The Transformation of Gilgamesh in The Epic of Gilgamesh
Written in the form of a poem, Gilgamesh’s Epic is the oldest known piece of literature. It is not the story of a mythical hero like most other epics are. Its hero is a real figure from history, the ruler of Uruk, a Sumerian city, around 2700 BC. Gilgamesh was wise and judicious, and for that, people have worshiped him even after his death. However, he was not so always and used to be a cruel ruler who would rape and kill brutally. The Gods planned to reform him and introduced something into his life that made him seek answers to the questions Gilgamesh would have otherwise never asked himself.
The epic of Gilgamesh portrays him as two-thirds god and one-third human. He was a tyrannic ruler who would not leave even his own people and rape their daughters and kill their sons. However, once his friend Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh is transformed. His heart changes after having realized the pain of death. In Enkidu’s death, he realizes that death could take away everything he believed belonged to him. Nothing endures forever, and Gilgamesh decides to leave behind a name people could love and respect.
Before his transformation, Gilgamesh was vain and arrogant, proud of his strength and beauty. Gods were disgusted at his tyranny and created Enkidu as his match. Enkidu, once he enters Gilgamesh’s life, becomes his friend. With his coming, Gilgamesh’s transformation has also begun. When the two meet for the first time, Enkidu has come to challenge him, and it seems like Gilgamesh has met his match. Gilgamesh is impressed by Enkidu’s strength, and by the time the duel is over, the two hug each other, and their friendship begins. The most important themes that the epic deals with are mortality, friendship, and courage—the epic deals with other themes too, including morality, death, and fear. Still, mortality and friendship are dealt with most artistically and beautifully in the piece.
Gilgamesh is cruel and unruly from the beginning. He listens to no one and does as he desires. There is no one he is afraid of since he is conceived of a Goddess, which gives him extraordinary strength and status. As a result, he kills people and rapes girls with no one able to stop him. As Enkidu enters Gilgamesh’s life, his transformation begins, and he turns into a hero worthy of remembrance. However, not just Gilgamesh, Enkidu also transforms as a result of their friendship. Gilgamesh helps Enkidu get ahead of his fears. As a result of the extraordinary love that the two have for each other, Gilgamesh is transformed into a better person. Enkidu’s love and friendship help him realize the importance of several things, including life itself, which Gilgamesh had been wasting in cruelty. Unless for Enkidu’s love, Gilgamesh would not have changed, had not it been for Enkidu. Before his transformation, Gilgamesh indulged in everything immoral and evil. The fulfillment of his sexual desires was most important for him. Things start changing with Enkidu’s arrival. The two together go on a journey into the forest to fight the terrible Humbaba. Both encourage each other to face death and return triumphant.
“All living creatures born of the flesh shall sit at last in the boat of the West, and when it sinks, when the boat of Magilum sinks, they are gone; but we shall go forward and fix our eyes on this monster.” (81)
Enkidu is not used to adventure, and the journey ends in his death. Gilgamesh is shocked by the death of his friend, and he leaves in search of immortality. Questions like life and death, mortality, and immortality have never come to his mind. He used to remain busy with his pursuit of ordinary pleasures. However, the death of his dear friend Enkidu affects him deeply. Before his transformation, Gilgamesh would exercise droit de seigneur with all the city’s new brides and rape them.
Gilgamesh finds the sorrow of his friend’s death difficult to bear. “What my brother is now, that shall I be” (97). He sets out to search for everlasting life, expecting that there would be a resolution for mortality somewhere. He cannot accept that death will someday take him away. While trying to reconcile with the truth, he goes very far through the twelve leagues of darkness.
Siduri reminds him of the meaning of life, and that immortality was for the Gods. Gilgamesh is not satisfied and continues through his journey. His transformation signifies several things in the epic. It serves as a reminder that death is the ultimate truth and will come to everyone whether a king or a beggar. It proves that man forgets the meaning of life and loses himself among the ordinary pleasures. The story also highlights the importance of morality, goodness, and wisdom. Apart from everything, it proves that people should try to be moral and good rather than seeking permanence in this life. Even if people try to escape the truth, death is inevitable. It is the ultimate reality and an inescapable destiny. From the journey, Gilgamesh returns transformed to become a wise and judicious ruler. His reformation proves that death would not be as unpleasant and appalling if people can live with goodness and act with wisdom. The true meaning of life lies in following the right path and standing up for the weak.