Monday, April 22, 2013

Gilgamesh

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To cheat death is to cheat god to cheat god is to prove to be supreme and more powerful than god. The image of an everlasting youthful life is one that humans toy with. The fantasy whets the appetite of any person eager to achieve eternality. Human beings are not gods; human beings inevitably encounter death and lose the game of immortality. The Epic of Gilgamesh narrates the story of the naïve human being who thought that if clever enough, could prove to be one of the few who conquered death.


This heroic poem is named for its hero, Gilgamesh, a tyrannical Babylonian king who ruled the city of Uruk. According to the myth, the gods respond to the prayers of the oppressed citizenry of Uruk and send a wild, brutish man, Enkidu, to challenge Gilgamesh to a wrestling match. When the contest ends with neither as a clear victor, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become close friends. They journey together and share many adventures. Accounts of their heroism and bravery in slaying dangerous beasts spread to many lands. When the two travelers return to Uruk, Ishtar (guardian deity of the city) proclaims her love for the heroic Gilgamesh. When he rejects her, she sends the Bull of Heaven to destroy the city. Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the bull, and, as punishment for his participation, the gods doom Enkidu to die.


After Enkidus death, Gilgamesh seeks out the wise man Utnapishtim to learn the secret of immortality. The sage recounts to Gilgamesh a story of a great flood (the details of which are so remarkably similar to later biblical accounts of the flood that scholars have taken great interest in this story). After much hesitation, Utnapishtim reveals to Gilgamesh that a plant bestowing eternal youth is in the sea. Gilgamesh dives into the water and finds the plant but later loses it to a serpent and, disconsolate, returns to Uruk to end his days. The Ninevite version of the epic begins with a prologue in praise of Gilgamesh, part divine and part human, the great builder and warrior, knower of all things on land and sea. In order to curb Gilgameshs seemingly harsh rule, the god Anu caused the creation of Enkidu, a wild man who at first lived among animals. Soon, however, Enkidu was initiated into the ways of city life and traveled to Uruk, where Gilgamesh awaited him. Tablet II describes a trial of strength between the two men in which Gilgamesh was the victor; thereafter, Enkidu was the friend and companion (in Sumerian texts, the servant) of Gilgamesh. In Tablets III-V the two men set out together against Huwawa (Humbaba), the divinely appointed guardian of a remote cedar forest, but the rest of the engagement is not recorded in the surviving fragments. In Tablet VI Gilgamesh, who had returned to Uruk, rejected the marriage proposal of Ishtar, the goddess of love, and then, with Enkidus aid, killed the divine bull that she had sent to destroy him. Tablet VII begins with Enkidus account of a dream in which the gods Anu, Ea, and Shamash decided that he must die for slaying the bull. Enkidu then fell ill and dreamed of the house of dust that awaited him. Gilgameshs lament for his friend and the state funeral of Enkidu are narrated in Tablet VIII. Afterward, Gilgamesh made a dangerous journey (Tablets IX and X) in search of Utnapishtim, the survivor of the Babylonian flood, in order to learn from him how to escape death. He finally reached Utnapishtim, who told him the story of the flood and showed him where to find a plant that would renew youth (Tablet XI). But after Gilgamesh obtained the plant, it was seized by a serpent, and Gilgamesh unhappily returned to Uruk. An appendage to the epic, Tablet XII, related the loss of objects called (perhaps drum and drumstick) given to Gilgamesh by Ishtar. The epic ends with the return of the spirit of Enkidu, who promised to recover the objects and then gave a grim report on the underworld. Beowulf is an Anglo-Saxon epic poem, the most important work of Old English literature. The earliest surviving manuscript is in the British Library; it is written in the West Saxon dialect and is believed to date from the late 10th century.


One is not controlled by destiny but rather is a culmination of one’s decisions and consequences. One can not blame ones own’s unfortunate circumstances because of an inevitable fate. Fate was produced by choices and the paths one decided to embark. Gilgamesh exemplifies.


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