The Personal Development of Gilgamesh as a Human Being
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The Epic of Gilgamesh is a surprisingly interesting poem dedicated to the development of the protagonist primarily as a human being. Gilgamesh is half god and half human. At the beginning of the poem, he is shown as a mighty ruler who wallows in lust, atrocities, and violence. His divine power is so great that he does not know how to properly implement it. Eventually, his immoral lifestyle results in the kingdom’s decline. His people are tired of his excesses and ask the gods to send them a creature capable of killing Gilgamesh and thus, saving them from suffering. This mighty creature is Enkidu, who grew up in the wild and is as a strong as his opponent. As a result of the struggle between them, the heroes become the best friends. This friendship plays a significant role in the development of human qualities of Gilgamesh by opening his eyes to the truth and sense of human life.
At the beginning of the story, Gilgamesh shares heroic values of his time since his desire for immortality takes the form of searches for immortal glory. Death still does not seem to be a real enemy for Gilgamesh. Even though it is inevitable, it is included in the rules of the game: by finding death at the hands of a worthy foe, the hero will immortalize his name. In pursuit of the goal, Gilgamesh is accompanied by extraordinary success. He wins one victory after another. He fights with Enkidu and finds a faithful friend and helper. Together they are strong enough to overcome Humbaba (“a ferocious giant”) and arrogantly treat the goddess of the city of Uruk, namely Ishtar (“The Epic of Gilgamesh”). At the moment, they reach the peak of earthly glory, however, luck turns away from them. Recklessly asserting themselves and finding new ways to prove their prowess, Gilgamesh and Enkidu grievously offend the gods, not giving them enough attention. Humbaba is a servant of Enlil, who assigns him toguard the cedar forest. The both heroes’ attitude towards Ishtar is a pure arrogance. The heroes should be punished, and Enkidu dies. Losing a friend, Gilgamesh starts to realize the fact of death in its brutal reality. Now, Gilgamesh is “afraid of death” (“The Epic of Gilgamesh”). As a result, all the old values are crumbling: the immortal name and eternal glory suddenly lose their meaning for Gilgamesh. Horror and overwhelming fear of death seizes the hero. Gilgamesh begins a new quest for immortality embodied not in the glorious name, but in the human body. As before, in his new searches, a heroic nature and indomitable determination of Gilgamesh bring him success one after another.
The initial desire of Gilgamesh to gain immortality through fame is a challenge to the gods and brings their retribution upon him. The searches for actual (physical) immortality are much more audacious since it is about a challenge to human nature itself, which is necessarily limited, finite, and mortal. In the final of the poem, it is the human nature of Gilgamesh that declares itself since the original human weakness and lack of care lead to the hero’s failure. He cannot blame anyone but himself: it is he who makes an unforgivable mistake. Perhaps, this complete lack of heroics brings Gilgamesh back to human reality. Fear leaves Gilgamesh, and he sees himself as worthy of pity and crying. As soon as the irony of the situation comes to the main hero, he can only smile sadly at himself. All his superhuman efforts result in an almost comical situation. Smiling and saving sense of humor are the signs that Gilgamesh has finally overcome the major difficulty. He is now able to accept the reality as such, along with a new scale of human values. Immortality, which he is now seeking and in which he sees a source of pride, is a relative immortality of enduring accomplishments, which are presented by the walls of Uruk. Throughoutt the whole poem, Gilgamesh progresses primarily as a man, which in turn, is reflected in his features as a governor.
Thus, one can state that the internal development of the hero corresponds to the certain epic standards. At first, Gilgamesh is the hero endowed with the great power that finds expression in various atrocities. Meeting Enkidu changes Gilgamesh. Starting to march on Humbabu, Giltamesh is going to “destroy the evil” (“The Epic of Gilgamesh”). Then, shocked by the death of his friend, Gilgamesh starts to reflect upon the meaning of life and sees it in human immortality. After years of wandering and at the cost of severe torture, he finds the flower of youth. He wants to bring it to Uruk, but he loses it. Even though he returns home with nothing, he invites his companion to walk along the walls of Uruk and test their strength. The walls are built or, at least, finished by him and now, they present a sense of the hero’s own existence.
To sum up, the spiritual development of the main character is a result of his friendship with Enkidu. Both characters consider themselves as invincible heroes and even allow themselves to humiliate and insult the gods. However, the characters are primarily human beings, and the gods make them see the truth of life through the death of Enkidu. Enkidu’s death makes Gilgamesh realize the fact of human mortality, which does not spare the poor and the rich as well as ordinary people and famous heroes. The loss of a flower of immortality by Gilgamesh is the second revelation to the hero. Now, he is aware of the futility of human effort in the search for physical immortality. In the end, the hero comes to the realization that the meaning of life is not immortality since it can be seen in human actions and deeds. That is the reason why the walls of Uruk as a creation of Gilgamesh become the physical embodiment of human meaning.