Review of the Epic of Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh Lived Like a Man

How to begin? The story of Gilgamesh, a legend, a myth, or a parable gives us a vehicle to examine how we view our own humanity. In the beginning we see the arrogance and the abruptness of a young king. He was brash, egotistical, and was immortal, in the sense, that no man, woman or child can tame the shrew. He felt superior to all. He filled his days and nights with self-indulgence. He was vain yet happy. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, and there was no one to oppose him. But his life was solitary, albeit filled with many pleasures of the flesh. He was a man, after all, who was two-thirds god and had achieved many feats through battle and learned the secrets of the gods that endowed him.

These feats made him legendary, and for a brief time the “darkness of mankind” ; an oppressor. He devalued his people; he violated their happiness, and usurped their own personal authority, because of his god-like power, and inequitable foes. His wants went unchallenged. No one could fathom his tempest passions, nor denied his desires. Gilgamesh thirsted for one as great as he—a companion. This need for a companion, to share his glory, left him as an empty vessel.

In comparison, the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” in some sense, can be reprised within the chronicles of democracy. In the view of the 1990’s, when the “end of history” tag line signaled the conclusion to the war for liberty. Democracy won. Communism failed. And the Western-American culture had prevailed leaving America as the lone super power willing to impart its might. A vacuum was born. And boredom followed the democracies of the planet. Old grudges that had been suppressed by the communism erupted. Western nations, especially the United States, were left to “police” the globe. In many ways, the US was the Gilgamesh of the 20th century, in that, some viewed America’s power as corruptive and bullying. Its culture, America’s, was considered crude, boorish, and wanton. The people of America seem to represent decadence; it had lost its opposite.

The United States’ counterpart equal in strength was the Soviet Union, at least in appearance, and its opposite in philosophy in how to tend to humanity. Nonetheless, the United States citizenry seemed oblivious to the global citizenry. Lost in its own pleasure and arrogance; living for only the moment, shorted sighted, the US thought that its tranquility was going to be immortalized.

The US like Gilgamesh needed an equal. He, Gilgamesh, found it in Enkidu. Desirable, beautified yet initially untamed by civilization. The “noble savage,” Enkidu, lived with nature, and was naïve in the works of man, but equitable in strength and arrogance. Gilgamesh had found a companion. The “wild beasts at water-holes,” of the forest had befriended Enkidu teaching him the ways of nature and he ran with them; he was brethren to the beasts. He knew not of sin and the ways of man and woman. The loss of Enkidu’s innocence and naivety resulted of being shunned by the animals because of the treachery of one man; who later became his companion. His comrade’s dream, vision of Gilgamesh’s, took away the happiness of Enkidu, but their love of one another replaced it.

In Gilgamesh, this love subdued his passion-of-the-moment and was transformed by Enkidu into “com-passion” . This companionship and compassion led to the feminization of Gilgamesh.

He, Gilgamesh, became the “source of light” for his people, and ultimately, Enkidu’s kinship led to the happiness of a king. In the case of Enkidu, however, the companionship of the king and the temple priestess; in the king, he found a love unfettered in competition and male bondage, in his woman, the wisdom of civilization. Yet Enkidu was lost without his brethren, the animals of the forest, his strength which was founded in nature later became his folly. Enkidu seeped into melancholy like a caged animal, but with Gilgamesh he found his salvation in the glory and the adventure for the conquest of the nature from which he was born. They together slay the “Bull of Heaven,” the protector of the forest, “Humbaba” bringing modernization of humanity to the great forest of cedar.

In parallel, Great Britain and the United States were similar to the epic poem. In bondage, the two countries wish to bring light to humanity, yet their ego and moralizing often left the planet cold. But the role of Enkidu, Great Britain, America’s companion, only tempered the US proselytizing. Britain survives, while Enkidu died for his loyalty; and the king grieved for his loss of his friend.
Nevertheless, the United States friendly attempts to democratize the planet have been a long arduous process, both in the cold war and for Fukuyama’s “end of history.” Thus, the latest round of “history” finds the globe embroiled between the choices of “active” libertarianisms and “active” theologies.

In my own personal life, I have come across many crossroads, and like Gilgamesh, I have found a life long friendship, who has taught me the meaning of compassion.

My best friend and I met several years ago, while I was working at local gas-convenience store. I have watched and envied him as he built his family and a successful career. He inspired me and I learned from him the true meaning of loyalty and empathy. And for the king, in the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” in the beginning, he was a chaotic adolescent, but by the end of his life he became a man. Gilgamesh learned that life was ephemeral but true immortality is found in the lives one touches.

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