Gilgamesh and the 21 Century Hero Essay

A hero is someone who tries the best to help everyone and will do everything in his or her power to help out another person. The term hero means different things to different people. Today many people believe that a hero is a person who can accomplish what others cannot or a person who puts themselves on the line for the other people. Men, women and children can all be heroes if they truly feel in their hearts the need to help others in even the smallest ways. In our modern world heroes are defined in so many ways.

Anyone can be a hero, a best friend, a devoted mother/father, a teacher, etc. On the other hand, in the older days, before laws and technology, heroes were the men who fought against evil things, who rescue damsels in distress; they were the manly men, the king’s knights, god like creatures, brave warriors. As criteria for any epic story a hero must be involved in the story. Furthermore, these heroes had to meet also specific criteria. The definition of an ancient time hero is very different than a hero today yet in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh meets many of the traits in today’s hero.

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Gilgamesh, is much like the heroes of today he achieves many acts of skill, which makes him famous and fulfill the requirements todays hero by being consistently relating to a human society and demonstrates immortality, friendship, grief, ect. It is human nature for people to want to excel in life and strive to make a name in this world for themselves such as Gilgamesh strives to do. Gilgamesh is a portrayal of people and how they act out of human nature, he like many of us, does not want his existence to end when he leaves this world.

He is not content with what he has, good looks, money, and power and desires more in life. In the story of Gilgamesh we, as people, can relate to this. There are similarities between Gilgamesh’s journey and our own journey through life as well as the heroes of today. Gilgamesh is constantly searching and going on adventures, he searches for these adventures because he wants to make the most out of life. Just being king and never leaving the city is boring for him. He is searching for something worth living for. Just as we cannot live everyday doing nothing.

Gilgamesh and all of us were born with the desire to explore and live dangerously because the feeling of adventure and adrenaline helps us to believe that we are truly “living” life to the fullest. Gilgamesh and Enkidu do many courage’s acts such as cutting down a great cedar forest to build a great monument to the gods. However to accomplish this they must kill the Guardian of the Cedar Forest, the great demon, Humbaba the Terrible. Enkidu, along with the elders of the city, have serious reservations about such an mission but in the end Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the terrible demon.

As Gilgamesh cleans himself and his blood stained weapons, Ishtar, the goddess of love and beauty, takes notice of his beauty and offers to become his wife she tells him he will be “with golden wheels and fittings of gemstones”, she tries to convince him to be her husband but instead Gilgamesh refuses with insults, listing all her mortal lovers and describing their horrific fates that were caused by her (Tablet VI/45 line 11). Ishtar is furious at the denial. She returns to heaven and begs her father, Anu, to let her have the Bull of Heaven to wreak vengeance on Gilgamesh and his city.

Anu reluctantly gives in, and the Bull of Heaven is sent down to terrorize the people of Uruk, and Gilgamesh and Enkidu, work together to slay the mighty bull. That following night Enkidu dreams that the chief gods met in a council and had decided that someone should be punished for the killing of Humbaba and the Bull of the Heavens. That someone is he, Enkidu commends himself to Gilgamesh and tells him of his worries. “The day he had the dream, [his strength] ran out” and after suffering terribly for twelve days, he finally dies. (Tablet VIII/55 line 173).

After Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh lets himself go, he says “I will let my hair grow matted, I will put on lion skin and roam the steppe! ” he is lost without his friend (Tablet VIII/57 line 79). He then comes to the realization that one day he too will withstand the same fate as his friend. In his search for everlasting life, we realize that being two-thirds god was not enough for Gilgamesh. He wants to live forever so that no one would ever forget him. He sets out to find Utnapishtim the only mortal that the gods have granted eternal life in effort to find the secret of immortality.

After a long dangerous journey through the land of darkness, through the garden of the gods, and across the waters of death, Gilgamesh arrives a shore where Utnapishtim lives. Gilgamesh recounts the story of Enkidu’s death to Utnapishtim and how he came to his shore. He asks Utnapishtim to tell him the secret of eternal life. Utnapishtim advises Gilgamesh that “when the gods created mankind, they established death for mankind” it is a part of life and nature (Tablet X/65 line 80). Gilgamesh pursues the issue further until Utnapishtim recounts how he received immortality and reveals the greatest secret hidden from humans.

He tells his story of how he was told by the gods to build a huge arch to save human kind from the flood. Utnapishtim offers Gilgamesh a chance at immortality. If Gilgamesh can stay awake for six days and seven nights, he, too, will become immortal. Gilgamesh accepts these conditions and sits down on the shore; the instant he sits down he falls asleep. So Utnapishtim orders him to clean himself up, put on his royal garments again, and return to Uruk where he belongs. Just as Gilgamesh is departing, however, Utnapishtim’s wife convinces him to tell Gilgamesh about a miraculous plant that restores youth.

Gilgamesh finds the plant and takes it with him, planning to share it with the elders of Uruk. But a snake steals the, as the serpent slithers away, it sheds its skin and becomes young again. When Gilgamesh returns to Uruk, he is empty-handed but reconciled at last to his mortality. He knows that he can’t live forever but that humankind will. Now he sees that the city he had ruined in his grief and terror is a magnificent, enduring achievement, the closest thing to immortality to which a mortal can aspire. Gilgamesh has dicovered his own conscious, his own choices make him more humane, and he has changed his original way of living.

Gilgamesh isn’t the only person who searches for immortality. The desire for everlasting life or immortality has been the first and the oldest quest of mankind. At the beginning of time, man was designed to live forever. When God created Adam, he created him to dwell on the earth and to fill it with his offspring’s. At no time was he told that this was a temporary arrangement. He was to live forever unless he ate from one certain tree. If he ate from that tree, then he would die. We are then left with several questions, if he had not eaten from that tree, would he still be alive?

If he was meant to live forever, was that desire infused in him? And as his descendants, was the desire to live forever infused in each of us as well? That desire is in all mankind. From the beginning of time, man has searched for the secret of immortality. People have looked for magical potions and searched for countless ways and spent fortunes in order to find the miracle that was to extend their lives, to turn back the clock, to keep them youthful. In this aspect, our hero, Gilgamesh, is no different. Gilgamesh’s life is somewhat similar to those who go great distance for immortality.

In many stories there is a search for the “Fountain of Youth. ” By drinking this water you would have everlasting life. Fear of death and desire to live forever has driven people to do all they can so that they can extend their existence to as long as possible. This is one of the major themes of Gilgamesh and one of the reasons it is an epic. This epic clearly portrays themes that are consistently relevant throughout history and today. Human rarely change in their nature and therefore some aspects of humanity will never be absent. Humans will always fear death because it will always remain an unknown.

And people will always fear the unknown because of possible harm. In conclusion, “The Epic of Gilgamesh” is a story about the meaning of being a human. Like most people of today Gilgamesh is not discover that meaning until the later part of his life. It is sad to think that most of the people in our contemporary world are too caught up being “successful” that they stop searching for a purpose in life aside from themselves. In the end Gilgamesh comes to accept his fate. He begins to appreciate what he has, rulership over a beautiful city. He stops worrying about what the future may hold.

In the end, none of us can know what the future holds, but we can appreciate and live for the day, and that is what makes Gilgamesh alike the heroes of today, he saw the flaws and decides to eliminate them.

Works Cited

The Norton Anthology, World Literature. Gilgamesh. Shorter Second Edition Volume 1. Editor, Simon, Peter. New York 2009. (Tablet VI/45 line 11). The Norton Anthology, World Literature. Gilgamesh. (Tablet VIII/55 line 173). The Norton Anthology, World Literature. Gilgamesh. (Tablet VIII/57 line 79). The Norton Anthology, World Literature. Gilgamesh (Tablet X/65 line 80).