Critical Analysis Of The Epic Of Gilgamesh

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The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic about a great king born in greatness but, a proud man who ruled violently and terrified his subjects who were later transformed by the gods after the people’s constant moans. Before the transformation, he murdered and overworked the young men and raped any girl that he lusted over. He had great strength because he was born of a goddess. However, his newly- found friend, Enkidu, made him change into a wise and great king who desired to leave a good legacy after his death. It is also through Enkidu that he seeks to learn about immortality but is greatly disappointed when he learns that immortality is a reserve only for the gods. This essay is an argument that seeks to show how the king of Uruk transformed from a proud, cruel, and immoral man to a man of good morals, Judicious and wise, the reasons for the extreme change and a pointer to when precisely in the epic, the king changed.

Gilgamesh returns to Uruk after his long journey as a transformed man. To understand how transformed he was, we have to understand his past. The transformation that took place was not only psychological, but it was also behavioral. From his birth, he was a special child with both extreme strength and beauty. “When the gods created Gilgamesh, they gave him a perfect body. Shamash, the glorious sun, endowed him with beauty. Adad, the god of the storm, endowed him with courage, the great gods made his beauty perfect, surpassing all others, terrifying like a great wild bull. Two thirds they made him a god and one-third man.” (Sandbars, 1). Therefore, it is clear that from the beginning, he was meant to be special. He used the power granted to him to harm other people without a single care in the world. The persecution he rendered on his subjects made him unbearable. He was arrogant, rude, and immoral. “His lust leaves no virgin to her lover.” (Sandars,2). This indicates how evil he was. He took the virgins who were getting ready for marriage and forcefully slept with them. As a result, people lamented to the gods, and in his image, a new man was created. Strong and beautiful like the king, Enkidu was his equal even in strength. However, their character was a contrast. After their first fight, they became instant friends, “So Enkidu and Gilgamesh embraced, and their friendship was sealed.” (Sandars,6). They would later go to war together. After Enkidu’s death, the king realizes that his greatest enemy was death, and he fought to find a way to beat it. However, he was meant to understand that immortality was only for the gods. On his way back, having realized that he has lost and cannot be immortal, he decides that what is important is to change the way he has lived his life and leave being a legacy. He wants to be remembered as a good man and not as an evil one. Even on his death bed, “Gilgamesh, the son of Ninsun, lies in the tomb’ (Sandars,24), history has been rewritten, and a good legacy left behind. Therefore, the king had transformed from a person who did whatever he wanted to a man who was committed to changing the way he treated his people to make them remember him as a good person and a great ruler.

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Over the course of the epic, the values of Gilgamesh change drastically. In the beginning, he is arrogant, proud, immoral, brutal, and a man who never listened to advise. The people of Uruk claimed that “his arrogance has no bounds” (Sandars,2). They were afraid of his strength because they believed that “he is the strongest in the world; he is like an immortal from heaven.” (Sandars,2). This fear is what brought their cries to heaven. He was immoral in the sense that he slept with prostitutes and brutal because not only did he kill people aimlessly, he also raped whatever virgin he desired. He forced the young men to work for him. However, beginning from his encounter with Enkidu, his values change gradually. However, the most significant changes in his values are not noticeable until his realization of the inevitability of death. He sets his mind on changing his behavior after the loss of the plant that guaranteed immortality. I believe the snake snatching the plant worked as a revelation to him that he needed to change his ways. Thereafter, he swore to be different. To treat people as human beings. He follows into the words of his late friend, “But do not abuse this power, deal justly with your servants in the palace.” (Sandars,7). It is this advice that set the end of his immorality, arrogance, and brutality. Enkidu, who was the result of the people’s cries, therefore, became the redemption of their king from a man of bad morals to a virtuous one.

There is a significant change that occurred in the life of Gilgamesh that transformed him for the better. The changes are clear, beginning with his acceptance of Enkidu as a friend rather than a rival. We would expect that he would have him killed when he stopped him from sleeping with the maiden who was due to be married the following day. However, he embraces him, and a friendship ensues thereafter. The main reason why he changed was so that he could create a legacy that would be remembered forever. This desire came to him after he realized that he could never escape death. The other reason for his changing his attitude was his friend’s death. When he “touched his heart, but it did not beat, nor did he lift his eyes again” (Sandbars,15), he was sad because Enkidu had been his confidant. He changed first by becoming a true friend to Enkidu and secondly by changing the way he treated his people. His motivation for the latter was his fear of death. He tore his clothes and wore rags. He also made all the people mourn his good friend.

All these served to show how transformed he had become. He had fought beside him and encouraged him when they were going to war. “All living creatures born of the flesh shall sit at last in the boat of the West, and when it sinks, when the boat of Magilum sinks, they are gone, but we shall go forward and fix our eyes on the monster.” (Sandars,81). Enkidu told him all these an attempt to encourage the king when they sought out Humbaba, the monster. The transformation that happened to Gilgamesh was, therefore, a result of his misery over his friends, coupled with the knowledge that he could never be immortal.

In my opinion, there are two main points in the epic where the transformation occurred. The first is when he decided to befriend Enkidu other than kill him since he seemed like a rival. The epic clearly shows that he was his equal in both strength and beauty. This forms the beginning of a beautiful friendship that begins his transformative journey. When his friend dies, his desire to avoid the same fate takes him to Utnapishtim in search of immortality. However, when he learns that he will eventually die, he changes completely. Therefore, it is at the point of his discovery of the inevitable death that he chooses to change for the better. He swore to live a legacy when he understood the importance of living an upright life. He discovered that when we due, we are judged by how we lived our lives. 


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