The Epic Of Gilgamesh (Is It An
Epic?) Essay, Research Paper
Some people strive to make a name in this world for themselves. Most, who actually succeed, are forgotten about in a matter of years. However, some are remembered for tens, hundreds, and even thousands of years, because of their great intellectual achievement to feats of outstanding skill. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh achieves many feats of skill, which makes him famous, but that is not the reason it is an epic. The Epic of Gilgamesh fulfills the requirements of an epic by being consistently relevant to a human society and, in that, carries immortal themes and messages.
The Epic of Gilgamesh stays consistently relevant throughout written history. By looking at the literature throughout history, one can infer the themes that are consistently passed on to other generations of humans. Some of the texts that will be compared with The Epic of Gilgamesh, are the Bible, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. These texts span across different time periods and societies in order to illustrate the relevancy throughout written human history.
In the Bible, one of many themes is the quest for something greater than what the seeker is currently at in terms of stature or wealth. One of many examples is the theft of Esau’s birthright by Jacob. Jacob wanted more than his proper inheritance, so he stole more. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh seeks to gain more fame by attempting feats of great proportion. One of the feats is the slaying of Humbaba, the giant beast who is the keeper of a forest. By doing so, Gilgamesh becomes famous for killing the dreaded Humbaba, even though it does not pose any threat to people who stay out of that particular forest.
Another theme can be found in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The power of love and friendship is carried to the end of both Romeo’s and Juliet’s life; Romeo kills himself upon learning that his wife is dead. Gilgamesh is thrown into a similar state of depression when he sees Enkindu die. His life takes a complete turn and he ponders more and more about death. Even to the extent that he spends many years searching for everlasting life after the death of his companion. In this journey, he goes through many toils and comes up without the plant of everlasting life. Gilgamesh is forced to accept death as a part of life and recognize that he is part human. This theme forces us to realize there is always death and that we will always have to deal with it.
In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Huck sees life as an adventure and lives it out in that fashion. Huck runs away from home and lives through many perils for basically sheer excitement. The Epic of Gilgamesh carries the same theme because Gilgamesh is constantly searching and going on adventures to distance places. Gilgamesh travels to distant forests and crosses “the waters of death” for, what amounts to, an adventure. This theme tells us that we all need some adventure in our lives to make it worth living. Because of these three examples, The Epic of Gilgamesh is clearly consistently relevant historically.
In today’s society the story still remains relevant. People are striving for more today. There is nothing good that people don’t want more of. They want more power, more value, more money, more sex, and the list goes forever. That is the motivation for science, technology, and economics. Just as Gilgamesh killed Humbaba, to see if he can, people are still searching for friendships with each other. If not, why is there the craze over the chat rooms on the Internet? People want as many friends as they possible can because friends die and good friends are always rare commodities. There are dating services, too. These services match people together with their “ideal” mate, so the clients don’t have to spend time looking for that special lifelong friend. Friendship is portrayed as a highly valued commodity in this book because it is very valuable in all human societies. Gilgamesh laments the loss of his friend, Enkindu, for the rest of his life. Today, in our advanced society, people are still looking for immortality.
People do not have maturity to accept death. This is why there has been an enormous growth in the health care industry. People want to live longer youthful lives. People want wrinkle-free skin in their 50’s. People want to play sports in their 60’s and 70’s. At the same time people are striving to live over a century. Gilgamesh approaches this cause with a less scientific approach by seeking out the god Utnapishtim and asking for immortality. He is told that he needs to get a piece of the plant of everlasting life. He ends up failing and Gilgamesh is forced to face death. Death will always be a given in a human society, but the way we perceive it will determine our maturity. This book clearly portrays themes that are consistently relevant throughout history and today.
Humans rarely change in their nature, and therefore some aspects of humanity will never be absent. Humans will always fear death because it will always remain an unknown because the dead can not relate their observations. And people will always fear the unknown because of possible harm. Men and women will also always deem themselves as superior over nature because humans are superior in the sense that they can exterminate any living being. Humans will always strive for more because there is a true social Darwinism, survival of the fittest. In order for people to live, they must always be above the line of absolute poverty. In the human perspective, the greater the amount of money you have, the farther you have “to drop” to get below the poverty level. It is basically a bigger buffer zone in terms of economic status. Therefore, in a human society, there will always be certain inalienable aspects of humanity.
The Epic of Gilgamesh fulfills the requirements of an epic by being consistently relevant to a human society and, in that, carries immortal themes and messages. Epics will always be present because there are certain themes about humanity that can not be denied. In this era, it is easy to say that the world is rapidly changing. But, humans aren’t changing with it and there lies the root of most of the problems in society. We must recognize and maybe change the world to be more suitable for humanity.