Epic of Gilgamesh
The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient and classic example of the hero’s journey. In this story, the hero, Gilgamesh, goes through a journey, which, ultimately, becomes a quest for immortality. For even though Gilgamesh is two-thirds god, it is the one-third of him that is human which makes this story relatable and timeless.
Gilgamesh is described as “perfect” (2), and he certainly appears to have internalized this into his own ego, as is most evident by him not even comprehending his own mortality. However, we also see this in his harsh—although truthful—comments towards Ishtar, and even at the end when he tries to deny having fallen asleep. Therefore, Gilgamesh truly begins his heroic journey when he sees Enkidu die. It is noteworthy too, that Gilgamesh “would not allow him to be buried until a maggot fell out of his nose” (37). This showcases Gilgamesh’s reluctance to accept death, as mere evidence of it is not enough for him; he needs overwhelming, irrefutable evidence. Enkidu’s death is Gilgamesh’s call to adventure, the adventure being the thematic quest for immortality. Gilgamesh hesitates to accept the call, but the maggot is enough to convince him.
Society of the Machine
When a power hungry robot named Sudokus tries to take control of the galaxy, Earth becomes the last safe haven. It is then up to the humans, and what else is left of the rebellion throughout the solar system, to try to halt Sudokus’s progress. But Sudokus won’t easily be stopped, as he is fighting for more than imperial gains. He is also fighting to preserve his immortality.
Follow Leon’s journey as he attempts to save himself and his planet from being forever ruled by a machine while simultaneously trying to answer the question of whether the corruption of a robot would be any worse than the corruption of the people in power on his own planet.
Society of the Machine
Next Up: The Odyssey
For the next few week's, I will be exploring the hero's journey as seen across various texts. This week obviously centered on The Epic of Gilgamesh. Next week, I will post a response to The Odyssey, an Epic tale about how a soldier, Odysseus, tries to find his way back home after the Trojan war.
As you follow along with these hubs, see if you what connections you can make, and what insights you get about the hero's journey. How much do you think the hero's journey is still used in today's works of art? Leave a comment down below.
Gilgamesh knows that Utnapishtim is immortal, and decides to seek him out, which is where he runs into the gatekeeper of his heroic journey. Urshanabi, the ferryman, fills this role in this story, as he requires Gilgamesh to get “300 punting poles each 60 cubits in length” to replace the otherwise necessary “stone things” Gilgamesh broke (40). When Gilgamesh completes this, he has crossed the first threshold (the only one in this case), and is now able to see Utnapishtim.
Utnapishtim may be immortal, but he himself does not truly understand why. The god Enlil wanted to wipe out humanity with a flood, but Ea decides to warn Utnapishtim, thus saving him and his wife, and after La criticizes Enlil, Enlil bestows Utnapishtim and his wife with immortality. Enlil says, “Previously Utanapishtim was a human being. But now let Utanapishtim and his wife become like us, the gods!” (48). Utnapishtim tell Gilgamesh that all his efforts to seek immortality have, ironically, shortened his life. Utnapishtim says, “You have toiled without cease, and what have you got! Through toil you wear yourself out, you fill your body with grief, your long lifetime you are bringing near (to a premature end)!” (42). However, afterwards, Utnapishtim agrees to try to help Gilgamesh, although the first task he gives him is impossible, as he says, “You must not lie down for six days and seven nights" (48). It is unclear is Utnapishtim believes Gilgamesh can complete this task, but, regardless, Gilgamesh falls asleep instantly. Utnapishtim does offer one more course for immortality in the form of a plant, but a snake steals the plant from Gilgamesh as soon as he retrieves it, leaving Gilgamesh to accept his mortality.
You seemed to say Gilgamesh's sense of invincibility was based on his godliness, but don't we all feel invincible?
My interpretation of the text and its relateability was undoubtedly tinged by my own personality. I was never one to think "that could never happen to me," although I know a lot of people, especially younger people, do, so you raise a good point there. As a result of my own thought processes, I interpreted Gilgamesh's inability to accept death as more a result of his godliness, although its still relatable because no one is born knowing about death, so Gilgamesh learns about it in much the same way children do. With all this said, the points you raise are perfectly valid, they just didn't cross my mind, because, for whatever reason, I never tended to think that way.
Yet, by the end, Gilgamesh completes his heroic journey through an epiphany. Gilgamesh realizes that he has achieved immortality by virtue of the “immortality” of the human culture. Granted, in modern times, people realize human civilization is not guaranteed, but to the ancient people it appears (at least by this story) that they believed humanity was guaranteed for eternity. Gilgamesh returns to Uruk and notes the foundation of the city, implying that it will last foerever by commenting “is not (even the core of) the brick structure of kiln-fired brick, and did not the Seven Sages themselves lay out its plan!” (51). By sharing this knowledge with Urshanabi, Gilgamesh has shared his boon of knowledge with humanity.
Gilgamesh learns that true immortality comes not from physical immortality, but from the immortality of ideas. In the modern world, a clear example of this is writers, who do not live forever, but whose books are passed down for countless generations. This same logic applies in almost any area. A scientific discovery does not grant physical immortality, but that scientific knowledge will never die, just like Uruk will “never die” (symbolically). This is why this story remains relevant in the modern world. It teaches about the immortality of ideas, and gives hope that even though each person may eventually die, they can still have a chance to leave a lasting impact and legacy on the world, as Gilgamesh did. Therefore, they should not waste their time seeking physical immortality, like Gilgamesh did, but instead, just focus on the more long lasting things, like ideas.
Epic of Gilgamesh
Carnahan, Wolf. "The Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh." Trans. Maureen G. Kovacs. 0 (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 19 May 2014. <http://www.sjsu.edu/people/cynthia.rostankowski/courses/119a/s4/The%20Epic%20of%20Gilgamesh.pdf>.
I am a writer. I have substantial experience in journalism, and my passion is for creative writing. When it comes to writing, I've dabbled in everything.
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