The nice thing about learning to identify the Hero’s Journey stages in stories is that you can identify a Journey for each character. Well, at least the main and sidekick characters. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the two main characters are Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, and his best friend, Enkidu. Gilgamesh and Enkidu didn’t start out as friends, however. Enkidu, who was a wild man created to be a counterbalance for the out-of-control Gilgamesh, begins his journey when learning to become a man living in society rather than simply exist as the guy raised by wolves (metaphorically speaking). The Call for Enkidu comes when hearing of a man who has the right – and takes it – to sleep with a newly married woman first. Appalled, he heads out to confront the man, thus sparking off the Threshold. After the two duke it out in the doorway, they become fast friends and set off on their shared Call to battle Humbaa in the Cedar Forest. The road of trials for both of them begins at this point, although Gilgamesh’s real Journey begins after Enkidu’s death with his quest for eternal life.
The 4 Functions of Mythology are indeed alive and well in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Both characters experience a realization of who they are, who they should be according to society, and begin to change and grow as people. For Enkidu, this happens after his dream foretelling his death. He goes through a brief anger stage, then forgives and blesses Shamhat (who he blamed for introducing him to civilization and therefore his death, but also enabling him to meet Gilgamesh). Gilgamesh’s personal growth comes after his friend’s death when, in his grief, he begins a journey to find eternal life and starts to regret the choices he made.
Although Gilgamesh didn’t exactly succeed in his original quest to find eternal youth, the personal growth he experienced along his journeys allowed him to recognize that even though a person – or even a demi-god – can’t live forever, the stories of their actions can live on. It’s not exactly the best replacement for eternal youth, but it’s the best one can hope for in this life. Personally, I wouldn’t want eternal youth – I wouldn’t take my 20s back if someone offered them to me!