Is Gilgamesh an Epic Hero

May 18, 2018 General Studies

In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh, the young king of the ancient Sumerian city-state of Uruk travels on long journey in search of internal life while facing many challenges and adverse situations while battling for his life. In this epic journey, Gilgamesh’s homecoming brings not only a loyal king, but also a hero to the people of Uruk. In this piece of ancient literature, Gilgamesh holds all of the characteristics of a hero as he displayed his skills as a brave warrior, an intelligent leader, and he is willing to die for his kingdom.

When the gods created Gilgamesh in this heroic poem, they created a strong king that the great gods say, “two-thirds they made him god and one-third man” (48), empowering him with great strength and fearsome good looks. Gilgamesh is described as being “terrifying like a great wild bull” (48). In the beginning, Gilgamesh was a rambunctious young adult that abused his authority in his kingdom but eventually developed into a brave warrior that displays great courage.

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Gilgamesh first demonstrated his courage and great strength when he travels to the “Land of the Cedars” and slaughtered the beast that inhabits it, “[the] battering ram” called Humbaba (53). Gilgamesh’s goal in the slaying was to receive undying fame. To exhibit the terror associated with the feat of battling Humbaba, the townsmen feared for Gilgamesh’s wellbeing. They stated, “may your guardian god protect you on the road and bring you safely back to the quay of Uruk” (56). Humbaba was no match for Gilgamesh as he “struck Humbaba with a thrust of the sword to the neck” (60), proving his courage, he gave the severed head to the gods.

After slaying the beast, he headed back to the people of Uruk. Again, he shows his feat as a valiant fighter when Ishart, (the Queen of Heaven) orders Anu (Father of the Gods) to send the “bull of Heaven” to earth to destroy Gilgamesh, however “he seized the thick of his tail, he thrust the sword between the nape and the horns and slew the bull” (62). These tasks of feat guided Gilgamesh on the beginning of his quest to become a hero. Next, Gilgamesh displays his intellect as a leader. The one thing that Gilgamesh has done throughout this poem was consults the Gods for wisdom and direction.

Gilgamesh did this especially with Ninsun, “one of the wise gods” (51), who happens to be his mother. Ninsun gave Gilgamesh insight about his dreams. The dream that Enkindu was his true friend. She states, “The axe, which you saw [in your dream], which drew you so powerfully like a woman, that is the comrade whom I give you, and he will come in his strength like one of the host of heaven” (51). Enkindu and Gilgamesh became like brothers. Furthermore, In his quest for everlasting life, he meets Utanapishtim, a close friend of the god Ea (the God of water and wisdom). Utanapishtim tells Gilgamesh about a plant at the bottom of the sea.

Once this plant is eaten, it will “restores his lost youth to a man” (75). Giving Gilgamesh eternal life. Being the leader he is, Gilgamesh states, “I will take it to Uruk… I will give it to the old men to eat… and at last I shall eat it myself and have back all my lost youth” (76). This is an example of a true leader. One that seeks the best for his people and not just for himself. An intelligent leader is one always seeking for wisdom, a trait needed to become a hero. Finally, Gilgamesh is willing to die at any moment for his kingdom. Death is the final characteristic needed to become a hero.

When Gilgamesh battles Humbaba and the bull from heaven and rid the beast from his world, Gilgamesh always knew that death was staring him in the face. Ekindu states on his deathbed, “I shall not die like a man fallen in battle; I fear to fall, but happy is the man who falls in the battle” (65). Heroes are fearless, not afraid to face adversity when confronted with the challenges of life. In conclusion, comparing Gilgamesh with today’s society, this epic poem illustrates not only a journey, but also a transformation of change similar to a child going through their adolescent years into adulthood.

People today mature by their experiences and the different challenges set forth through various battles and fights in life, climbing different obstacles, and dealing with fate and mortality. For example, people facing life challenge such as cancer, battling a beast in a fight for life, surviving the fight, and becoming a heroic warrior within their home and community. That is what makes a hero, overcoming adversity. Gilgamesh overcame adversity and the struggles of life.


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