Gilgamesh

  1. Can you identify any of the stages of the Hero’s Journey in the story of Gilgamesh? You may begin by asking yourself: What is Gilgamesh’s Call to Adventure; or what is Enkidu’s?

The phases of “The Hero’s Journey’, described by Joseph Campbell, can be observed throughout the epic of Gilgamesh.  The heroic characteristics of Gilgamesh are of protective nature.  At the beginning of the writing, Gilgamesh is shown as aggressive towards women and men.  However, this qualities are the symbol of his immaturity, part of a series of pictorial details that illustrates the transformations of the maturity life process of men.  Such metamorphosis, I perceived, can be seen as the rate by which men turns into a hero.  “The Hero’s Journey’ is dynamic, and is a process because the hero is not born a hero, but goes through the three stages proposed by Joseph Campbell:  “Departure’, “Initiation’ and “Return’, that happens at different points in time to cause the necessary changes for becoming a hero.

The “Call to Adventure’, which is part of the “Departure’ stage, can be observed when Gilgamesh proposed the quest to kill the guardian monster Humbaba.  Gilgamesh felt that “something was lacking’ or he “needed to win’ something, two of the characteristics mentioned by Joseph Campbell in the “Departure’ phase.  The particular something that Gilgamesh needed was to have his kingly power updated; that is, taken to the next level, the supernatural one, and not just to rule only the human world.  It is a destiny Gilgamesh took willingly, to which he entered into the Cedar Forest where the divine creature Humbaba was ruling.  Another element of “The Call to Adventure’ is that the initiation is often a quest imposed by a deity.  In the prayers of Ninsum, to the deity Shamash, she stated that Shamash inspired Gilgamesh to do such a journey.  The “Supernatural Aid’ is the deity Shamash, who first showed himself to Gilgamesh in dreams and showed him that was going to help him.  Later on, Shamash told Gilgamesh the specific moment that it would be advantageous to attack the monster.  Shamash used his powers of manipulating the weather against Humbaba, for which Gilgamesh took advantage and defeated the grotesque creature.

“The Road of Trials’ is part of the “Initiation’ stage, and is described by Joseph Campbell as an amplification of  the first problem.  In Gilgamesh epics, it is a series of troubles:  the “Bull of Heaven’, the death of his friend Enkidu and the quest to seek immortal life, caused because of Gilgamesh’s rejection of the deity Ishtar.  The rejection can be seen as part of the “Initiation’ phase called “Woman as the Temptress.’  Joseph Campbell defined this part as the hero’s awareness of the reality of the truly evil nature of the queen goddess to which the hero is married to.  Although Gilgamesh was already aware of Ishtar’s evil habits and therefore rejected her, it is still considered a “mystical’ temptation with a queen goddess, one of Joseph Campbell’s requirements for this phase.

The “Return’ of Gilgamesh from his heroic acts through the sun’s tunnel and water of the death, after finding Utanapishtim, does not quite well fit the characteristics of Joseph Campbell.  Gilgamesh did not brought back any trophies, powers or elixirs.  He actually failed both required tests.  He was not assisted with supernatural powers, let alone rescued.  It is not stated how he behaved after such a journey.  However, he was humanized and humbled.  Gilgamesh returned to his place to share his experiences and wisdom for others not to make his same mistakes and for his name to be remembered as a hero.

  1. Do you believe any of the Four Functions of Mythology, as outlined in ‘Mythological Themes in Creative Literature and Art’, are alive and active in the story of Gilgamesh? Why or why not?

The Four Functions of Mythology are present in the story of Gilgamesh.  The more apparent one seems to be the first function, the “mystical function’, defined by Joseph Campbell as a symbolic way by which human nature dominates our most deepest animal instincts.  It is a transformation caused by the achievement of a certain “level of consciousness’ that is awaken when humans are fully aware of the reality of the cruelties of life.  It is often rejected, as Joseph Campbell states, because of the burden of such knowledge.  This level of awareness can be seen in Gilgamesh at the moment his friend, Enkidu, died.  Gilgamesh realizes how harsh life can be, in that death cannot be defeated nor avoided, and that his actions caused the loss of his friend.  Such burden was so heavy on him, he rejected it by choosing to become like a beast and searching for immortality.  The third function, “sociological function’, a need for sustaining social order, as defined by Joseph Campbell, can be seen when the gods sentenced Enkidu to die, because Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s actions were not considered appropriate, based on the social order, which can be perceived in terms of authoritative command.  In other words, certain behaviors were not socially accepted based on their position as humans in the social hierarchy.  The fact that the whole epic is about Gilgamesh achieving the necessary level of maturity, turns it into a total representation of the fourth function, “psychological’, in which humans should act according to social guidelines that are based on shared ideologies and cultural standpoints among their corresponding social groups, and the level of responsibility of such actions are dependent on their role in the society.

  1. What judgement would you make concerning the success or failure of Gilgamesh’s journey? For instance, he failed to return with the Plant of Everlasting Life, but what did he gain instead? Is it a worthy

Gilgamesh’s journey has both, success and failure.  Gilgamesh’s failing of the test of staying awake for seven days was a teaching for him.  It was the way to show him that after all, he was still a human, and that because of it, there were going to exist circumstances out of his control, such as death.  The battle of his quest was over from the beginning because he could not have changed the fate of his friend.  When something is out of our human control, fighting for it is a waste of energy and time, acceptance of the reality is the necessary task in order to be able to continue with our lives.

Gilgamesh also lost the Everlasting Plant to a reptile.  However, he brought back within the true power that he was seeking for, but did not know it, for he was blind of ignorance.  Gilgamesh realized at the end, that it was the wisdom, the kingly and priceless power he had been trying to find all this time, and that such power, the wisdom, cannot be gained with strength or magic.

The journey of Gilgamesh is a symbol of the journey we all go through to become mature:  to think thoroughly before we make a decision, to control our emotional and behavioral states, to learn from our mistakes, to be aware of the reality that surround us, to be more humble and less selfish, to gain knowledge and share it with others, to not precipitate judgements, to avoid confrontations.  We can summarize all this in one phrase:  to be wise.  Such attribute is more valuable than any power, elixir or trophy that he could have ever won.

1 thought on “Gilgamesh

  1. gpetrie

    Your response was very thoughtful and I enjoyed reading it. I found the part where you talk about the 4 Functions of Mythology. I agree with you that maturity is much more valuable than a power or trophy. I found the way you explained it very interesting.

    Reply

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