Gilgamesh And Enkidu Character Building Plot Essay

Gilgamesh And Enkidu: Character Building Plot Essay, Research Paper

Gilgamesh and Enkidu: Character Building Plot

The creation of an intriguing plot must involve at least one major character whose own actions and external interactions dictate his or her development. External interactions between round characters, static characters, and environmental or supernatural activities, within the plot affect the decisions of the major character, providing the foundation for the story line to proceed. These decisions also mold the character?s thoughts, values and will, thereby, influencing future choices. Through this pattern of cause and effect, an author can sculpt a character in anyway he or she desires. This character building and story telling technique is nothing new in the history of literature, as it appears in the oldest written story known to man, Gilgamesh. In this classic epic, an unknown author employs these techniques to illustrate and develop the characteristics of the two major characters, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, in their march towards their destinies.

Gilgamesh exemplifies character development through the arrival and death of his best friend, Enkidu. At first, the people of Uruk describe their ruler Gilgamesh, with resentment of his actions. They complain ?His arrogance has no bounds by day or night. No son is left with his father, for Gilgamesh takes them all?yet the king should be a shepherd to his people. His lust leaves no virgin to her lover, neither the warrior?s daughter nor the wife of the noble; yet this is the shepherd of the city, wise, comely, and resolute.? This causes the god of Uruk, Anu, to create Enkidu, a companion and diversion for Gilgamesh. Immediately after their friendship begins, Gilgamesh?s selfish character commences its change to a more giving and gracious leader. The author reflects this change through the attitudes of the people of Uruk. Instead of complaining about Gilgamesh?s faults, their praise and loyalty become more frequent, such as the town?s celebration following Gilgamesh and Enkidu?s defeat of the mighty Humbaba.

Most importantly, Enkidu?s companionship serves only to unfold future events for which Gilgamesh?s character can develop. Perhaps Enkidu?s greatest effect on Gilgamesh?s character occurs with his death. This loss of companionship shows the reader the actual evolution of Gilgamesh since the beginning of the story, while continuing to pave the road for future development. Up to the death of his only friend, Gilgamesh thought of himself as invincible and immortal. With Enkidu?s demise, Gilgamesh falls into a state of misery and realization. Instead of returning to his old selfish ways, his agonizing sorrow and newfound recognition of mortality send him on a new quest to defeat fate. He states ?How can I rest, how can I be at peace? Despair is in my heart. What my brother is now, that shall I be when I am dead. Because I am afraid of death I shall go as best I can to find Utnapishtim?for he has entered the assembly of the gods.? This journey ultimately leads to the failure of Gilgamesh in his journey to defeat his fate, yet befalls upon him a sense of humility and acceptance of his destiny. Although many other factors contribute to Gilgamesh?s development, the author uses his best friend Enkidu to mold a selfish and brazen ruler into a humble, mature and unforgotten hero.

Other notable characters taking part in Gilgamesh?s development include Ishtar and Utnapishtim. These static characters do not develop throughout the story, but instead, serve only to propel Gilgamesh towards his fate. Ishtar, daughter of the god Anu, contributes to his development through her proposed desire to marry him. His denial of her proposal accomplishes two very important objectives in the protagonist?s growth and change. Not only does the denial set forth a chain of events that would ultimately lead to the fall of his best friend, but also, it serves as a landmark to highlight Gilgamesh?s development through Enkidu. The ruler of old, without his peer, most likely would have accepted her offer. Yet, the more developed hero denies her, as he already possesses a close relationship. Through Ishtar?s involvement in the cause and effect patterns of plot, Gilgamesh?s slowly changing character shines through.

Unapishtam, the survivor of the Great Flood, provides the challenges by which Gilgamesh tries to attain immortality. His role functions as a stimulus to the hero?s realization of his inability to control fate. Unapishtam states ?What is there between the master and the servant when both have fulfilled their doom?the judges ?and the mother of destinies?together they decree the fates of men. Life and death they allot, but the day of death they do not disclose.? Unapishtam and his challenges propel the epic hero towards his final step in growth and ultimate realization that one controls all but one?s destiny.

Although Enkidu emulates some attributes of static characters in that his actions serve to drive Gilgamesh?s development, his character also evolves from its original form. When the gods create him, Enkidu?s character possesses many animalistic qualities. ?He was innocent of mankind; he knew nothing of the cultivated land. Enkidu ate grass in the hills with the gazelle and lurked with wild beasts at the water holes; he had joy of the water with the wild game.?

Enkidu?s wild spirit dictates the need to assist his befriended animals caught in a hunter?s traps. In turn, the trapper addresses Gilgamesh with his problem of sprung traps. The ruler instructs him to take back a harlot in order to persuade Enkidu from the game of the wilderness. This harlot serves as a major static character fueling Enkidu?s development. His enlightenment of civilized life becomes a precursor to his eventual and fateful meeting with Gilgamesh, where he learns of his limitations in strength and abilities through a crushing defeat at the hands the ruler of Uruk.

Just as Enkidu most dramatically facilitates Gilgamesh?s development, the reverse can also be true. As their companionship grows, Gilgamesh?s over-confidence and carelessness cause him to set out on many dangerous adventures, such as the quest to slay the might cedar giant Humbaba. Two new qualities arise here in Enkidu?s character from Gilgamesh?s actions. His devotion and blind loyalty to his human friend supercede his animalistic independence. At the same time, this once fearless animal begins to experience fear of death. He states ?O my lord, you do not know this monster and that is the reason you are not afraid. I who know him, I am terrified?you may go on if you choose into this land, but I will go back to the city.?

However, when Gilgamesh responds with a plea for assistance in defeating the monster, Enkidu?s loyalty overpowers his fear. Nevertheless, Gilgamesh?s blind and ignorant confidence ignites Enkidu?s realization of mortality. The gods deal Enkidu a different fate. They strike him down with sickness due to his assistance in the killing of the Bull of Heaven and Humbaba. Interestingly though, before he dies, he states ?My friend, the great goddess cursed me and I must die in shame. I shall not die like a man fallen in battle?happy is the man who falls in battle.? This quote sums up Enkidu?s total transformation from animal to human and his acquisition of heroic values, such as honor, through his friendship with Gilgamesh.

Throughout the epic novel of Gilgamesh, the cause and effect nature of the plot, affect the development of the major characters Gilgamesh and Enkidu. The character development, in turn, advances the plot towards its theme of fate. This vicious cycle repeats itself numerous times as the story and characters feed off each other. This remarkable ancient literary work displays one of the most clever and fascinating uses of character and plot development and serves as a guideline for modern writing.


Lawell, Sarah, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces: The Western Tradition. vol.I.

New York: Norton, 1999.


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