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| Ambiguity of the Epic of Gilgamesh Essay

The main objective of this paper is to answer the question: “Do you think the epic presents certain gods, values, characters, or phenomena as unquestionably good or evil?” With the help of several examples from the Epic of Gilgamesh, including the character of Gilgamesh, the essence of the gods, the relationship between nature and civilization and murdering a monster Humbaba, this essay aims at demonstrating that the epic contains themes, characters and values, which are extremely conflicting in their ambiguity.

The Character of Gilgamesh

Rather than alienated by evil and good, the universe of the Epic of Gilgamesh appears to be dominated by vagueness. Gilgamesh is “darkness and light of mankind”. His description in the initial paragraph depicts him as an oppressor. In addition to unlimited “arrogance,” he has raped every female in the city and raised such chaos that his people’s “lament” could be noticed by the gods. Nevertheless, he is also capable of real love for Enkidu, whose death left Gilgamesh crying for “seven days and seven nights” and ripping out own hair.

The unstable mix of one part man and two parts god, Gilgamesh suffers from excess. He is the strongest of all humans, and both flaws and virtues are huge. He is the fiercest of fighters and the most determined of builders. Yet till the meeting with Enkidu, Gilgamesh exhausts his people with endless battle, forced labor and illogical exercises of power. The king egoistically indulges own sexual appetites, raping every female he desires, even a young bride on the first wedding night. However, Enkidu’s friendship calms and concentrates him. When Enkidu passes away, Gilgamesh grieves profoundly. Abandoning glory, riches, and power, he initiates a quest to discover the secret of eternal existence. What he discovers instead is the understanding to strike harmony with the mortal and divine attributes. Resigned at last to the mortality, the king resumes own proper place in the globe and becomes far better king.

Gilgamesh is a character full of both evil and good. At the beginning of the poem, even people of Uruk depict him in extremely contradictory terms. They are crying to the gods concerning his violence, yet they assert, “…this is a shepherd of city, comely, wise, and resolute”. The king is celebrated for his amazing building abilities, almost on the level of worship. However, he often leaves his people helpless. He provides people with a gorgeous city; nevertheless, he does not continue governing it. It is impossible to assert that Gilgamesh is totally good or totally evil.

Killing of Humbaba

In Gilgamesh’s globe, even murdering a monster is not ethically straightforward. Humbaba is depicted as an “evil thing” that appears to be the perfect setup for moral absolutes. How could destroying an evil creature be wrong? However, Humbaba asks for mercy and gives Gilgamesh everything in his possession. Humbaba was ready to sacrifice the single thing that really mattered in his life. Actually, this is an unbelievable act of repentance. Further, Gilgamesh notices that there is something exceptional in Humbaba. He says: “If we touch him blaze and glory of light will be put out in the confusion”. Humbaba’s bereavement has the potential to demolish something beautiful. At the same time, Enkidu’s advice that it would be achievable to gather glories in the aftermath, “when chicks run distracted through grass”, has a dark edge. Besides the suggestion of exploiting something totally blameless, it is not an effective refutation to Humbaba’s charge that Enkidu’s stance is “evil” and motivated by “fear of a rival”. Enkidu could wish Humbaba’s death to defend his bond with Gilgamesh. Ultimately, murdering a defenseless being such as Humbaba, who was weak as “noble bull roped on a mountain”, especially one throwing itself on mercy of the captors, is not exactly a gracious act. Also, if the defeat of a monster may also be treated as the cold blooded killing of a powerless beast, how can any action be merely evil or good?

There is no clear right choice in this circumstance. Gilgamesh is recognized as a hero, where defeating evil and “slaying the beast” is the final aim. However, if he murders an innocent being, he is infringing on his own morality; if he does not, than he may hurt own reputation. This tiny but crucial part of the epic brings attention to the option between the glorious legacy and personal morality. That fact that Gilgamesh opts both throughout the epic makes a statement concerning priorities and inclinations of humanity in general.

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Nature and Civilization

The relationship between the nature and civilization in the Epic of Gilgamesh is neither negative nor positive. The nature is described as a spot, which is both comforting and inviting, but also unknown and threatening. Civilization is depicted as a place of culture and defense, where one can go and discover humanity. The text approaches nature in an extremely interesting way. As Enkidu lives in the woods, the nature is painted as a homely place for him (Sandars, 1972). However, later, when he and Gilgamesh conquer Bull of Heaven, the nature is described as threatening and evil. The nature is also an exciting power, as in this poem, it is under control of gods. The account about the flood clearly describes the power the gods have over the entire nature; they can demolish everything any second. Thus, it makes every act of nature more individual throughout the poem. Was sunrise presupposed to bring hope? Was a tornado presupposed to send the king a different way? The gods’ plans are not at all times obvious to the reader. The nature is demonstrated via coexistence of evil and good.

Whilst the civilization permits Gilgamesh to exercise his genuine power and realize his fate as a leader among people, Gilgamesh, “who is extremely strong, and like wild bull he lords it over people” could have never demonstrated his amazing power if he was existing in the wilds by himself. However, entering the public has the opposite impact on Enkidu, who loses his power, when he is brought from nature to civilization.

When Enkidu lived in the woods as a beast, he “had joy of water with herds of the wild game” and “innocent of people; he knew nothing of cultivated land”. He was “the strongest in the globe; he is like undying from heaven”. Later in the poem, as Enkidu lies on his deathbed, he curses the moment he met people and especially the harlot, who brought him there, wishing on her “great curse”. Nevertheless, Shamash appears asking Enkidu “why are you cursing the female woman, who taught you to eat bread good for gods and drink wine of kings?”. Then Enkidu takes his curse back and wishes her happiness and wealth, but he still dies. Thus, the Epic of Gilgamesh does not declare that either nature or civilization is wholly bad or good. It demonstrates how civilization influences Gilgamesh and Enkidu in different ways.

The Gods are Dangerous and Kind

Enkidu and Gilgamesh know too well that the gods are hazardous towards people. Gods have own laws and often behave as irrationally and emotionally as children. Piety is crucial to the gods, and they wait for obedience whenever achievable. They may frequently be supportive, but angering them is a real madness. Moreover, respect for the gods is no assurance of defense as well. Therefore, the gods of the Epic of Gilgamesh vary from current religions, in which God is a strict but loving parent to his believers. The humans will obtain the covenant promises, if they behave well.

At the same time, gods may be loving and caring. Though we never find out why the gods initiated the great flood in Gilgamesh, we understand why Ea saves Utnapishtim and other creatures and humans of the globe. The god of crafts and wisdom, Ea, is accountable for human attributes counting cleverness, creativity and inventiveness, which enable humans to survive independently. Ishtar presides over sexual desire, nurturance, fertility, domesticity and agriculture, which guarantee humankind’s future. Also, Gilgamesh’s female parent Ninsun adopts Enkidu as her own son, not merely supporting his tie with Gilgamesh but also making him king’s brother. Thus, considering evil and good actions of the gods, it becomes obvious that they are extremely indistinguishable as well.

Conclusion

The given paper proves that the Epic of Gilgamesh does not present the characters, phenomena, gods or values unquestionably good or evil. With the help of several examples from the epic, such as the character of Gilgamesh, the essence of the gods, the relationship between the nature and civilization and killing a monster Humbaba, this essay demonstrates that the epic contains characters, topics, and values, which are extremely contradictory in their ambiguity and the world of Gilgamesh is painted in many shades of gray.

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