1.In what ways do Gilgamesh's deeds help advance or preserve that society?
2. What do Gilgamesh's qualities and talents suggest were important values in the ancient Sumerian and Babylonian cultures?
3. What do his flaws or limitations how about ancient Sumerian or Babylonian cultural attitudes?
4. What positive qualities or talents do you think would be displayed by the hero of an epic produced in America today?
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I think the note of conclusion that is struck in the epic is one where Gilgamesh understands his purpose as being geared towards social betterment. Gilgamesh had carried himself for much of the narrative as one driven by his own personal notion of the good. The self- indulgence that defined so much of his identity is shed towards the end of the narrative. The way in which Gilgamesh evolves is one where he acknowledges the importance of his deeds in a larger sense:
And so they traveled until they reached Uruk.
There Gilgamesh the king said to the boatman:
“Study the brickwork, study the fortification;
climb the ancient staircase to the terrace;
study how it is made; from the terrace see
the planted and fallow fields, the ponds and orchards.
One league is the inner city, another league
is orchards; still another the fields beyond;
over there is the precinct of the temple. . . . ,
Three leagues and the temple precinct of Ishtar.”
Measure Uruk, the city of Gilgamesh
For Gilgamesh, the very idea that he can identify with the city of Uruk, "his" city, represents his ability to embrace deed and actions that advance and preserve society. When he speaks to the boatman, the pride he feels is not for himself, but for something larger that he has helped to create. The intricacies and nuances have become part of why he does what he does and why he believes what he believes.
At the end of the narrative, Gilgamesh understands that the path to find some notion of transcendence in a temporal condition of being is to do for others, to act in a manner that advances the social order and collective notion of the good. The fact that the epic ends in this light is reflective of how the ancient cultures defined what the purpose of being. They did not see individuals as needing to capitulate to self- indulgence. The cultures placed primacy on acting for a wider call to action. They demand this not only from individuals, but also from their leaders. The ancient Sumerian and Babylonian cultures insisted that political leaders act with something larger in mind. The measurement of one's success is in the embrace of Uruk.
For Gilgamesh, this becomes a critical aspect of his definition and sense of being in the world. At the same time, Gilgamesh's flaws represent how human beings must strive to put larger interests above their own. Gilgamesh is not immediately focused on being a ruler who looks out for the welfare of his people. Rather, he is self indulgent and acts in a manner filled with hubris and pride. The flaws that he embodies are flaws that the ancient cultures saw as intrinsic to human beings. The fact that Gilgamesh must emerge from these actions and evolve is a reflection of how the culture believes that human beings possess the capacity to change and "shed skin" in order to embrace a condition of what can be from what is. Gilgamesh's actions towards the end of the epic reaffirm the ancient cultural understanding of purpose and being in the world.
Gilgamesh's positive qualities could be displayed in a hero of the modern setting. In the American condition, one would have to find someone who was driven by a need to make money or advance their own name. It could be someone who is of a particular area and finds their way to advance to the top of said social order. The parallel to Gilgamesh could be in how they recognize that acting in the name of social cohesion gains importance in their world view. Modernizing the Gilgamesh narrative into a modern condition is the basis of the many types of cinema dramas such as American Gangster or Gangs of New York.
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