Gilgamesh 3 Essay, Research Paper
In Gilgamesh, the tale of two companions and their epic journeys together, symbolism plays an important role in developing the story and theme. One such symbol is the so-called “How-the-Old-Man-Once-Again-Becomes-a-Young-Man” plant. As the name dictates, “new life may be obtained by means of it ” (Gilgamesh 80) Symbolically the plant is imperative to a complete understanding of the work. It represents Gilgamesh s quest for immortality, and ultimately, a new realization of his own humanity. Of course, to understand the extent of Gilgamesh s final transformation at the end of the epic, we must first understand his original character.
At the start of the story, we are introduced to Gilgamesh through a series of varied descriptions. He is described as “him who knew the most of all men know ” (Gilgamesh 3) To the people Gilgamesh is known as the “strongest one of all, the perfect, the terror.” (Gilgamesh 4) Although the descriptions are inherently contradictory, they offer a somewhat enlightened view of a man who is two-thirds God and one-third mortal. He is both revered for his intelligence, and feared for his power. In essence, he is both the protector and the terror. This image of Gilgamesh portrayed at the beginning is important
because as the story progresses we see interesting developments in his character.
Gilgamesh first learns about the magic plant from Utnapishtim, who promises the plant will provide eternal youth and strength. Gilgamesh, newly obsessed with immortality after the death of his companion Enkidu, ventures to find the plant in an effort to save himself from death. Gilgamesh s quest for immortality is in itself an attribute to a growing feeling of vulnerability, which, in turn, reveals aspects of humanity. The plant itself is described as ” thorny to seize, as a rose is thorny to seize.” (Gilgamesh 79) The thorns of the plant connote a feeling of danger that is associated with the picking of it. The plant, as a symbol of immortality, is described as being dangerous to the touch. This simple detail helps to shape one of the basic themes of Gilgamesh. One s humanity is not meant to be escaped, but to be revered.
Gilgamesh, two-thirds God and one-third man, still attempts to achieve his goal. He picks the plant, but while in a pool of water, a serpent steals it away. The plant being stolen serves two purposes. For one, it further exemplifies the theme that immortality is unattainable.
I descended into the waters to find the plant and what
I found was a sign telling me to abandon my journey
and what it was I sought for. (Gilgamesh 81)
Secondly, it is done to humble Gilgamesh. It reveals to us that the man who is known as the “strongest one of all, the perfect, the terror” is merely human as well.
The tale closes after the magic plant is taken, and Gilgamesh must return home to his city. The story ends here because the lesson has been taught. The journey for the plant was in actuality a lesson in humility for Gilgamesh. It teaches us, just as it taught our hero, that there is no escaping our own humanity.
See how the dead and the sleeping resemble each
other. Seen together, they are the image of death.
The simple man and the ruler resemble each other.
The face of the one will darken like that of the other.