A Wise King Or Essay, Research Paper
A Wise King Or A Foolish Hero?
Gilgamesh is a character that evolves throughout the epic of Gilgamesh. Throughout the first half of the epic, Gilgamesh is depicted as courageous and heroic on a quest of terror with his great companion Enkidu. In the end after accepting that he too will have to die and be subject to fate, Gilgamesh settles back into his city setting, only this time to be a wise king rather than the foolish hero he once was.
Gilgamesh?s character is something a reader might question after reading the first half of the epic, because Gilgamesh is forceful and acts as if he answers to no one. Another characteristic of Gilgamesh?s personality is his dependency on companionship from Enkidu.
Early in the epic it is shown how sovereign the people think Gilgamesh?s rule is: ?There was no withstanding the aura or power of the Wild Ox Gilgamesh. Neither the father?s son nor the wife of the noble; neither the mother?s daughter nor the warrior?s bride was safe.?(I ii 31-34) This passage proves the people know he is a strong man. It also shows us that the people do not find it surprising if Gilgamesh starts to become involved with another man?s wife. Another time, we find Gilgamesh is going to take the bride of a man if Enkidu does not intervene and stop him (II&III iii 60-70). These are only a few of the times Gilgamesh?s character loses its status among the readers. Actions similar to these also made the elders question his leadership: ?Is this the shepherd of the people? Is this the wise shepherd, protector of the people??(I ii 35-36) They obviously thought he was not up to par in his duties as a king.
It is surprising that with a person as dictating and forceful as Gilgamesh, he still longs for and needs human companionship. We see he will have a companion that will not forsake him when Gilgamesh?s dream is interpreted by his mom.(I iv 166-179) Even though we know this toward the beginning, the importance of his companionship is not apparent until Enkidu is dying and Gilgamesh says, ?Must I now sit outside the door of the house of the dead? While Enkidu sits in the house of the dead among the shadow companions?? (VII ii 21-24) The sudden death of Enkidu causes Gilgamesh to ponder something he hasn?t been forced to think about before: His vulnerability to death. Gilgamesh treasures this friend so much he does not know what to do without him. Looking to fill this whole he has after Enkidu?s companionship is gone, Gilgamesh turns to a quest seeking immortality to conquer death: something Enkidu had not been able to do.
We find Gilgamesh?s quest to let nothing overpower him a reoccurring theme throughout the epic. Gilgamesh shows this early on in his violent immoral acts against his people. Another time this theme is displayed when Gilgamesh and Enkidu cut down the cedars, kill the demon Huwawa, and especially when Gilgamesh makes Ishtar mad enough to send down the Bull of Heaven. In all these instances Gilgamesh answers the foe with another victory. Even when a goddess has sent down ?the Bull of Heaven with which to kill him?(VI ii 83) Gilgamesh overcomes it. After Enkidu?s death Gilgamesh is faced with something that can overpower him: death. Since he has this newfound hindrance, Gilgamesh sets out to overcome the last thing that can overpower him. There is one person in history that defeated fate and mortality, so Gilgamesh seeks to find Utnapishtim and be enlightened by him.
After Gilgamesh?s long quest to find Utnapishtim, Utnapishtim proves to Gilgamesh there is no way he can become immortal by testing Gilgamesh. Utnapishtim says to Gilgamesh, ?Tell me, who would bring all the gods together so that for you they might in council decide what your deserving is, that you be granted admittance into the company of gods??(XI v 240-243) Utnapishtim said this because he knew there would be no one of importance stand up and for Gilgamesh in this setting. He also knew of Gilgamesh?s persistence, so he told Gilgamesh he would give him a test. Gilgamesh would be satisfied if he had a chance at a test because he can control the outcome of his actions. When the test of going without sleep for a week comes Gilgamesh fails miserably. As soon as he sat down to test himself, he was in a mist of sleep. This was the first obstacle Gilgamesh couldn?t overcome, but it was enough for Gilgamesh to learn he doesn?t have to overpower to be powerful. I believe Gilgamesh realized he was already powerful, but his thirst for more power or to overcome was overpowering his need for companionship. He goes back to Uruk after accepting the fact he is mortal and he is to have compassion for companions and it is the gods place to overpower.
The text does not reveal what happens to Gilgamesh after he gets back to his city setting of Uruk. Based on his change of character throughout the epic we can make a judgment on how he will rule as king. Will he go back to being the foolish hero or will he be the wise king the elders wished he had been? I believe Gilgamesh ruled as a knowledgeable king because he is no longer foolish. He has faced and accepted the harsh reality that as humans we cannot have power over everything. Gilgamesh realizes he too will die and this is what he was ignorant of before. This is what made him full of terror and cold-hearted toward his people. There are some readers that might say Gilgamesh would not treat his kingdom any different, but to these people I have to ask: What do you say about Gilgamesh?s character progression? You cannot ignore how he reacts to things different after the turning point of the epic, Enkidu?s death. By the end of the epic, Gilgamesh has become a knowledgeable king who exemplifies what the elders of Uruk questioned if was earlier: a wise shepherd.