The poem offers general information about the king of Uruk known as Gilgamesh, who is portrayed to be more of a god nature than a human being. It is among the earliest pieces of literature to be written, and according to the poem, Gilgamesh built a prosperous kingdom with towers and cities that were surrounded by high walls. On top of having the godlike attributes, he was a cruel leader. He oppressed his subjects and raped women to meet his sexual desires. Besides, his administration was characterized by forced labor. After several pleas from the people, god finally answered their prayers and sended an equal to him by the name of Enkidu.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu become best friends after a fierce battle between them and start an adventure in the forest. They, however, make the gods angry when they cut the forbidden tree, and they have to be punished. Enkidu dies, and Gilgamesh is heartbroken and begins a quest to find Utnapishtim, who can provide him with information on how he can avoid death and bring his friend back. Although he finds a plant that can help him become young again, the serpent slithers away with it, and he returns home empty-handed. The story ends with him acknowledging that although he is mortal, humanity will, however, remain forever. The fundamental themes of the poem “Epic of Gilgamesh” that this essay is going to examine is relationship and death; the paper, therefore, looks at how they interrelate in the general development of the story.
In the “Epic of Gilgamesh”, love is seen as the main motivation for establishing the relationship. Before meeting Enkidu, Gilgamesh was a bully and a tyrant who paid little attention to the needs of his people. However, because the two are matched regarding their abilities, they find a common ground to establish a friendship, or better to say, a relationship. As a result of this relationship, he can identify with some of the needs of his people. The extent of their friendship is seen in the fourth tablet, which begins with Gilgamesh taking a journey to the Cedar woods, being very well aware of the potential danger, and the two fighting the Humbaba together. It is this love that they have towards each other that transforms Gilgamesh into a better man than what he was before. However, following the death of Enkidu, Gilgamesh suffers deep grief and terror, and this, as a result, impels him to move and look for answers connected with immortality. This incidence shows that relationship is a necessity.
While it is evident that Gilgamesh symbolizes a civilized society, Enkidu, on the other hand, is a reflection of his image because he has the same abilities and appearance. Gilgamesh seems to be a semi-divine king, while his close friend has basic attributes that are associated with the natural world. Unlike Gilgamesh, he never encountered a person of the opposite sex; he is enormously strong, eats grass and runs with the wild animals. He is the true depiction of an innocent human who was not subjected to any vices. His lack of civilization is shown by the fact that before Gilgamesh intervention, he depended on the land and was only familiar with the practices and ways of nature and paid no attention to what the others considered civilization.
In the poem, it is evident that the simple pleasures that are provided by love, friendship, and civilized life are responsible for making an individual’s life worth living. Through the major character of Enkidu, one can have a good understanding of how the society understands civilization. For the people of Mesopotamia, civilization means living alongside other men in a rather urban environment. This is what is happening during Enkidu’s humanization process. Enkidu is presented as a wild man who was only created by the gods to serve as a distraction for Gilgamesh so that he could no longer continue oppressing his people. Their relationship is established and strengthened when they undertake a similar quest that, in turn, displeasure the gods. When Enkidu becomes ill as a result of his punishment for killing the Bull of Heaven, he dies, and Gilgamesh feels deep grief. This is when he seems to rebel against death. From then on, he becomes aware of the fact that it is inevitable. Additionally, the broken relationship followed by the death of his best friend causes the distressed reaction of Gilgamesh.
One attribute of death in the poem is that it is an inevitable fact about human life. Gilgamesh learns this, and although he seeks immortality, his wishes do not come true. Following Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh is bitter because unlike the gods who are immortal, he can die even despite the fact that he has godlike attributes. Additionally, after Enkidu dies, he stops sleeping or bathing, and this is when he realizes that to become immortal he must seek the help of Utnapishtim. In the story, he is the only immortal man and was granted this gift after surviving the great flood. Upon meeting Utnapishtim, he is challenged to stay for a week without sleeping, and if he does it, he will have his answer. The fact that Gilgamesh does not manage to do it is an indication that truly, death is inevitable and in one way or another, people always meet their death. Therefore, it is better to accept it rather than live in denial.
Also, in the story, one can see that Mesopotamians believe in an afterlife. According to Gilgamesh, the dead usually spend their time dead, and it is because of this that he seeks to evade it. According to Utnapishtim’s account of the flood, Mesopotamian gods are associated with cosmic powers and natural occurrences or phenomena, and unlike humans, they are immortal. However, even though human beings are certain that they will die, one thing is obvious from Gilgamesh’s experience: humanity will continue to live. The lesson learned from Gilgamesh experience is about life itself rather than death. The gods play an important role in determining who should live and who should die; this is evident when both Gilgamesh and Enkidu acknowledge that the gods are dangerous for those who are mortal. They further state that the gods are always pleased by flattery and obedience. The fact that the gods can just terminate lives to teach one a lesson serves to show that they are the ones planning the future of the mortals.
Another very important factor affecting the relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu is the culture and nature. The two main characters can be contrasted with each other. Gilgamesh initially is arrogant; he is the king, and, as a result, all the powers is bestowed upon him. Additionally, he is physically gifted and is also very beautiful. However, he is naughty and does not consider the needs of the citizens. He continues to be like this until Enkidu comes and changes the situation. Enkidu is used to the wild and often runs with the wild beasts. However, after being civilized, he forms an inseparable bond with Gilgamesh. Additionally, relationship in the poem can also be explored from the women’s perspective. It is evident that the then Mesopotamian society was characterized by male chauvinism. Women were greatly ignored when it came to important decision making and factors affecting the society. One of the characters of Gilgamesh was that he used his maids to satisfy his sexual desires. This shows that women in that society served as tools for satisfying sexual desires, and there was not much regard and respect for them.
Another situation where the role of women is undervalued in the poem is when after Gilgamesh dreams that Enkidu arrived, he sends a courtesan with the aim to initiate him so that he can stop running with the animals and become civilized. She teaches him what is described as the women art, and additionally introduces him to sexual lessons besides instructing him how to eat, drink, wear clothes and bath. The result is that since then, Enkidu becomes civilized and is changed forever. To an extent, this can also be interpreted as a way of the king, who is now determined to provide his services to his people, being changed. The friendship bond between Gilgamesh and Enkidu is a form of a homosocial bond. In other words, they are faithful to one another, and despite the challenges that they come across, they remain united until Enkidu dies. Their relationship makes their engagement with women virtually disappear.
In conclusion, among the themes in “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, the themes of relationship and death are the central ones. These two themes are the ones that shape the plot. At the center of the themes are the major characters: Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Gilgamesh managed to build a prosperous kingdom; however, he is described as a harsh and ruthless leader who pays very little or no attention to the needs and demands of his people. Enkidu, on the other hand, is presented as a reflection of Gilgamesh’s image. Nevertheless, despite the physical similarities, he never encountered a representative of the opposite sex. He is enormously strong, eats grass and runs with the wild animals. After Gilgamesh sends a courtesan who introduces him to sexual lessons and shows how to eat, drink, wear clothes and bath, he is considered a civilized man, and since then, his friendship with Gilgamesh reaches its pick.
Love is seen as the main motivation for Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s relationship. The author states that Gilgamesh is able to identify himself with his friend because of the shared attributes, and when the gods punish Enkidu to death, the king suffers deep sorrow and is forced to start a journey to seek the answer to immortality. His actions in search of immortality show that pleasures that are provided by love, friendship, and civilized life are responsible for making an individual’s life worth living, and because this love and friendship was taken away from him, he believes that he can only achieve pleasure upon obtaining the eternal life. However, after he encounters Utnapishtim, he discovers that death is inevitable, and in one way or another, people always meet it.