Literature: The Epic of Gilgamesh
A legend from Ancient Mesopotamia
, the Epic of Gilgamesh
is the earliest surviving heroic epic
and is very much Older Than Dirt
Gilgamesh is the super strong
, ruggedly handsome
, two-thirds god and one-third mortal
king of Uruk, and he is bored. He spends his free time sleeping with every new bride on their wedding night
, which their husbands are not too happy about. But he's the king, and he has no equal, so he can do what he wants. The people of Uruk beg the gods to provide Gilgamesh with something better to do. The gods decide that what the restless, powerful, adventure-hungry
hero needs is a best friend and Worthy Opponent
. So they have the goddess Aruru create a wild man named Enkidu, who lives among the animals, frightening local farmers and hunters. One of them convinces a temple harlot, Shamhat, to make a civilized man
out of Enkidu by seducing him. After a week-long sex session, Shamhat convinces Enkidu to come back with her to Uruk and learn how to live like a proper human, promising she will find him a companion so that he'll never be lonely again. He accepts.
So Gilgamesh and Enkidu become inseparable friends
(after beating each other to a pulp in the streets
). To celebrate, Gilgamesh decides they should go on an adventure to a sacred cedar forest, defeat the guardian monster Humbaba, and cut down the giant cedars. Why? Why not? You only live once
. Against the advice of everybody
, they go through with it, and win.
Almost as soon as they get home, the pair are faced with their next adventure when Gilgamesh turns down the goddess Ishtar's offer of marriage, noting the unsavoury fates that befell her previous lovers
, and she retaliates by unleashing the terrible Bull of Heaven on Uruk. The two heroes manage to slay it, something the gods aren't too happy about, and they decide Enkidu must die in return.
His friend's death only serves to awaken Gilgamesh's own fear of dying — curse those one-third mortal genes! There's only one thing to do — go to the ends of the Earth and find the secret of eternal life. His advisors tell him that's crazy and that he should get over it. The Scorpion Men who guard the underground tunnel that the sun uses to reach the other side of the Earth every night tell him to turn back and get over it. Siduri, keeper of the inn at the end of the tunnel, tells him to stop causing himself so much stress and enjoy life while he has the chance
and get over his obsession. Utanapishtim, the survivor of the great flood who was made immortal, tells Gilgamesh immortality isn't for humans and he should get over his crazy wish of living forever. Sensing the pattern yet?
Utanapishtim offers Gilgamesh a test: if Gilgamesh can stay awake for seven nights, he will give Gilgamesh the immortality he wants. Gilgamesh falls asleep almost immediately — because of Utanapishtim's magic, it is implied — then lies and claims to have stayed awake, thus failing the true purpose of Utanapishtim's test
. But Utanapishtim's wife convinces him to be nice and give the seeker something
for his trouble. So he tells Gilgamesh where to find a plant that will make whoever eats it young again. The good news is he finds it. The bad news is he takes a break on the way home to bathe, and the plant is eaten by a snake instead. Tough luck. Looks like Gilgamesh the Not So Invincible After All
has to come to terms with death and content himself instead with the beauty and majesty of his mighty kingdom — which will
be remembered forever.
The Epic of Gilgamesh contains examples of: