The Role of Enkidu

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Epics are characterized by longevity of text, a poetic style, and an account of the accomplishments of a legendary hero. Herbert Mason’s interpretation of an extract of the Epic of Gilgamesh lacks a large amount of text and the legendary hero so common in later epics such as Odyssey and Beowulf. Because the later epics are considered to be based on the Epic of Gilgamesh it is important to consider why, in Mason’s translation, is there a lack of an impressive amount of text and of a legendary hero. While it is effortless to attribute the missing characteristics of the story to the translation, the events of the story suggest that Mason's translation could have been more extensive. In lieu of the suggestion, Mason incorporates Enkidu into his translation of Gilgamesh to build the characteristics of a legendary hero, Gilgamesh. His efforts to accomplish the building of Gilgamesh as a hero appear in the beginning and end of events in Gilgamesh's story.

The epic begins with a description of Gilgamesh, “as king, Gilgamesh was a tyrant to his people” (Mason 15). In a way, Gilgamesh is formed into a believable antagonist in the second stanza of the story. The excerpt goes on to say,

He demanded, from an old birthright,

The privilege of sleeping with their brides

Before the husbands were permitted.

Sometimes he pushed his people half to death

With work rebuilding Uruk's walls,


They had grown tired of his contradictions

And his callous ways . (Mason 15-16).

Gilgamesh is described as a tyrant with immorality and insensitivity. However, later in the text, he meets a man he believes is similar to him, Enkidu. While their first encounter shows the antagonistic side of Gilgamesh, “[Gilgamesh] lunged at Enkidu” (Mason...

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...fying a change in character. Gilgamesh becomes an epic hero.

Even though Gilgamesh recounts the construction of a legendary hero, it is parallel to other epics in a sense. Odysseus in Odyssey was an established warrior, having fought in the Trojan War. However, even he developed benevolence character traits, attributed to heroes. In Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is a malevolent tyrant, and Enkidu, a leader of the animal kingdom, guides him along a path to heroism. Through the passage of the story, Gilgamesh develops vigilance, courage, and a sense of good and evil. He loses his arrogance. It is possible that the Epic of Gilgamesh does not end within the limits of Herbert Mason's translation. Gilgamesh may use his acquired heroic characteristics in later stories like Odysseus.

Works Cited

Mason, Herbert. Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. Print.
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