Gilgamesh the Ornery Giant

1.  Gilgamesh is an ancient poem, which depicts the transformation of man who is considered to be two parts divine and one part human and begins his story with the temperament of a young boy. His story contains many stages correlating to Joseph Cambell’s structure for “The Hero’s Journey.” This does make sense, as this formula is based upon historical patterns and archetypes and “Gilgamesh” is one of the best preserved, yet evolutionary, stories of ancient history.

In the beginning, Gilgamesh parades through the town of Uruk and challenges young men to quarrels and takes women as he pleases. He can be restrained by none and is feared by many. As a king, he lacks maturity and humbleness. Gilgamesh’s “Call to Adventure” arrives with the coming of a man named Enkido, who challenges Gilgamesh for his atrocities and wrestles him in the streets. Although Gilgamesh wins, he admires Enkido’s spirit and strength and befriends him. The actual “Call” is Gilgamesh’s decision to seek out the monster, Humbuba, in the Cedar Forest or forest of the gods, in order to prove the strength of their friendship and his right to rule divinely.

Gilgamesh’s “Departure” takes place when he leaves Uruk with Enkido and they travel for many days to the Cedar forest, where no man has trodden, for Humbuba can hear any who pass through his forest and he carries with him seven glories. Gilgamesh receives “Supernatural Aid” against Humbuba, in the form of winds from all directions, at the hands of the god Shamash. This battle could also be considered “Crossing the first Threshold,” in “The Hero’s Journey.”

During the “Initiation” phase of Gilgamesh’s journey, he begins his “Road of Trials,” where he meets the “Woman as a Temptress,” Ishtar, a goddess who could give much, but has taken more from all of her previous lovers and is rejected by him. This scorns Ishtar and and she sends the Bull of Heaven upon him, which he defeats, but this victory also causes him to lose his friend Enkido, as he is smitten with disease from the gods. After the death of Enkido, Gilgamesh takes to the Steppe and eventually makes his way to a tunnel under a mountain, guarded by a massive scorpion, where he embarks upon his “Belly of the Whale” moment. He may or may not survive this quest for eternal life, but he moves under the world to find his answers and hopes to fulfill his desire for immortal life. He finds his way to Utanapishtim, who challenges Gilgamesh to stay awake for six days and seven nights, who then fell asleep immediately. This is his first successful lesson in being human and humble. After this failure, Utanapishtim gave Gilgamesh the location of a plant at the bottom of the sea, which could make him young again. Gilgamesh then persists to lose this plant to a serpent, a classical symbol for the loss of eternal life and happiness.

Gilgamesh makes his “Return” in the form of “The Freedom to Live.” He is not necessarily successful, in gaining immortal life to escape his fear of death, but he is successful in finding himself and is satisfied with living from this point on. He describes his city of Uruk, in a very similar fashion, as he did early in the story. The difference is the attitude he has towards the city and the people in it. He is happy to be a part of it and not the tragedy that terrorizes it, ultimately joining society and the humanity that he was born into.

2.  As the term would suggest, the “Mystical” or “Metaphysical” function of mythology is very prevalent in the story of Gilgamesh. Both he and Enkido acts as a beasts, as Gilgamesh  lusts and broods over those he wishes to and seems to have no moral dilemma or inner conflict over the issue. Gilgamesh is a man of the flesh and his instincts  during the initial phase of his story. Enkido is simply born of animals and is raised by them in the wild. The transition to a socialized man for Gilgamesh and Enkido also shows variations of the “Sociological” and “Psychological” functions. Enkido is brought into a world of understanding, by the harlot and the hunter, who show him many things that civilized people do in cooking, cleaning and wearing clothes. These folk ways were a form of socialization.

3.  I believe that Gilgamesh was successful in accepting his humanity, but failed to bring back a treasure that could have helped his people and gives up his quest after two small failures. If Gilgamesh was a king, why would he not go back to retrieve the plant after he had acquired the men and tools that were needed? Why would he give up on any great calling? Does this not show a theme that would suggest that to aim too high is unreasonable and so we should not push forward and to persevere above others who give up along the path?

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About Jared

Born and raised in AK and will once again live there one day. Currently serving in the US Navy and I enjoy the life I live. I am stationed in Sicily and loving the ability to travel during this period. I have a wife and a daughter on the way and couldn't imagine things going much better in life right now.