Gilgamesh is among the first literary writings in the world, addressing the society of Mesopotamia. Gilgamesh begins with the introduction of the king of Uruk, Gilgamesh, blessed by the gods with the strength to lead the people of the Sumerian culture; he is also the one with immense beauty. The people of Uruk however, are not pleased with his actions of sleeping with the women of Uruk and pray to god to create another king, equal to Gilgamesh. The gods answer their prayers by creating Enkidu who lives a natural life with wild animals in the forest. Gilgamesh sends a prostitute to tame him and make him learn human ways. Enkidu learns human functions and joins the people of Uruk, where he learns to assist local shepherds and trappers. Enkidu plays a crucial role of making Gilgamesh rethink his leadership positions. He is not created to replace Gilgamesh but to make him perform as expected. For instance, Enkidu gets into a fight with him for his custom of sleeping with a bride after a wedding, thus breaking the sacred of marriage. After the battle, Gilgamesh begins to consider Enkidu's advice and develops virtues of courage, humility and nobility. Enkidu becomes the voice of reason for the people of ancient Mesopotamia. Having managed to change the poor leadership of Gilgamesh, they become good friends that care for each other. The two work together for the good of the society. Enkidu offers him support in his plot of killing Humbaba and they become successful in the plan. However, due to the murder, they are cursed, and after an illness, Enkidu dies. Gilgamesh is lonely and devastated by the loss of his friend. He visits Utnapishtim and his wife, the survivors of the floods and asks them to bring back Enkidu. However, he does not manage to bring back Enkidu, and he eventually dies too. Gilgamesh is one of the ancient poems that address aspects of historical, artistic, and cultural themes of classical civilisation developed in the themes of the plot. For instance, cultural aspect presented through the people's way of life, characterised by belief in gods. This essay offers a literary analysis of "Gilgamesh," and how it connects artistic, philosophical, historical, and cultural themes of classical civilizations by use of themes of culture, death, and leadership.
The epic of Gilgamesh connects historical themes of first and classical civilization, through addressing the history of the people of ancient Mesopotamia and their form of leadership. In the past, the people were ruled by a king and led a simple way of life. The poem gives a history of the people of ancient Mesopotamia and the tale of the king of Uruk, his failures and achievements in leading the people. Kits Margo identifies the historical aspects narrated through the poem, by stating the tales that can give a picture of the nature of the ancient Mesopotamia. Gilgamesh is portrayed as a king with pride and power; the people respect him and work towards pleasing him. He abuses the people he rules and overworks them (kitts 50). Further, he uses women for his sexual satisfaction and takes advantage of the power given to him by the gods. He is proud and arrogant and uses his pride to attain favour from the people. "He walks around in the enclosure of Uruk like a wild bull he makes himself mighty, head raised. There is no rival, who can raise his weapon against him" (51-58). However, the people of Uruk are not pleased with his leadership and ask god to create another king who would be equal to Gilgamesh, the gods answer their prayers and create Enkidu, a competitor of Gilgamesh who later became friends. The creation of a king equal to Gilgamesh shows the aspect of leadership and power cannot be shared, since Gilgamesh does not want to lose his leadership to Enkidu. Civilization is marked when people do not want the leadership of an abusive leader who uses them for his gain. The fact that they can speak up and address their needs connects the historical aspect of civilization. Further, Enkidu transforms the way of the leadership of Gilgamesh. He prevents Gilgamesh from sleeping with a woman after a wedding, as was his custom. He also tells him off for abusing women and breaking the sacred bonds of marriage. After the fight, Gilgamesh changes for the better, he develops virtues such as humility and nobility, and this plays a role in good leadership. The changes adopted by Gilgamesh shows the aspects of first and classical civilization in ancient Mesopotamia. Gilgamesh also wants to make his people happy and proud of him, and in doing so, he kills Humbaba. This portrays changes in his leadership centred on the people. Gilgamesh uses his power and leadership position to show that he cares for his people. Also, when Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh is depressed and mourns the loss of his friend. He tries all he can to have him back, and this shows his change towards caring for other people and having a humanistic nature of friendship. At first, he was not friendly to Enkidu and they even engaged in a fight, but with time, they became great friends who helped each other in carrying out different battles.
Gilgamesh connects cultural themes to classical civilization. Every society has a specific culture that defines them and differentiates them from other societies. Gilgamesh portrays the society of ancient Mesopotamia is one deeply rooted in culture. They believe in gods and ask them for help. In the past women were not given top positions in many societies and this manifests itself in the society of ancient Mesopotamia, where men are given top positions, such as that of being kings. Women, on the other hand, are sexual objects used by men to acquire their sexual satisfaction. Gilgamesh sleeps with women, and this does not make Enkidu happy. Tigay Jeffrey on The evolution of Gilgamesh epic addresses the Sumerian culture. Tigah discusses aspects of culture, gender, and death. The men in the book are respected and upheld. When God creates an equal of Gilgamesh, a man is created showing the superiority of men in the culture. Women, on the other hand, are perceived as being emotional and therefore cannot lead. Women were not involved in the political sphere or the masculine military domain. For instance, Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, ruled aspects guided by emotion, hence portraying women as being overwhelmed by emotion (Tigay 340). Nature is another crucial aspect of culture addresses in the poem. People believe in nature in that Enkidu is created out of clay. Nature is also used to describe Enkidu's nature of living with wild animals. "Aruru washed her hands; she pinched off some clay and threw it into the wilderness. In the wilderness, she created valiant Enkidu, He knew neither people nor settled living but wore a garment like Sumukan. He ate grasses with the gazelles, and jostled at the watering hole with the animals; as with animals, his thirst was slaked with (mere) water" (83-93). Enkidu represents the ancient human who evolved from a primate. Gilgamesh sends a prostitute to make him adopt human ways, and this marks his evolution. He joins human and learns to help the shepherds in their work.
Death is another aspect that symbolises culture in Gilgamesh. In ancient Egypt, the Egyptians viewed death as transition to another world and not the end of life. As such, people believed that the dead lived in the next world. Gilgamesh portrays society that beliefs in transition to another world after death. He asks god to make him be with Enkidu in the next world. The society, also believes in the strange features of the underworld. The underworld is scary and seems like no one can exist in such a setting (Tigay 345). Enkidu tells of his dream about the underworld. "Then he ... turned me into a dove, so that my arms were feathered like a bird. Seizing me, he led me down to the House of Darkness. "The dwelling of Irkalla, to the House where those who enter do not come out, along the road of no return, to the House where those who dwell do without light, where dirt is their drink, their food is of clay, where, like a bird, they wear garments of feathers, and light cannot be seen, they dwell in the dark, and upon the door and bolt lies dust" (173-182). After Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh struggles with his sense of mortality and tries all ways possible to bring back his friend. However, he does not manage to do so. The people, therefore, believe that life can be brought back and those who have died can join the living in the next world. However, when Gilgamesh dies, the culture has undergone civilization, and they mourn the death of their king knowing that he will not come back and they will not have a king like him anymore. This shows that they have changed their beliefs about death and understood that when people die or go to the underworld, they do not return.
The Sumerian culture represents the artistic nature connected to first and classical civilization. Despite the fact that the poem is developed in the past, the setting relays an aspect of creativity in its artistic nature. In the past cities were surrounded by walls that marked boundaries and kept the society safe from its enemies. Every society therefore had its walls guarded and only those who had worthy reasons were allowed to visit, in fear of welcoming rivals. The city of Uriah was surrounded by a massive wall built on the orders of Gilgamesh, which protects the people from their enemies. This portrays the king's architectural abilities. "He carved on a stone stela all of his toils and built the wall of Uruk-Haven, the wall of the sacred Eanna Temple, the holy sanctuary. Look at its wall, which gleams like copper, inspect its inner wall, the likes of which no one can equal! Take hold the threshold stone-it dates from ancient times" (9-22). Kirk Stephen discusses the Sumerian Civilization, characterized by many artistic skills, and firm belief in gods. Gilgamesh, the king of Ukiah introduced as one with adequate knowledge of the society, portrayed through his Sumerian architectural abilities. The Sumerian temples referred to as ziggurats was a small brick house that the gods occasionally visited (Kirk 133). Architecture in the Mesopotamia society is found to have been in contemporary with those in Sumerian cities; however, their designs were complex. The art in the poem is portrayed through the cities which are built creatively. Along with the artisanship, the people have a firm belief in god, shown when they pray to god to have a king equal to Gilgamesh and their prayer is answered. Gilgamesh is shown as a handsome man created by God and endowed with beauty. They believe that God has the power to make one has good looks like that of Gilgamesh. Enkidu is created out of clay although with a native and primate nature. The people, therefore, believe that God is the creator and that people are created out of clay. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, gates and doors serve not only as physical entrances but also as spiritual ones. The gates built are great walls that are guarded by Scorpion-men. The building in the ancient Mesopotamia shows the artistic nature that started a long time ago with monumental brick buildings decorated with mosaics of painted clay and art. In addressing civilization, the structures were later modified and became more extensive and taller as time progressed.
In conclusion, The Epic of Gilgamesh is famous and has existed for a long time. This is because it offers an understanding of the human aspect, including friendships, leadership, existence, and roles, in the past. Some of the aspects used in the poem have been used in the current society including the desire to be immortal. Death is a major theme in the poem that shows the need to understand death.
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