The Epic of Gilgamesh is an intriguing Sumerian poem that focuses on the social, political and spiritual lives of the ancient people in their contemporary times. Influenced and controlled by his queer body features, Gilgamesh is the main character who posses both godly and human body. Alluding from the bible, the poem combines the traditional beliefs and practices of the Sumerian people to highlight different themes in the society.
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Succinctly, the main theme, which is friendship, revolves around two main characters, Gilgamesh and Enkidu. The elusive coalition between Enkidu and Gilgamesh, their fateful destinies and eventual epiphanies broaden the societal apprehension of the elements/value of friendship as expounded in the next discussion.
According to the poet, friendship occurs between people who have similar personalities, behavior and bodily features. Gilgamesh is the King of Uruk and beside his physical attributes, he has a domineering character that portrays him as an oppressive ruler. For instance, Foster writes that, “Gilgamesh does not leave a girl to her mother (?)/There is no rival who can raise his weapon against him” (Foster I 26-32).
Due to his oppressive nature, the gods decide to intervene by creating a man who had similar strength as that of Gilgamesh. Enkidu lives in a forest with wild animals. Physically, he had a hairy body but lived and ate like wild animals. Therefore, for Enkidu to behave like a human being Gilgamesh tricked him with a harlot through sex leading to his expulsion from the animal kingdom. Thus, the first friendship Enkidu experienced was between the harlot and him.
However, the harlot’s move was as per the king’s directions. Intuitively, Enkidu’s friendship with the harlot not only makes him to loss his wild character but also introduces him into the sin of fornication. Therefore, the harlot betrays the first friendship Enkidu experienced with the human beings. The epic elaborates friendship as a mutual relationship, which may change an individual’s life forever. For instance, before meeting Shamhat, Enkidu new nothing about sex and other food stuffs like bread and beer.
Nevertheless, within a short encounter with Shamhat his lifestyle, character and personality takes an opposite direction an event the poet focuses on to highlight the theme of friendship. Consequently, to establish a solid relationship (friendship) an individual has to sacrifice/give up some practices in his/her life, as it is the case with Enkidu.
However, the pernicious encounter between Enkidu and Gilgamesh sets a strong bond for their friendship. It is on a wedding day and as it is the norm, Gilgamesh decides to deflower the girl before she starts her marriage life. Unfortunately, Enkidu interrupts the ordeal and a fight erupts between the two. Surprisingly, none of them wins the fight and the two enemies settle on becoming friends when Enkidu declares “Enlil has destined for you the kingship over the people/ they kissed each other and became friends” (Foster II 56-57).
Gilgamesh and Enkidu embark on a close friendship that motivates them to face any danger in the world. Analytically, friendship can start in unclear circumstances like fights or quarrels, as it is the case with Enkidu and Gilgamesh. Furthermore, Ninsun who is Gilgamesh’s mother welcomes Enkidu as one of the family members. The incredible strength that both Gilgamesh and Enkidu had was the origin of their friendship. Coupled with bravery and strength the two set out to fight Humbaba who is a fierce and destructive god.
Luckily, they kill Humbaba and later on the Bull of Heaven. Their actions evolve into misery because the gods are angry and ready to avenge. Decisively, either Enkidu or Gilgamesh has to die and the move leaves the two friends in a dilemma. Thus, friends can either build or destroy you. Due to their friendship, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become over confident to the extent of interfering with the spiritual world.
In addition to Enkidu experiencing bad dreams, whose life is in danger between the two friends? The gods decide to kill the two friends for disobeying them. Surprisingly, they pick on Enkidu because of his inability to accomplish his mission. Fatefully, Enkidu becomes sick and dies within a short time leaving Gilgamesh alone. Moreover, Gilgamesh is to face the wrath of the gods soon after through death.
Faced with grief and a bleak future, Gilgamesh mourns the death of Enkidu. As a friendship gesture, he calls on all the living and the non-living things to mourn Enkidu’s death. For instance, he says, “May the men of the mountains and hills mourn you/ May the… /May the pasture lands shriek in mourning as if it were your mother” (Foster VIII 6-7).
Furthermore, he calls mountains, rivers, hills, trees and wild animals’ among other things to mourn Enkidu’s death. The death of a friend is like a blow to one’s life an experience Gilgamesh is unable to overcome. The poet is enlightening the society that although friendship is a temporary act it is vital for company, motivation and encouragement.
Moreover, the death of a close friend may lead to both psychological and emotional torture. For example, Gilgamesh resorts to wearing wild animal skins and abandons his kingdom. Unfortunately, his death was also on the way and besides dying, he is to experience the wrath of the gods while in the underworld. He embarks on a journey to research on death, which he unravels that it is the destiny for all human beings.
Gilgamesh resorts to changing his character before his death because according to the gods he has a few days to live. He laments his lose by saying “I have not secured any good deed for myself (Foster XI 107). Nevertheless, critical analysis of the events shows that the appearance of Enkidu and his subsequent friendship with Gilgamesh changes his life. If Enkidu had not died then the friendship between the two of them could end up disastrous because their partnership motivated them to face the gods.
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The encounter between Gilgamesh and Enkidu becomes a solution to the problems of the people of Uruk. After the death of Enkidu Gilgamesh unknowingly, establishes a good relationship with his subjects. The friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu had both a positive and negative impact. Their friendship motivated them to be disobedient to both their elders and the gods, which lead to their deaths.
In brief, the epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem that elaborates gives a vivid description on the impact of friendship. The poet uses the encounter of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, their fight and eventual agreement to build on the theme of friendship. In addition, the death of Enkidu and the grieving of Gilgamesh with the eventual change of his character also highlight the theme of friendship.
Finally, due to their actions, death befalls both of them but Enkidu dies first. Therefore, through Shamhat and more so Gilgamesh and Enkidu the poem implicitly shows the impact of friends in an individual’s life.
Foster, Benjamin.The Epic of Gilgamesh. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. Print