In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh’s pursuit for immortality is marked by ignorance and selfish desire. Desire and ignorance, as The Buddha-karita of Asvaghosha suggests, pollutes man’s judgment resulting in his inability to break the cycle of birth and death. At the core of Gilgamesh’s desire resides his inability to accept the inevitability of death, making his rationality behind the pursuit of immortality ignorant and selfish. Implicitly, Gilgamesh’s corrupt desire for immortality conveys that Gilgamesh does not mature as a character.
Enkido’s arrival in The Epic of Gilgamesh forces Gilgamesh to reconsider his immaturity. Gilgamesh is introduced as “tall, magnificent and terrible” and as one “who crossed the ocean” (George i.37-40). As a “wild bull on rampage”, Gilgamesh’s tyrannical kingship is not challenged until an observer notices Enkido, a beast that “fills in the pits that I myself dig” and “stops me doing the work of the wild” (George i.30, 130-133). Because Enkido, “sets free” all the “beasts of the field”, he is presented as a wild creature that can “fill the pit” Gilgamesh digs and stop him from being a “wild bull on rampage” (George i.130-133). Later, Enkido is referred to as “the child of nature, the savage man from the midst of the wild”, conveying that his ‘savage’ origins (nature) are essential to clear civilization’s harmful influence on Gilgamesh (George i.178-179). While Enkido represents nature’s weapon to combat civilization’s mishaps, Enkido also portrays that even his pure soul is vulnerable to “Confusion, Gaiety, and Pride” and “Lust, Delight, and Thirst” (Cowell xiii.3). By seducing the “child of nature” and doing “for man the work of a woman”, Shamhat (or “Lust”) corrupts Enkido’s purity. “When wit...
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...uences. At this point, Gilgamesh grasps the finality of death but is unsettled with its impact on his own life. He questions, “Now what is this sleep that has seized you?” after Enkido dies (George viii.55-56). In seeing that Enkido, someone nearly as strong and mighty as Gilgamesh, die, Gilgamesh becomes aware that by being one-third human he is subject to the same fate. Thus, he embarks on his final journey: one that leads to disappointment, uncertainty, and regret.
In a different perspective, Gilgamesh’s pursuit for immortality is useless and thus reflects his inability to fully mature. The Buddha-karita supports the notion
Cowell, E. B. The Buddha-karita of Asvaghosha. N.p.: Oxford at the Clarendon, 1893. Print.
George, A. R. The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.
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