The Epic of Gilgamesh

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The epic yarn Gilgamesh leaves me somewhat discouraged when I finished the book. This pessimistic ending is not the happy ending I was expecting to see considering the tragedies throughout of the rest of the story. The entire last part of the book, starting with Enkidu’s death, is nothing but more sorrow for Gilgamesh. The book seems to give Gilgamesh hope and then beat him down with more tragedy. It is almost as if the more he tries, the worse it gets for him.

After Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh embarks on a crusade to bring Enkidu back to life. His quest takes him traveling across the sea of death in search of Utnapishtim. Gilgamesh spends a lot time and effort in search of Utnapishtim. He travels great lengths, as well as risks his life in attempting to bring life back to his lost friend. His journey finally takes him to Urshanabi. Urshanabi’s presence gives Gilgamesh a spark of hope of getting his friend back. Urshanabi then shatters this hope when he says; “The stone images are destroyed. If you had been as reverent with them as with your friend, they might have helped you cross." (p.69)

This is the beginning of a vicious cycle that Gilgamesh goes through. He gets his hopes up. Then they are destroyed, only to be brought up again. The cycle continues when Gilgamesh finally reaches Utnapishtim. Gilgamesh thinks he is very close to eternal life, but Utnapishtim destroys that hope when he tells Urshanabi to bring Gilgamesh back across the sea of death. The final spin in the cycle starts when Gilgamesh gets the thorny plant from the river floor. To Gilgamesh, this plant is much more than hope. It symbolizes the purpose of his life: to resurrect Enkidu. At this point, Gilgamesh thinks he has finally won. He has the key to eternal life. When the serpent eats the flower, Gilgamesh is devastated. All that he worked so hard for is taken from him.

In the end of the story, Gilgamesh is walking home, when he starts a conversation with a local blind man. “He entered the city and asked a blind man if he had ever heard the name Enkidu, and the old man shrugged and shook his head, then turned away, as if to say impossible to keep the names of friends whom we have lost." (P. 91-92) This is one of the most important conversations in the entire book.

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