Gilgamesh and Me
Knowledge is all the information one takes in during his lifetime. Experiences become lessons learned with positive experiences to be repeated, and negative to be avoided. Knowledge accumulates and becomes self-knowledge or wisdom through active participation in personal experiences. The telling of a tale does not equal the experience.
Gilgamesh is the epic narrative of the king of Uruk. He rules his city but is disinterested. When “a god and man” meets “an animal and man” (Mason,15), they share battles and experiences and learn together what being human really is, including friendship, respect, and compassion for other humans.
This narrative verse, translated by Herbert Mason questions the mortality of man. Is there no purpose in life because death awaits humans?
Enkidu comes to the great city of Uruk from the forest, having grown up living with the animals as brothers. A prostitute is sent by Gilgamesh to separate Enkidu from his animal friends (Mason, 17), thought Gilgamesh forgets why she is sent. Enkidu challenges the king’s birthright of having sex with the virgins before they have sex with their husbands. The two men battle within the city walls, but become friends as they look into each other’s eyes and see themselves reflected (Mason, 23-24).
This could happen to any two warriors, though soldiers are seldom close enough to “see the whites of their eyes” (Retrieved, 10/22/05,www.USA History.info/Revolutionary War, Bunker Hill). It is not over ideals that these ancient warriors battle, but their strident determination to win the battle at hand. They must win the battle for the battle’s sake. Experiences shared bring friendship. The king and the “innocent” (Mason, 47) are more alike than different. Gilgamesh and Enkidu become brothers, as Ninsun, the mother of the king, adopts the younger Enkidu as her own son (Mason, 33). She had previously prophesied through dreams of the coming of a true friend to Gilgamesh (Mason, 19-20), and he anticipated this new friend and companion.
Well armored, the two enter the forest to do battle with the horrible Humbaba (Mason 34-41). In fighting together, suffering perils together, their friendship bond becomes even stronger. Similarly, the Iraq War pits “us” against
“them”. “The bad guys in Iraq can lose every mile on every road, but if they beat America on the last mile - because they are able to intimidate better than America is able to coordinate, protect, inform, invest and motivate - they will win and America will lose.” (New York Times, November 28, 2004). As Lindy England still faces trial for her participation in the Abu Grabe Prison scandal of inhumanity, one wonders of true patriotic loyalties in barbaric situations.
We can read a story that is 4,000 years old, describing Humbaba’s
grisly head swinging from a tree as Enkidu awakens from a pained and fitful
sleep (Mason, 41). Barbarianism abounds in King Gilgamesh’s world, based
on Hamurabi’s Code of Law. Hamurabi was among the first whose
list of Codes has survived in written form. The codes themselves go back before
his time and continue in effect long afterwards. Punishments were extreme and
barbaric in Hamurabi’s Code, and displayed in the middle of the city for
all to see (Retrieved 09/21/05, http:listhost.uchicago.edu).
Enkidu has left a life with the animals as his brothers before he learns to “eat bread and drink the liquor that the shepherds drank” (Mason, 21) He is bathed and perfumed to become a man (Mason, 21). For his new friendship as a man to progress, he must leave all his old animal friendships behind. Forgetting is quite like death, according to the barmaid Siduri. “No one grieves that much, she said. Your friend is gone. Forget him. No one remembers him. He is dead” (Mason, 63).
Having taught English, English as a Second Language, and social studies for over a dozen years in the Texas Public School System, I left much behind when I decided to retire early to become a freelance writer. Old friends can offer my little enthusiasm for my options as a writer, because we now have little in common. I seek a human 2/3 god, and 1/3 man myself, to set me on the creative course in life I seek for myself.
Gilgamesh’s loss and sadness is greater after knowing the friendship of Enkidu, and he journeys alone to find the secret of immortality to bring back to his dead friend, Enkidu (Mason, 54-83). Sidura, once again warns Gilgamesh, “The gods gave death to man and kept life for themselves” (Mason, 65). Yet Enkidu murmurs as he lays dying, “Everything had life to me. . . the sky, the storm, the earth, water wandering, the moon and its three children, salt, and even my hand had life (Mason, 48). . .Their life together had been so brief, so empty of gestures they never felt they had to make” (Mason, 48). As Enkidu lies dying, Gilgamesh sleeps, disconnected from his friend’s painful night of hideous dreams, and yearning for friendship. Yet the final morning of life Enkidu asks, “Why am I to die, you to wander on alone? Is that the way with friends?” (Mason, 50). Gilgamesh is shattered and hopeless at the loss of his companion.
Gilgamesh travels to the nether regions across the River of Death to find a suitable outcome for his friend’s death, though Enkidu’s “face collapsed within after several days, like cobwebs I have touched with my finger” (Mason, 64).
My father died the second semester I was in college. I grieved in my own way, separate from my mother’s grieving. There is no bringing back of the dead, except through told tales, and memories of the heart.
From a former teacher’s perspective, I know that one learns best what one is able to teach another. “Gilgamesh, though he was king, had never looked at death before. Enkidu saw in him a helplessness to understand or speak, as if this were the thing the other had to learn and he to teach” (Mason, 47). Only after the death of Enkidu, and many journeys does Gilgamesh realize he must learn for himself about mortality, and that it is not something he can re-capture for his friend.
In our present day, students often need more than they can receive in the classroom. As a private tutor, I know the crevices of the educational system. Until knowledge becomes a part of self-knowledge, of wisdom, I would be pleased to lend my thoughts, and writing abilities to the profound academic cause of helping those who are not yet ready to learn the lesson they are being presented.
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Jan, Abid Ullah. Al-Jazeera Opinion Editorials. Ll/28/04 Retrieved on 09/22/05 from www.ahljazeerz.info/Opinion.
Marks, John H. Gilgamesh: an Afterword. Gilgamesh a Verse Narrative. 1972. New York: Penguin Group.
Mason, Herbert. Gilgamesh a Verse Narrative. 1972. New York: Penguin Group.
Thompson, Diane. World Literature English 251. Retrieved on 09/19/05 from www.novaonlines.nv.cc.va.us/eli/eng251/gilgameshstudy.htm.
Whittet, Steve. Ancient Written Laws Retrieved from 09/19/05 from http:listhost.uchicago.edu.