Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gilgames: An Epic Hero

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Gilgamesh an Archetypal Hero

The book, The Epic of Gilgamesh, is precisely what the title implies--an epic that centers around the heroic character Gilgamesh. In this long narrative poem, Gilgamesh embodies the role of an archetypal hero; furthermore, aspects of Gilgamesh’s character and of the epic itself demonstrate the conventions of an archetypal hero.

An archetypal hero is somewhat a prototype for all human heros. They traditionally perform great difficulties and deeds, are helped with divine intervention, and greatly concerned with achieving higher power and immortality. Gilgamesh embodies all of these archetypal conventions. First, he is described as being made by the gods. “Two thirds they made him god and one third man,” (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 61). Also, he goes on many journeys, performing impossible tasks, such as killing the Bull of Heaven and Humbaba of the Cedar Mountain. Furthermore, he is devastated when his beloved friend, Enkidu, dies, and becomes bitter in his despair. He says, “Because I am afraid of death I will go as best I can to find Utnapishtim whom they call the faraway, for he has entered the assembly of the gods” (Gilgamesh, 7). From this point on, he is obsessed with the idea of finding human immortality and embarks upon a quest to find it.

It is easy for the present-day reader to experience the epic and observe the conventions an archetypal hero like Gilgamesh embodies by analyzing Gilgamesh’s actions. Althrough he is given two-thirds of his characteristics from the gods, one-third of him is human, causing him to definitely be mortal. He can even be called a self-destructive character, for it is his inherent nature to transcend himself beyond human limits in his deeds and quest. While this quest for immortality, or a higher level of human consciousness, demonstrates Gilgamesh’s persistence and perseverance in transcending natural men. He finally realizes when he fails to attain immortality after the final episode with the Scorpion that he is incapable of transcending human consciousness and will, like all other mortals, die. His flaw, as all archetypal heroes have one, was believing until just before the moment he died that he could find immortality and surpass other humans.

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Yet, Gilgamesh does surpass normal mortals because he achieved such great fame. He is still viewed today, thousands of years after his death, as the model archetypal hero. In this way, he has achieved everlasting life in his fame, for he has transcended beyond human mortality through this fame and will be known and praised forever.

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