When reading the Epic of Gilgamesh,
many people don’t realize the depth of the story. However, I have come to
realize that this novel is about much more than just two men going on journeys
and fighting; it is a story of self-realization, and the finding of one’s
personality. Gilgamesh is in a constant battle with the gods, his city and especially,
himself. For Gilgamesh, he is still unaware of his own personality and I
believe this is where Enkidu fits into the story.
Firstly, let’s take a look at when
Enkidu is brought into the city. The people of the city are amazed that this
man has come to fight Gilgamesh, as Enkidu looks as mighty as Gilgamesh
himself. As Gilgamesh comes to claim his
bride, he and Enkidu get into a fight, then immediately they make up and vow to
have an eternal friendship. They then set off for the Land of Cedars to fight
the horrific and giant Humbaba. On this journey, Gilgamesh says to Enkidu
“Here you are, even you, afraid of death,
/ What has become of your bravery’s might? / I will go before you, / You can
call out to me, “Go on, be not afraid!”. (II,
179-182) From this, we see that Gilgamesh is leading Enkidu on their journey to
fight the beast Humbaba. At this point in the story, Enkidu is trying to
persuade Gilgamesh to not go into the forest of cedars because it is too
dangerous, but Gilgamesh wants to make a name for himself.
As far as the relationship between
Gilgamesh and Enkidu, some may say it was rather sensual. Enkidu seems to be
able to control Gilgamesh. He calms Gilgamesh’s catastrophic urges, making him
less unruly. Just as Enkidu once lived more like animals than people, Gilgamesh
himself is at first a kind of animal, vicious and powerful, before Enkidu comes
along. After befriending Enkidu, Gilgamesh turns his negative energies outward,
no longer wanting to live in and for the moment. Now he wants to achieve awe-inspiring
things, for his fame as well as his city.
Furthermore, when goddess Ishtar
falls in love with Gilgamesh he declines, and insults her. In return, she seeks
the gods for revenge. When the Bull of Heaven is sent to destroy Gilgamesh, he
alternatively kills the bull and cuts the heart out. From there the gods decide
one of the two men must die, so they cast a disease upon Enkidu and he dies.
However, when Enkidu dies it seems like Gilgamesh feels as if a part of him
died as well, for he says “Shall I not die too? Am I not like Enkidu?” (IX, 3) From this point on, it seems
Gilgamesh becomes his own comrade and picks up Enkidu’s characteristics.
Next, Gilgamesh is determined to
find the key to immortality. He goes off into the wilderness alone and full of desolation.
Finally, he decides to seek out Utnapishtim who survived a flood that almost
ended life on Earth, in hopes to find a way to escape death. Utnapishtim
explains to him that he cannot fight off death, but shows him how to find an
underwater plant that will redevelop youth. Gilgamesh dives down and gets the
plant, however he loses it to a snake on his way home. The snake then shed its
skin making it young again, but Gilgamesh will never be.
Finally, Gilgamesh arrives back in
Uruk. He shows the boatman the great city walls. He shows him its brickwork,
fields, and gardens. He shows him the temple of Ishtar. Gilgamesh now realizes
that the very city he built “are all the immortality he will ever know”, says
Kenneth Rexroth. Gilgamesh then dies, and the people of his city bury him with
many offerings and mourn the death of a hero.
In addition to the death of
Gilgamesh, I still believe that he found himself. When he sought out on the
journey after Enkidu passed, I think the experiences he was faced with helped
him find himself. Now, Gilgamesh doesn’t necessarily want to be immortal
because he has found himself and realizes who he is as a person, which is what
he has been searching for all along.
With all things considered, I think
the psychology of Enkidu and Gilgamesh is shown very well in this story. Although
there are many ways to interpret it, I think maybe Enkidu could’ve been just a
part of Gilgamesh’s imagination. I think that’s why Gilgamesh and Enkidu don’t
get along at first because Gilgamesh hasn’t found himself yet and Enkidu helps
him do that when they go on the journeys and battle together.