In the Epic of Gilgamesh, how does it use tone, style, imagery or point of view to define and represent "the good"?
I have to write a paper on this and I'm having a hard time seeing the good in these tablets. We are only required to read tablets 1, 2, 6 and 7. This story seems so tragic. I don't see any good.
2 Answers | Add Yours
Yes, this is a tough question because it is difficult to see "the good" in the epic of Gilgamesh. By "the good", however, I think your professor means "good" in the Platonic sense, not "good" in the modern American sense.
It looks to me like several indications of "the good" for the culture of this epic can be found in the opening lines of Tablet 1. Gilgamesh is defined as a man "who has seen everything" and who has "experienced all things". We are also told that the god "Anu granted him the totality of knowledge of all". The author also informs us that Gilgamesh "saw the Secret" and "discovered the Hidden", as well as that Gilgamesh learned about things that happened "before the Flood". Additionally, the epic relates that Gilgamesh made a lengthy journey, pushed "himself to exhaustion", and "then was brought to peace." What's more, Gilgamesh built walls not only for his city, but also for temples of the gods.
Thus, from just the opening lines of Tables I, I would say we can find several elements of what the culture depicted in the epic considers to be "the good": the ability/opportunity to see all things, experience all things, know all things, see what is secret, discover what is hidden, and acquire knowledge that no other human being possessed. Moreover, Gilgamesh makes an astonishing journey, appears to achieve some sort of personal peace, and creates structures that protect his people's city and provides "housing" for the gods themselves.
One Gilgamesh expert suggests that the genre of the epic has affinities to ancient near eastern wisdom literature. In relating the faults and failings of a legendary Mesopotamian king who, despite himself, acquires wisdom at the end of a fruitless quest, it speaks to subsequent kings and rulers about the ideal relationship and interdependencies that exist between a monarch and his subjects. As another respondent has correctly observed, this relationship is summed up in the epic's introduction.
The specific secret that Gilgamesh learns at the feet of Utnapishtim in tablet 11 (indispensible to your topic) is the story of the flood. It is introduced in this way:
"I will reveal to you, Gilgamesh, a thing that is hidden,
a secret of the gods I will tell you!(http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/)
Although the superficial reason for the inclusion of the flood myth is to demonstrate to the king that the flood hero obtained eternal life in unique, unrepeatable circumstances, there is a more subtle theme that emerges. All through the epic, Gilgamesh is portrayed as impulsive and violent, more concerned with his personal desires and lust for glory with than the needs of his subjects. The gods - particularly the chief god Enlil - are portrayed in similar fashion in the flood story. At its conclusion Enlil is strongly rebuked by other gods for sending the deluge. The very reason that Utnapishtim is granted immortality is that Enlil accepts this rebuke and rewards him appropriately for preserving life amidst the horrendous destruction. The final and rather cryptic comments of Gilgamesh at the end of the epic suggest not that the king's only hope of immortality is through great building achievements (as is commonly proposed), but that he has finally accepted his responsibilities as king of Uruk and protector of his people; that he has made his peace with the gods (Ishtar, the patron goddess of the city is specifically mentioned because of the hero's conflict with her in tablet 6). The duty of a king to shepherd his people and to preserve life contrasts strongly with the actions of Gilgamesh up to that point. This is why there is no mention at all in the epic's prologue of the slaughter of Humbaba or the Bull of Heaven. Rather, it is the king's actions as 'protector of his people' that attract praise.
It might also be helpful to refer to the episode in tablets one and two where Enkidu, the wild savage, is seduced and civilized by Shamhat. Here Uruk is depicted as the epitome of Mesopotamian civilization, as Enkidu the primitive inhabitant of the steppe is introduced to human food and clothing, a voluptuous temple prostitute, the sophisticated pursuits of urban life, and the promise of employment in the temple economy of Uruk. "The good", then, in the Epic of Gilgamesh is a situation where the people of a great Mesopotamian city live in harmony with the gods, serving them in their temples according to the proscriptions of the cult, protected and governed by a powerful and wise king.
We’ve answered 327,584 questions. We can answer yours, too.Ask a question