Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This classical epic concerns the quest of Gilgamesh for immortality and the adventures he has with his friend, Enkidu, on the way. Gilgamesh is a classic epic hero in his supernatural strength and bravery, and his triumph over various monsters along the way, including the terrifying Humbaba, cements his status as an epic hero. However, Gilgamesh, it becomes clear, has a lot to learn. In particular, his friend, Enkidu has to counsel him to be cautious at various points in the text. After Enkidu's death, Gilgamesh also has to learn that his quest for immortality is futile, as by spending so much time and energy trying to gain immortality he is actually wasting the only life he has. Note how this important theme is conveyed in the words of Siduri when Gilgamesh arrives at the magical garden by the sea:

As for you, Gilgamesh, let your belly be full,
Make merry day and night.
Of each day make a feast of rejoicing.
Day and night dance and play!
Let your garments be sparkling fresh,
Your head be washed; bathe in water.
Pay heed to a little one that holds on to your hand,
Let a spouse delight in your bosom.

In this quote, Siduri, the goddess of wine, rather pointedly tells Gilgamesh that what he yearns for he will never achieve, and she counsels him to be satisfied with what he does have and to make the most of that. This important theme can be seen to precede the "carpe diem" philosophy of later literature, that focuses on accepting the temporal and seizing every opportunity to enjoy life. This epic therefore presents its key protagonist as an epic hero who nonetheless must learn some important lessons during his adventure to bring him to greater wisdom and maturity.