What does this passage from the Epic of Gilgamesh tell us about human relationships and human nature during this period and what does it tell us about rulers and their relationship with their gods?
This passage informs its readers of the importance of human relationships, particularly friendship. It also reminds readers of the angst that people have about their mortality, suggesting that little has changed regarding the nature of the human heart. Further, it hints at the tendency of supreme leaders to feel that, like the gods, they may possess something of immortality.
Gilgamesh, the fifth King of Uruk, possessed such great influence during his time that myths of his divine status began to spread. However, as legend has it, the gods judged Gilgamesh as having become excessively proud and arrogant, so they agreed to teach him a lesson in humility. A wild man named Enkidu was sent by the gods to fight Gilgamesh and thereby humble him. But, when the two men fought a fierce battle, neither was victorious; ironically, they instead became friends and set out on adventures together. When Enkidu died, Gilgamesh grieved exceedingly for his friend; moreover, with the death of his friend, Gilgamesh watched over him in the hope that he would rise again. When he did not return to life, the king of Uruk became starkly aware of his own mortality. In the passage, he asked,
Am I not like him? Must I lie down
Never to rise again?
In his tremendous grief for his friend, Gilgamesh questioned what life meant; in addition, he wondered about the value of accomplishments in the face of ultimate extinction. It is noteworthy that after his friend died, Gilgamesh abandoned his pride and vanity and set out to find the meaning of life and some way to defeat death. This quest is what made him the first epic hero. So, although Gilgamesh died as all men do, he attained immortality as his deeds have lived on; they have been recorded.