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Analysis of Characters’ Change in The Story of Gilgamesh

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Analysis of Characters’ Change in The Story of Gilgamesh Essay

The story of Gilgamesh is very complex and as stated by Kenneth Rexroth a psychological one as well. It displays and encapsulates the mental processes and ways of thinking for the audience to understand and enjoy throughout their reading. In this essay I will attempt to create a type of psychological portrait, which displays in detail how the characters change throughout the story, as well as what changes within them both physically and mentally.

We begin the story with a description of the great king Gilgamesh who rules over Uruk. He is said to be composed of two-thirds divinity and one third human. He is also said to be perfect in both stature and height. Despite being given this ideally perfect physique, he cruelly ruled over the people of Uruk with self-centered tendencies and an iron-fist. This, of course, proves as a valid display of his character, for us the readers, to read and understand. These acts of cruelty are what lead to his partner, Enkidu, being created by Aruru who is summoned by Anu. Now, in this story Enkidu serves as a very valuable companion to Gilgamesh. He is what leads Gilgamesh to ultimately learn and change his ways. Gilgamesh needs Enkidu and Enkidu needs Gilgamesh. This forms a type of two-way bond between the main characters and it is what allows them to dynamically change throughout the story. In a way, one doesn’t work without the other.

Upon meeting each other, the two men proceed to brutally brawl with each other. This fight is caused by Enkidu after he realizes how unfairly Gilgamesh treats the people of Uruk. By the time the fight ends, and Gilgamesh turns his back, Enkidu has subdued his rage. Enkidu then states to Gilgamesh: “As one unique did your mother bear you, The wild cow of the ramparts, Ninsun, Exalted you above the most valorous of men! Enlil has granted you the kingship over the people.” After finishing this statement, the two men agree to become friends and partners. This is a true turning point for both Gilgamesh and Enkidu as they have both been longing for a companion. Especially for Gilgamesh, seeing him long for companionship after treating the people of Uruk with such depravity and disrespect.

The first thing they agree to do is set off into the forest in an effort to kill a fierce and presumably powerful monster that resides in the forest named Humbaba. This plan is derived in an attempt to rid the world of an evil being and bring more fame and notoriety to themselves. Despite the chagrin and hesitation from both Enkidu and the Elders, Gilgamesh insists that they go through with the plan anyway. In the end, Humbaba is killed and decapitated, of course this victory did not come without an exhausting amount of effort, hardship, and even blessings from the gods. But these hardships served a purpose on their own in the way of testing their strength and resilience. On top of that the victory provided some value as well, it not only solidified their ability to work together as an excellent team but also supplemented the strength of their friendship.

Gilgamesh and Enkidu then proceed to travel back to Uruk with Humbaba’s head. Upon arrival, Gilgamesh cleans himself up. Then the princess Ishtar begins asking Gilgamesh to become her bridegroom and marry her. However, Gilgamesh, knowing what happened to those who have likened Ishtar before, issued a list of ruthless remarks towards her and ultimately denounced her offer. After hearing this, Ishtar traveled to heaven and confronted her father, Anu, and her mother, Antum. She tells them: “Father, Gilgamesh has said outrageous things about me, / Gilgamesh’s been spouting insults about me, / Insults and curses against me!” to which her father responds: “Well now, did you not provoke the king, Gilgamesh, / And so Gilgamesh spouted insults about you, / Insults and curses against you?”. This leads Ishtar to begin pleading her parents for the Bull of Heaven, which she plans to use to kill Gilgamesh in his territory.

Eventually her parents give in to the plea and deliver to her the Bull of Heaven. With an abrupt and destructive entrance, the bull dried up the foliage in Uruk, and lowered the rivers. After which, it then snorted three times and opened up a pit each time. The first, killed one-hundred men, the second killed two-hundred men, and the third almost killed Enkidu. Enkidu, after falling halfway into the pit, jumped out and grabbed the bull. This is when the fight between the bull, Enkidu, and Gilgamesh takes place. This is yet another show of strength and a display as to how strong and compatible Gilgamesh and Enkidu are together.

After seeing that the bull had been killed, Ishtar wailed and said: “That bully Gilgamesh who demeaned me, he’s killed the Bull of Heaven!”. After hearing this, Enkidu ripped one of the bull’s legs off and threw it at Ishtar. After which, Ishtar set up a group to lament over the haunch of the bull. Meanwhile, Gilgamesh summoned various craftsmen who marveled over the bull. Unfortunately, here, we are nearing the end of Enkidu’s life as the gods have determined that because they have killed Humbaba, the Bull of Heaven, and cut down the tallest cedar trees, he should be killed. This is a huge turning point for Gilgamesh, as it displays for him the ultimate finality of death. Not only does he proceed to mourn the death of his friend, but he also now understands that all he possesses can be lost in a virtually instantaneous manner.

In this story, it becomes evident that both Gilgamesh and Enkidu drastically change. At first, it would seem that Gilgamesh leads Enkidu. However personally I believe it could be stated either way. In one aspect Gilgamesh leads Enkidu in the ways of war and fighting (Such as when he leads him in to fight Humbaba), while Enkidu leads Gilgamesh in the ways of companionship and compassion (such as when he befriends him and stays loyal to him during the fights). It is from my perspective, accurate that without Enkidu, Gilgamesh would never have changed at all.

In conclusion, Gilgamesh begins with a very tough and unforgiving personality which is then altered only by the hand of Enkidu. Both Enkidu and Gilgamesh have taught each other very valuable lessons about life in general. In a way Enkidu became physically stronger by way of Gilgamesh, and Gilgamesh became mentally stronger by way of Enkidu. It essentially displays a co-dependent bond between the two main characters. As the audience, we are consistently enamored by the changes that we witness in both characters and have nothing but the other character, respectively, to thank for it.

Works Cited

  1. “The Epic of Gilgamesh.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature, by Martin Puchner et al., W. W. Norton & Company, 2019, pp. 18–74.
  2. Rexroth, Kenneth. “CLASSICS REVISITED (1).” Classics Revisited (1) (Rexroth), www.bopsecrets.org/rexroth/cr/1.htm. Accessed 5 Sept. 2019.

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