Are the issues that arise in The Epic of Gilgamesh that are still relevant to the modern world?Are the issues that arise in The Epic of Gilgamesh that are still relevant to the modern world?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This will get fairly philosophical fairly quickly.  The search for meaning in one's life is an issue that comes out of The Epic of Gilgamesh that has meaning in the modern world.  Gilgamesh and Enkidu leave everything in terms of their home and comforts to go out and find meaning.  When Enkidu is killed, Gilgamesh must transform his quest for meaning into one that searches for answers as to why there is pain and what one's purpose is in life.  Even with Enkidu gone and with pain present, Gilgamesh still searches for meaning and for purpose.  The idea that this quest is one where there is both a physical and spiritual journey present is meaningful today.

There is little that offers meaning to Gilgamesh prior to his journey.  He understands that meaning and purpose will only come into his being once he makes a conscious attempt to grasp them.  This is something that is relevant today as people still struggle to find meaning in their lives and must take chances, their own forms of journey, to find what that meaning is.  Their demons are as perilous as Humbaba and sometimes, they undertake this journey with an Enkidu, or other times they must go alone.  Yet, the existential need for Gilgamesh to find meaning in his life and a sense of purpose is still relevant today as modern consciousness is one where meaning has to be sought and defined.

humbahaha | Student

Yes: fear of death, longing for immortality, oppression, war mongering, the responsibilities of rulers, the obligation to preserve life, genocide, homosexuality, the aquisition of wisdom, the nature of civilization, the place of religion in society, the role of the gods, the value of literature.

One observation may help to explain some of the above issues. Unlike the original Sumerian poems, the "standard" version of the epic is not uncritical of the hero. Giglamesh goes from sexual oppressor in tablet one, to reckless adverturer in the tale of the slaughter of Humbaba. His actions in killing the divinely appointed forrest guardian and then unnecessarily insulting Ishtar, the patron goddess of Uruk, result in the gods sentencing Enkidu to death for his part in the king's misadventures. He is rebuked by Shamash, Siduri (in the Old Babylonian version) and Utnapishtim for his futile, misguided search for immortality. Only at the end of the epic do we get a hint that the king may have acquired wisdom, by learning from Utnapishtim that it is better to preserve life than to destroy it. Here, a final acceptance of mortality, of the existing order of things, and of the king's responsibilitiy towards his people seems to be indicated as he gazes upon the city of Uruk, praising its gods and primordial designers.