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The Epic of Gilgamesh traces the development of the Sumerian king, Gilgamesh, king of Uruk. Historically, Gilgamesh ruled around 2700 b.c.e and it is essentially his search for the meaning of life and his struggle to find the secret of eternal life which dominates the story. The original poems were combined to form the much translated epic.
Initially, Gilgamesh is a young, virile and selfish king; intent on elevating himself at great cost to his people. He places himself above all others, even taking the virginity of young brides, as a symbol of his power over his people.
His encounter with Enkidu, initially created to be his greatest rival, will change his life and his path for ever. They become great friends and travel together into the Forest of Cedars to kill the evil Humbaba. After killing Humbaba and The Bull of Heaven, Enkidu is cursed and dies. Gilgamesh is deeply affected by the death of his friend, and it is Enkidu's death which prompts a change in Gilgamesh.
I weep for my brother. You were the axe at my side, My hand's strength, the sword in my belt, the shield before me, A glorious robe, my fairest ornament; An evil Fate has robbed me. (1.94)
In his journey and with his fear of death, Gilgamesh has various encounters, such as watching the transformation of the dragonfly nymph, and the gods give him advice which often conflicts with his understanding but add to his ultimate completeness.
The Man-Scorpion gives him access through the mountains and in the magical garden by the sea, Siduri cautions Gilgamesh, noticing his gaunt, "starved," appearance as he wastes what time he has in his search for something that he will never obtain. He continues his search for Utnapishtim who confirms that there is no "permanence" and relates the story of the Flood to Gilgamesh who then sleeps for several days. Afterwards, on his journey home, Gilgamesh believes he has found the flower of eternal youth but the serpent snatches it from him. Ultimately, he has to learn to take his satisfaction from the things before him - the city of Uruk and its very foundations- and he learns to be wise.
Although he does not obtain eternal life, it is his contributions to his kingdom, from the lessons learned that ultimately assure his legacy.
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