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The Epic of Gilgamesh

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Gilgamesh's arrogance and its consequences in The Epic of Gilgamesh


In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh's arrogance leads to several negative consequences. His initial tyranny over Uruk causes his people to suffer, prompting the gods to create Enkidu to challenge him. This hubris ultimately results in Enkidu's death, which forces Gilgamesh to confront his own mortality and embark on a humbling quest for immortality.

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How does Gilgamesh's pride lead to his downfall in the Epic of Gilgamesh?

Like many mythological heroes, Gilgamesh has a bit of a problem with pride, and eventually, his pride leads to his downfall. Let's explore the Epic of Gilgamesh to see what happens.

Gilgamesh is a wise, strong man who is (somehow) one-third human and two-thirds divine. Yet he is still a mortal, and he is still prone to death. Gilgamesh has adventures galore, and he manages to survive them all. But his best friend Enkidu is not so lucky. Enkidu touches a cursed gate at one point, and it drains him of his strength. The two friends complete their quest, but Enkidu is never the same.

Finally, Enkidu dies, and Gilgamesh determines that he will find the secret of eternal life and go to his friend in the realm of the dead. The fact that Gilgamesh thinks he has the power to do this is a prime indication of his pride, for he is a mortal. He really has no business seeking such things, yet he does, and he seems to feel that he is entitled to them.

Gilgamesh meets Utnapishtim, who speaks to him all about the great flood and about the secret of eternal life, telling him of a magical plant that Gilgamesh then finds. Gilgamesh, however, fails to keep the plant safe and secure, and a snake eats it while he is bathing. This neglect, too, smacks of pride, for Gilgamesh doesn't seem to value the plant enough to protect it, or perhaps he thinks that nothing would dare take it from him.

Gilgamesh then asks the goddess Ninsun to show him how to get to the land of the dead to go get Enkidu. Ninsun lays out a series of taboos that Gilgamesh must observe, but in his pride, he apparently thinks they do not apply to him, and he breaks them. Gilgamesh sees Enkidu but cannot return him to life, and he also learns that he, too, will die and that there is no help for it. His pride has finally been curbed.

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How did Gilgamesh demonstrate his arrogance in The Epic of Gilgamesh?

Gilgamesh is certainly prideful and arrogant, particularly at the beginning of the epic. His arrogance is enough for his people to ask the gods to intervene. He sleeps with brides on their wedding day. He makes everyone stand at attention when he passes and do whatever he commands. In short, his arrogance makes him a tyrant with no concern for the rights and well-being of his people.

We even see Gilgamesh's arrogance come into play when he spurns the sexual advances of the goddess Ishtar. He does not just tell her no, though. He launches into a vulgar tirade against the goddess full of insults. His pride leads him to continually insult the gods throughout the epic. After killing the guardian of the forest, Humbaba, Gilgamesh celebrates his victory by destroying the trees themselves. This really gets the gods angry at him.

It is shows of arrogance like these which continually call the gods's wrath down on Gilgamesh. They want to teach him the lesson that he is a mere mortal, albeit a powerful one, and that he should know his place in relationship to the gods and the nature of the universe. Ultimately, it takes the death of his friend, Enkidu, to finally drive this lesson home.

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How did Gilgamesh demonstrate his arrogance in The Epic of Gilgamesh?

At the beginning of epic, Gilgamesh is depicted as a tyrannical ruler, who upsets the citizens of Uruk. The citizens begin to lament and petition the god's to intervene. When the citizens discuss Gilgamesh's harsh rule, they say,

"Gilgamesh sounds the tocsin for his amusement, his arrogance has no bounds by day or night. No son is left with his father, for Gilgamesh takes them all, even the children; yet the king should be a shepherd to his people. His lust leaves no virgin to her lover, neither the warrior's daughter nor the wife of the noble; yet this is the shepherd of the city, wise, comely, and resolute" (Tablet 1).

The gods respond by creating Gilgamesh's apparent equal, Enkidu. Gilgamesh again demonstrates his arrogant personality by challenging Enkidu to a wrestling match, which he ends up winning. Shortly after, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become inseparable friends. Gilgamesh then encourages Enkidu to travel with him to fight Humbaba in order to cement his legacy. Gilgamesh's incentive for defeating Humbaba illustrates his excessive pride as he tells Enkidu,

"I have not established my name stamped on bricks as my destiny decreed; therefore I will go to the country where the cedar is felled" (Tablet 2).

After Gilgamesh and Enkidu defeat Humbaba, Gilgamesh once again reveals his pride by rejecting the goddess Ishtar's advances. Considering the fact that Gilgamesh is a mortal and his actions could have drastic consequences, Gilgamesh does not hesitate to offend the goddess. Fortunately, Gilgamesh and Enkidu are able to defeat the Bull of Heaven.

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How did Gilgamesh demonstrate his arrogance in The Epic of Gilgamesh?

When the epic opens, Gilgamesh is an arrogant and strong man.  He focuses on his strength and lets no one speak against him.

In Tablet 1, Gilgamesh is strutting around very proud of himself.

He walks around in the enclosure of Uruk,
Like a wild bull he makes himself mighty, head raised (over others). 
There is no rival who can raise his weapon against him. (Tablet 1)

He is described as “bold, eminent, knowing, and wise!” (Tab 1), but this seems to be more his perception of himself than others’ perception of him, because the people of Uruk ask the gods to intervene.

Perhaps Gligamesh was just lonely, because the gods seem to have an answer.  They decide to make him a friend who can be his equal.

"it was you, Aruru, who created mankind(?),
      now create a zikru to it/him.
      Let him be equal to his (Gilgamesh's) stormy heart,
      let them be a match for each other so that Uruk may find peace!" (Tablet 1)

This is how Erikdu is created, and he learns that Glgamesh is “wise to perfection” but decides to challenge him.  They do fight, but Gilgamesh is thrilled to have an equal and they become great friends.

Gilgamesh’s arrogant and unchecked power seems to have created a moral void that Erikdu was able to fill.  Erikdu’s presence as a friend and someone who could check Gilgamesh made him very valuable.  Gilgamesh  is able to adventure with his new friend and learn to be a better ruler.

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