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The Epic of Gilgamesh is a pre-historic narrative in the world literature. The original version was written by Sumerians in the Sumerian language and the context constructed from numerous Mesopotamian traditions. It is perhaps the most primitive recording of heroism in existence. The literature presented in the poem exposes people to ancient civilization. Historically, the Mesopotamian civilization ranks as one of earth’s most primitive culture.
Despite this, few people are aware of the culture of Mesopotamia. Therefore, the poem reveals important parts of information that aid us to understand ancient civilization. The story reveals to us the Mesopotamian people’s belief systems and customs. This paper creates a critical analysis of The Epic of Gilgamesh by specifically discussing Gilgamesh’s place in society, the justification of his societal position and his rights and obligations.
Summary of Plot
Gilgamesh is born by a goddess and is the king of Uruk, a Sumerian city. He was very strong and handsome. He lived in a great palace made of tall walls, with orchards and big fields. Gilgamesh displayed aspects of a warrior and fought to guard his people and belongings. Even though the people of Uruk loved Gilgamesh and highly recognized him as a hero, he had weaknesses that created discomfort among members of his society.
He portrayed elements of unkindness and sexually harassed young girls and women irrespective of their societal rank. He also treated young men with cruelty by introducing forced labor. As a result, the inhabitants of Uruk rebuked his leadership and implored the gods to help. The gods answered people’s prayers and created Enkidu, a wild man who was to be Gilgamesh’s equal match.
Aruru, the god of creation, created Enkidu and placed him in the wilderness. Enkidu lived, grazed and drank water with animals. He is seen by a hunter who notified his father. When Gilgamesh got information about Enkidu, he sends a temple prostitute (Shamhat) to tame him. According to the people of Uruk, women could use sex to tame men. Shamhat exposes herself to Enkidu and entices him.
When Enkidu returns to the wilderness, animals realize he is not one of them and turns away from him. Therefore, he identifies himself with human beings and Shamhat encourages him to join the human race in the cities. With the help of Shamhat, Enkidu adjusts to fit into society. Shamhat then introduces him Gilgamesh. However, he is saddened by Gilgamesh’s ways of leadership.
He confronts him, and they engage each other in a fight. Gilgamesh overpowers Enkidu, and ironically, they do not become enemies. They spend most of their time in the forests and encounter different experiences, but Enkidu dies as a result of punishment from gods.
Gilgamesh’s Position, Rights and Responsibilities
The story portrays Gilgamesh as a great warrior who wins military and internal conquests. His continued success determines and defines his superiority. These qualities are linked with the ancient Mesopotamian society that upheld the role of warriors. As the narration of The Epic of Gilgamesh begins, readers are exposed to information about the importance of warriors in society.
This depicts, in a similar way, the fundamental roles played by warriors in ancient Mesopotamian society. In ancient Mesopotamia, were ranked than other superior figures. Uruk’s inhabitants considered Gilgamesh as their superior and believed that there were no human kings who could be judged against Gilgamesh (George 142).
The story creates a picture in the minds of readers that symbolize an idyllic model of the hero in the perspective of his society. Gilgamesh is symbolized as a person with bravery, body perfection, and physical strength (Abusch 615).
The admiration and respect gained from his society are relevant to ancient Mesopotamia and the most primitive Sumerian administrations. Historical records reveal that when catastrophes cropped up, governing assemblies surrendered their power to individuals who had complete authority during times of emergency (Van De Mieroop 43).
Major decisions highly depended on the needs and want of the community. Similarly, Gilgamesh demonstrated the same diplomacy. His roles and responsibilities as a warrior are to protect society from external harms. The story also portrays Gilgamesh as a warrior who terminated all evils, safeguarded and defended his people and city.
For example, he constructed the wall of Uruk that sheltered the land from impending attacks (Tzvi 622). Gilgamesh’s position is justified from the nature of warriors in the ancient Mesopotamian society, who did marvelous things to defend their land and protect cities from invasions.
The place of Gilgamesh in society depicts itself through his control of power and status. The story depicts a superlative nature in Gilgamesh’s personality. His heroic nature enables him to acquire a lot of power and wealth. He is also proud of his greatness and believes that he is the finest among all young men (George 206).
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Gilgamesh had both human and divine characteristics; hence, he was spiritually content. In the ancient Mesopotamian society, Gilgamesh depicts parallel characteristics to those of the pharaohs who derived their pride from wealth and power.
The people of Mesopotamia also saw heroes as gods who lived on earth. Heroes were also believed to have divine powers. This aspect aids people in understanding the worth of Gilgamesh’s divineness in his personality.
For example, Hammurabi of the Babylonian empire pronounced that gods called him to promote the wellbeing of the people and destroy the wicked. The aspect of divinity in heroism confirms why people treasured and worshiped heroes in ancient Mesopotamia. Furthermore, this illuminates the motivation behind Gilgamesh’s heroic powers.
The story also portrays Gilgamesh’s merciless actions on his subjects. From the story, one can clearly recognize a dual nature characteristic in Gilgamesh’s behaviors. Gilgamesh used the powers bestowed to him by the people of Uruk to separate himself with the poor. He displayed his unkindness by raping women from his own society.
These behaviors are a depiction of the Babylonian leadership where Hammurabi showed merciless behaviors and discriminated the low-class people. Gilgamesh portrayed as a kind and unkind ruler at the same time, leadership elements that contrasted to those in the ancient Mesopotamian society.
Doctrines from heroic characters revealed in The Epic of Gilgamesh are similar to those that existed in the ancient Mesopotamian society. By building on the character and nature of Gilgamesh, the story gives us a clear representation of the existence of heroism in ancient cultures.
The character and responsibilities of warriors exhibit scores of similarities. Moreover, Gilgamesh contrasts to significant historic rulers by expressing dual personalities. Therefore, the place of Gilgamesh in the society, his responsibilities, rights, and duties were similar to those of heroes and rulers in the ancient Mesopotamian culture.
George, Andrew. The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Sumerian Poems of Gilgamesh, London, England: Penguin Classics, 1999. Print.
Tzvi, Abusch. “The Development and Meaning of the Epic of Gilgamesh: An Interpretive Essay.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 121. 4 (2001): 614-622. Print.
Van De Mieroop, Marc (2004). A History of the Ancient Near East, Winona Lake, Indiana: Blackwell, 2004. Print.