", which probably justify his arrogance and cruelty. This paper attempts to see the similarities between two rulers of Iraq, Saddam Hussein and Gilgamesh assuming their view of themselves, their haughtiness, beginning, autocracy, bonds of affection, hubris and subsequent absolution or the lack of it thereof.
Saddam Hussein, became the President of Iraq on July 6, 1979 by pressing his second cousin President Ahmed Hassan Bakr to abdicate, and soon assumed the role of a ruthless royal. He exercised sovereignty using trepidation. The Epic of Gilgamesh begins with the man "who saw the deep...and [learnt] of everything the sum of wisdom", a man who was the pillar to his people "Surpassing all other kings, heroic in stature", and following that we discover the beginning of the story and meet Gilgamesh the tyrant. Gilgamesh at the opening of the epic is scornful, a "wild bull on the rampage". Saddam was known for his arrogance. In fact, The USA today, has even quoted Congressman Tim Lantos's opinion of Saddam as a man of "blatant arrogance, [and] bloodthirsty brutality". (Dorman and Livingston, Pg. 69)
Gilgamesh was appreciative of his demi-god status, as he bellows, "Who is there can rival his kingly standing...one third human", even though he was aware of his mortality. Saddam desired a demi-god status for himself notwithstanding his persistently publicized humble beginning. Balaghi records, that "Saddam rewarded poets who hinted at similarities between himself and the Prophet Muhammad...[and] implied that he was a descendant of the Prophets family".
In Saddam and Gilgamesh, we see "the shepherd who [has] become a wolf". (Mitchell, Pg. 10) Gilgamesh is the oppressor whose "tyranny grows harsher... [but Gilgamesh] lets no [daughter go free to her] mother...lets no son go free to his father". Although "he is shepherd of Uruk-the-Sheepfold", he has cast off the role of being "their [protector,] powerful, pre-eminent, expert [and mighty]" and transformed into "a wild bull lording" them, as their savage despot. Saddam's despotism is unmistakable in his empire being christened "Republic of Fear" by Makiya an Iraqi exile in his book published in 1989. Saddam's rape rooms are legendary. The paradox is that Saddam gave women the right to education, and holding civil offices, but he could neutralize the rights via Article 8 of the constitution. An approach favored by the regime, involved forwarding dissidents, videotapes of their female relations being assaulted by employees of the secret police. Accordingly, women were intimidated, imprisoned, assassinated, and assaulted in interest of authority. (Brown and Romano) Saddam's cruelty was extended to the men, and they were tortured mutilated or murdered. After usurping sovereignty and becoming President in 1979, Saddam purified the party and regime by killing his opposes. Gilgamesh had "no equal when his weapons are brandished", and Saddam declared his jurisdiction over the people of Iraq by "walking with a weapon". Saddam used chemical weapons namely nerve gas and mustard gas to commit genocide killing 65,000 from April to August 1988 to drive out the Iranians. At the onset of the cease fire Saddam unleashed this hobby of chemical warfare against the Northern Iraq Kurds. In addition, the "shepherd" indulged in Genocide such as the Al-Anfal Campaign, the killing of innocent people in Dujail, and the Marsh Arabs of south-eastern Iraq. (Balaghi) (Castellano) Saddam did not spare his own best friend, or his son-in-laws, subjects or neighbors. His tyranny dwarfs Gilgamesh's despotism to oblivion.
While their initial story is one of the authoritarianism, the two monarchs progressed differently because of their approach towards friendship. Gilgamesh dreams of a confidant as he requests, his mother "Let me acquire a friend to counsel me". At their first encounter, "Enkidu with his foot blocked the door of the wedding house, not allowing Gilgamesh to enter", leading to a combat between the two. After he was vanquished, Enkidu acknowledged the superiority of Gilgamesh, "High over warriors you are exalted", as instructed by Shamhat. Gilgamesh recognized the fulfillment of his longing and he and Enkidu, "kissed each other and formed a friendship". Growing up, Saddam was "a loner who often kept to himself". (Balaghi) Saddam's "best friend, who would later become Minister of Defense", was Adnan Khairallah. (Karsh and Rautsi) Adnan was the brother of Sajida, who was Saddam's first wife. A trusted confidant, he was also declared "chief of the general staff", and was "considered a war hero" by the Iraqi populace. Adnan was angry with Saddam for "his love of his mistress, Samira" and the dishonor concluded on his sister, and stood by his sister. As a result, Saddam had his own "best friend" killed. (Yahia and Wendl)
Gilgamesh's hubris drives him "to have a lasting name" and this takes him on his quest to destroy Humbaba. (Mitchell) Humbaba is a larger than life formidable monster that was designated "to keep safe the cedars. Enlil made it his lot to terrify men". Humbaba is daunting as "his voice is the Deluge. His speech is fire, and his breath is death". Humbaba implores Gilgamesh "Spare my life, O Gilgamesh". Gilgamesh hesitates to kill the monster. Enkidu urges him to "finish him, slay him, do away with his power, before Enlil the foremost hears what we do!" Gilgamesh listens to his friend, and butchers "the ogre, the forest's guardianâ€¦the mountains did quakeâ€¦all the hillsides did tremble" Then they trample "through the Forest of Cedar", cut down the trees, and return home after an encounter with Ishtar. Mitchell remarks that Humbaba does not fit into the conception of evil like Grendel in Beowulf. He is supposed to be terrifying to ensure him to fulfill his responsibility as the "forest's guardian", and Enkidu is aware of the fact that Enlil does not want Humbaba destroyed. Saddam was also looking forward to making a name for himself and further his political career when he assumed the role of liquidating President Abd al-Karim Qasim on 7 October 1959. Balaghi and Castellano, mention that the CIA recruited him for the task. Abd al-Karim Qasim or the equivalent of Humbaba had begun purchasing Soviet weaponry in addition to introducing the notion of having the State own the oil industry. He also began engaging Communists into his government. He too like Humbaba harmed none; his tactics were needed to govern his people. Just as Gilgamesh hesitated to kill Humbaba, the 22-year-old Saddam bungled up and had to flee, since the assassination attempt was unsuccessful. He was also shot in the leg and had to swim across the River Tigris. Balaghi mentions, "Saddam's [last] days in hiding echoed his earlier escape along the Tigris River." Elmusa, however, compares Bush to Gilgamesh, who comes for the trees or in the case of the latter-Oil. Saddam then painted as a monster, by being compared to Hitler by the American media, becomes the modern Humbaba. Just as the fall of Humbaba caused the mountains to "quake [and]â€¦all the hillsides did tremble", so has the fall of Saddam cause a quake yet reverberating. Elmusa's paper referred to the senior Bush, but may just as well be relevant to the junior one. The irony is that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, he was "a pawn of the west, which used him and then discarded him like a bag of trash". (Jha, 2004)
After returning from "the Forest of Cedar" Enkidu is inflicted with illness for urging Gilgamesh to kill Humbaba, and dies after twelve agonizing days. Gilgamesh is distraught and laments, "I shall weep for Enkidu, my friend, like a hired mourner-woman I shall bitterly wail" The loss of Enkidu, makes Gilgamesh painfully aware of his own mortality, contrary to the killing of Humbaba where death had no meaning for the former tyrant. He "bitterly weep[s]" and he realizes "I shall die...Sorrow has entered my heart...I am afraid of death, so I shall wander the wild, to find Uta-napishiti". Gilgamesh's intimacy with Enkidu was his salvation, since it took him to seek Uta-napishiti. Andrew George notes that it is in to Uta-napishiti realm that Gilgamesh "learnt of everything the sum of wisdomâ€¦what was secretâ€¦what was hiddenâ€¦[and] brought back a tale of before the Deluge". Saddam had no intimacy that tied him to a higher wisdom. Perhaps, his higher wisdom was surviving. His was a world of cruelty where even his family fared no better; he did not pardon even the husbands of his daughters- Saddam Kamel and Hussein Kamel, for defecting to Jordan in 1995. His sons died fighting as was customary in the Tirkiti tradition. Saddam Hussein however, was captured without the firing of a single bullet and "this was felt as a kind of betrayal by some" Arabs. (Balaghi)
CONCLUSION: Gilgamesh and Saddam share the beginning of their story, since each started out as an autocrat. While Gilgamesh managed to find some measure of self-possession through his friendship with Enkidu, Saddam's life degraded into deeper and darker oppressiveness. The ending of the stories of the two monarchs, is an understanding of the wisdom gained by one, and the wisdom left behind by the other, that oppression does not pay. This paper has, covered the similarity of the rulers and the different paths on which they ultimately ended, by making correlations based on their arrogance, origin, despotism, friendships, hubris and ultimately redemption or the lack of it. While Gilgamesh's story moves from darkness to light, Saddam is lost eternally in corruption. Saddam "was a cruel and ruthless dictator...[who] inspired only fear...not the evil Hitlerian creature. he was a rather run-of-the-mill dictator, a product of history and culture of his country, and the circumstances of its creation."