The story of Gilgamesh is one of the most ancient texts ever recovered, and is considered by many to be the oldest recorded story in human history. In the tale of Gilgamesh, the namesake character is a powerful and cruel warlord develops a rivalry with the Gods themselves, and eventually finds resolution and solace in the arms of a woman that he falls in love with. This sample essay chronicling the role of love in the ancient tale is one of the many products offered by the custom writing services at Ultius.
Essay on Gilgamesh
The Epic of Gilgamesh is comprised of a set of epic poems and is quite possibly the oldest recorded story in existence. Although the original authors remain anonymous, the compilation process that created the most common version of the text is attributed to Sin-lequi-unninni, sometime in the middle Babylonian period.
The epic tells the tale of a tyrant king named Gilgamesh, who is described as being two thirds god and one third man. Gilgamesh is both powerful and cruel, taking brides wherever he so chooses while using forced labor for construction in his magnificent city Uruk. The gods, hearing the prayers of the distraught citizens of Uruk, create a wild man named Enkidu to reign in the tyrant king. Gilgamesh and Enkidu clash and find themselves near equals in strength. They become great friends and set out on a variety of epic quests, where they eventually challenge the gods themselves. Angered by such disrespect, the gods decide to kill Enkidu. Through a terrible illness Enkidu falls lifeless, leaving Gilgamesh heartbroken and frightened by his own mortality.
Life without Enkidu
Driven by his anxiety, Gilgamesh sets out to find Utnapishtim, from whom Gilgamesh hopes to gain eternal life. Near the conclusion of his journey, Gilgamesh meets a tavern keeper by the name of Siduri. Siduri tells Gilgamesh to seek the joys in mortal life, and assists him in his quest when she finds Gilgamesh will not be dissuaded. Gilgamesh eventually fails in his quest for true immortality. On his return home, Gilgamesh comes to accept Siduri’s words, and finds solace in the beautiful city he has created, finally understanding the didactic of life and death. The story champions love, in direct contrast with pure lust, as the catalyst for great achievement and fulfillment in one’s life.
Lust throughout the Epic
Throughout the text, love is made distinctly separate from lust in order to define love as the most beneficial emotion in one’s life. Before the arrival of Enkidu, Gilgamesh would mercilessly ravage the women of Uruk, be it
“the daughter of the warrior, the bride of the young man, the gods kept hearing their complaints” (Sandars).
Enkidu is the foil that counters Gilgamesh’s vicious lust. In Enkidu’s earliest stages, he was not yet ready to face the human world where Gilgamesh resided. It took lust, in the form of the harlot Shamhat, to humanize Enkidu and prepare him for his confrontation with Gilgamesh. Although the sexual encounter brought knowledge,
“Enkidu was diminished, his running was not as before” (Sandars).
Enkidu was separated from nature by the experience, bringing clear costs and benefits to lustful encounters. Both Gilgamesh and Enkidu enjoyed purely sexual encounters only in a passing fashion. Gilgamesh hardly described his encounters with women, and Enkidu, despite the assistance Shamhat provided, quickly forgot her as the story progressed. Neither of the two heroes got any sort of long lasting emotions from their sexual encounters. Lust was shown to be a means to an end, an important part of human society, but not a source of true fulfillment.
Companionship as a replacement for lust
Enkidu’s companionship stood in direct confrontation to Gilgamesh’s generally heterosexual lust. In order to prevent Gilgamesh from raping another man’s bride:
“Enkidu blocked the entry to the marital chamber, and would not allow Gilgamesh to be brought in. They grappled with each other at the entry to the marital chamber, in the street they attacked each other, the public square of the land. The doorposts trembled and the walls shook” (Sandars).
The friendship that arose from the tussle was directly born from a denial of Gilgamesh’s insistence on a slew of purely lust driven encounters. After the confrontation, Gilgamesh had no desire to continue his forceful encounters with the women of Uruk. He was no longer interested in such brief, uninspiring endeavors. Unlike Gilgamesh’s previous conquests, the battle with Enkidu was difficult and required Gilgamesh to put forth effort and determination.
Platonic love emerges
Throughout the Epic, the partnership between Gilgamesh and Enkidu gave Gilgamesh strength and fortitude beyond the vast amount he had previously possessed. Their love was based on a mutual respect for each other’s strength, and contained a two sided dynamic that had never existed in Gilgamesh’s previous relations. With Enkidu by his side Gilgamesh did not fear death. He even joked about it, saying to Enkidu
“now you are afraid of death–what has become of your bold strength! I will go in front of you, and your mouth can call out: ‘Go on closer, do not be afraid!’ Should I fall, I will have established my fame. (They will say:) ‘It was Gilgamesh who locked in battle with Humbaba the Terrible!’” (Sandars).
Gilgamesh’s boastings arose from his joy in finding a companion of equal strength and mettle. After Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh’s opinions on mortality changed drastically. He set out a solo quest simply to contain his fears about his own inevitable demise. Part of Gilgamesh’s new found fear came from seeing a man of equal strength find an untimely death. The other portion came from losing the man Gilgamesh loved most in the world. All the bravery that Enkidu had given him disappeared, leaving Gilgamesh cowering in fear of an end he had joked about not long ago.
Lust within love
Although some lust was always contained within love, the story focused on the power of love by portraying minor lusts in a loving relationship. Gilgamesh and Enkidu were quite affectionate, constantly
“taking each other by the hand” when they “walked to the Egalmah” (Sandars) or blacksmith. After their initial battle “they kissed each other and became friends” (Sandars).
Although signs of affection vary in meaning and importance, the wording was contrary to the style used when Shamhat
“performed for the primitive the task of womankind. His lust groaned over her; for six days and seven nights Enkidu stayed aroused, and had intercourse with the harlot until he was sated with her charms” (Sandars).
Mentions of affection between the two men were lighter and generally brief. There was no force in the descriptions, and no particular outcome from them. Rather than being a means to an end, these affectionate moments were nothing but small signs of the love between the two men. In a premonitory dream, Gilgamesh finds a meteorite that symbolizes Enkidu, and he
“loved it and embraced it as a wife” (Sandars).
Love between a man and wife contained lustful, and at times dysphemic implications, but these implications were certainly different from those present in the forceful acts Gilgamesh was committing.
The power of love
The power of love was most evident for Gilgamesh, whose dramatic change in lifestyle was a direct result of the addition of love, and the removal of pure lust. It also acts as one of the moralistic qualities of the Epic. Love was often directly contrasted with lust, in order to magnify the benefits of a loving relationship. Both Gilgamesh and Enkidu had brief sexual relations prior to their encounter. As the story progressed, the sexual encounters fell meaningless when compared to the achievements of their friendship.
Love was shown to actively strengthen Gilgamesh, giving him the ability to brave even the fear of death. It motivated Gilgamesh to accomplish great deeds, to move beyond the confines of his kingdom and the repetitive lifestyle he was living. When Enkidu was killed by the anger of the gods Gilgamesh was truly heartbroken. Gilgamesh changed in a negative way, and these unfortunate changes were just as powerful in portraying the massive effect Enkidu had on Gilgamesh. Unlike lust, love was not as heavily described by the wording and styling of the story. Lust was made to be concrete, simplifying it and making it often nothing more than a means to an end. Love was left in less defined state, often defined not by literal words in the text but by the actions of the characters engaged in it. The Epic of Gilgamesh, in this way, can be viewed as one of the earliest commentaries upon the importance of finding love. Throughout the poem, love and lust were always entwined, and love always prevailed.
Sandars, N.K. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Penguin Group USA, 1960. Print.