Themes in the Epic of Gilgamesh

Important themes in the Epic of Gilgamesh

 

The Theme of Immortality and Everlasting life

Immortality is an important theme in The Epic of Gilgamesh. While Gilgamesh is part God and part man, he is not immortal. He has some God like abilities but not their immortality. He is strong and fearless but the question of inevitability of death torments his mind. For the first time, he confronts this truth in the death of Enkidu. In his cruelty and vanity, Gilgamesh had forgotten everything else. However, once he has changed after being friends with Enkidu, the truth starts to dawn upon him.

 

He wants to have his name written among the wisest.  So, he goes on a quest to prove himself the wise and the courageous. Soon after their battle against Humbaba is over, Enkidu dies.  With Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh’s search for everlasting life begins. He goes beyond the twelve leagues of darkness to find Utnapishtim to know the secret of everlasting life. However, when Gilgamesh meets Utnapishtim, he reminds him that while thinking of death, Gilgamesh should not forget life. He tells Gilgamesh that life and death are woven together and the two cannot be done apart. He should not seek permanence, for the house we build is not built to last forever. The human body is a house where the soul lives. This house is destroyed upon death and still humanity lives on. Epic of Gilgamesh answers some deep questions regarding man’s destiny and what one should make of his life. In a state of vanity people might forget the truth, but nothing in the world is permanent. Instead of seeking immortality, people should learn to live with wisdom and nobility. There are both Gods and Demi Gods in the Epic of Gilgamesh. One important lesson the epic leaves is that however powerful man might grow, death will bring him down certainly.

 

Love and Friendship:

Another important theme in the Epic of Gilgamesh is that of love and friendship. Gilgamesh is initially a cruel ruler who controls his people and rules them with fear. People are relieved of their fears and of Gilgamesh’s cruelty when he becomes Enkidu’s friend. Enkidu inspires him to become wise and fight for his people. Enkidu’s love had changed him deeply and most of the epic deals with the transformation that happens as Gilgamesh finds Enkidu’s friendship. Enkidu’s love helps him find a purpose in his life. Love is the sorcerer’s stone that changes Gilgamesh’s heart turning it to gold. This love is so deep that Gilgamesh who used to be unruly and tyrannical forgets everything but his love for his friend. His life has changed and he laments deeply on Enkidu’s death. He starts on a journey beyond the twelve leagues of darkness which takes him to Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim resolves his fear and confusion. Enkidu’s love for Gilgamesh is a powerful motivating force for him. The epic proves that a touch of love could tame the wildest and change the most uncontrollable. While the love and affection, the two friends share for each other is at the centre of the epic, there are also portrayals of erotic love in it. The harlot’s love for Enkidu which brings him from the wild is like a rite of passage. We also see Gods demonstrating their love and affection for the demi-Gods in the epic. Sex is also an important theme. At the time of his death, Enkidu laments for why he met the harlot. he curses her for having brought upon him the misery. However, after being reminded by the Gods that it was through the harlot that Enkidu was introduced to a better and more civilized world, he blesses her. Gilgamesh used to exercise Droit De Seigneur (right of the first night), prior to his meeting with Enkidu.

 

Morality and wisdom:

Nothing in life is permanent and so men should lead their lives with wisdom and morality. Fear is for the immoral and courage for the wise. Gilgamesh is two third God and one third human. He leads an uncontrolled and immoral life at the outset. Enkidu confronts him and inspires him to change. Once Gilgamesh has changed, he values morality and decides to get his name into the list of the wisest. Morality is not at the centre of the epic and still has got an immense value as a theme in the epic. It also shows that someone who wishes to be among the Gods can find himself there by being moral. Enkidu is initiated into the human world through the harlot’s act. She brings him to the world of the humans where he can challenge Gilgamesh. Before his death Enkidu is angry at her for what she did to him and decides to curse her. He believes it was her immorality that  led him top his poor situation. However, he is reminded that had not it been for her, he would not have found Gilgamesh’s friendship. Gilgamesh too decides to leave behind a name that will last after his death and for that he chooses the path of wisdom and morality.

 

Pride:

Vanity is also an important theme in Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is totally lost in vanity for his power and strength. After meeting Enkidu he changes but before that he is quite unruly. In the epic there are also other characters that exhibit similar pride.  Even Enlil,  the God of earth and air, who is not so fond of the humans, demonstrates similar vanity. In case of Gilgamesh it is quite natural to demonstrate his pride for he is Demi God. However, the story of Gilgamesh is all about how he loses his vanity and realizes how he should use the power and strength Gods have gifted him with. It is a story  of complete transformation from vanity and unruliness to humility, selflessness and wisdom.

 

Courage:

Most of the epic is full of quests and journeys. Both Enkidu and Gilgamesh are courageous. Together they kill the Bull of Heavens and Humbaba. Together they do not fear even the Queens if Heavens, Goddess Isthar who is the Goddess of Love and War. However, after Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh is on his solitary quest down the twelve leagues of darkness.  At last, he takes the most perilous journey to see Utnapishtim to ask him about everlasting life. The epic proves that glory lies in selfless courage.

Abhijeet Pratap

Abhijeet has been blogging on educational topics and business research since 2016. He graduated with a Hons. in English literature from BRABU and an MBA from the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, New Delhi. He likes to blog and share his knowledge and research in business management, marketing, literature and other areas with his readers.