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Metaphysical Insights in the Epic of Gilgamesh

Updated on July 16, 2015

The Epic of Gilgamesh is a short story that is derived from Mesopotamia. This work, which has its roots from the ancient times has been regarded as being one of the greatest literary works in history. The historical aspects of Gilgamesh start with five poems from Sumeria those talks about Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk. Such independent narratives were utilized as source material for combined epic. The first existing version of this combined epic regarded as “Old Babylonian” is rooted in the 18th century BC (Andrew 34). This story contains many insightful concepts which are still relevant in modern times.

Reading the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is apparent that the author had several purposes in narrating the tale. Just like the Bible, the writer takes an instructive approach in his explanation of the various historical events. The Epic explains how the world came into being and consequently, the story can be equated with the narrative found in Genesis 1-3.

One of the most important metaphysical ideas present in this epic is an explanation of the identity, being or meaning. Gilgamesh, who is the main character is depicted as being confident in his identity. Two thirds of his being is divinity, while the rest is humanity. However, he harbors a sense of false confidence since he seems not to understand his humanity, particularly that pertaining to his mortality. All along, Gilgamesh had believed that he is an immortal being. When Enkidu dies, it makes Gilgamesh sad that he will have to pass through the same fate. Despite him wishing to have an identity, death appears to frustrate his desire. For an individual whose sense of identity and meaning was solely dependent upon action, vitality and recognition for what he had done. The thought of doing nothing and being nothing could not be acceptable to him.

Purpose/Doing/Life Practice

Another insight in this short story is that being an industrial man is not a guarantee of doing right things. Right in the first lines of this story, Gilgamesh portrays poor judgment regards how he is supposed to run his kingship. In spite of the fact that he depicts a blustery confidence, he does not know how he should live, act or relate to others and therefore he ends up mistreating citizens. Shamhat teaches Enkidu on civilization. However, Gilgamesh does not find anyone to teach him on civilization. Because of this, he does not understand how to rule well or what to do with his excessive energy. The early lines of the epic portray Gilgamesh as a voracious tyrant.

“In Uruk’s enclosure, he strode forth and back

Loading it as a wild bull, his head held high” (Foster, 2001,p)

Happiness/ Fulfillment

Just like all people, Gilgamesh strives to find happiness by finding the solutions to the issues of identity and purpose of life. Individuals need a life pattern, which is based on finding their own identities, lifting their potentials and offering their experiences that would satisfy their satisfaction (Thackara, 2005). This understanding of happiness can be retrieved from the words of Siduri, one of the inner keepers whom Gilgamesh encounters while on a mission to achieve immortality.

“Always be happy, day and night

Make a delight every day” (Andrew, 1999).

The Limitation of Human Experience

In the second half of the epic, Gilgamesh is focused on achieving immortality. Gilgamesh who is three quarters divine and a third human is seeking to find an answer to solve the problem of death. Despite the fact that Gilgamesh understands that all humans have to pass through death, he hopes that his divine parts will save him from this death. He fails to comprehend the fact that all mortals will have to die at one point.

“All living who are born out of the flesh shall at last sit in the West, and when the boat sinks, they will be gone However, we are determined to go forward to face this monster” (81).

However, he finds that his part of the divinity is not able to save him from death. Gilgamesh comes to understand that only the Gods are immortal, and Gilgamesh has no power to leverage them. Moreover, even the gods cannot be persuaded to prevent death of an individual. This is one part of the epic, which portrays a limitation of human experience (Foster, 2001).


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