Topical Essay 1 The story of “Gilgamesh” depicts all of the heroic triumphs and heart-breaking pitfalls a heroic narrative should depict to be able to relate to today’s audience. However, “Gilgamesh” was once considered a lost and forgotten piece of literature for thousands of years, so there is a tremendous gap between the time it was created and the time it was translated into language that today’s audience can understand.
That gap in history makes several aspects of the story of “Gilgamesh” strange and unfamiliar because what we now know about ancient Middle Eastern cultures and languages is a lot less than what we know about the cultures that prospered after ancient Middle Eastern cultures. Much of the content in the story of “Gilgamesh” is very familiar content to today’s audience but just about all of the characters in the story are not known by the average modern reader of today unless they have already read the story. This is another result of the time gap in the history of the translation of “Gilgamesh. Figures from later stories are more popular and well known to people who haven’t even read those stories. One example of the story of “Gilgamesh” being strange was when Enkidu was created by the gods’ to counter the harsh and egotistical ways of Gilgamesh. This was very strange to me because it was so unexpected. Normally a harsh and brutal king would die violently or be stopped by someone close to him. It was odd that someone had to be created to counter Gilgamesh being a tyrannical ruler. Later in the story Enkidu’s true purpose of being created was revealed.
The gods’ didn’t necessarily want Enkidu to destroy Gilgamesh in order to stop him from being a harsh ruler; their intent was for Enkidu to develop a strong friendship with him. Even after discovering why Enkidu was really created I still thought his creation was very strange because I have never read a story which contains something of that nature. Another part of the story of “Gilgamesh” I found to be strange was how the prostitute was depicted. The word prostitute already has a negative connotation so you assume that the prostitute would be an unsavory and despicable character.
However, the prostitute was depicted as a nurturer and a symbol of pleasure. The prostitute seduced Enkidu and taught him how to function properly in human society. The prostitute also played a major role in Enkidu and Gilgamesh becoming friends because she led Enkidu to Uruk, which was the place Gilgamesh ruled. The way the story of “Gilgamesh” ended was a bit strange to me as well because typical heroic narratives end in heroism and triumph. In the story of “Gilgamesh” Gilgamesh doesn’t reach his goal of attaining eternal life at the end, instead he fails miserably and meets the inevitable fate of death.
I expected him to overcome the tremendous odds that were stacked against him and victoriously become immortal. Today’s audience is used to the hero overcoming what most consider impossible at the end of a story. Although I found the story of “Gilgamesh” to be somewhat strange it contained several familiar elements that are prevalent in many heroic tales from the past and present. One familiar element was what some people refer to as the “under-dog” factor. Gilgamesh and Enkidu embarked upon the most grueling and epic journey of their lives just to find the vicious giant named Humbaba.
The way that Humbaba was described in the story made you feel like there is no way possible he can be defeated. This makes the audience want to side with the lesser opponents because you can relate to them more and you want to see them succeed because what they had to go through to get to the point they were at. The other aspect that was familiar to today’s audience was Gilgamesh’s reasoning for wanting to slay Humbaba. Gilgamesh wanted himself and Enkidu to be honored and recognized for doing something that no one has done before.
Gilgamesh wanted to be praised and recognized as a hero to the people of Uruk. Throughout the story of “Gilgamesh” he embarked on the familiar journey of notoriety. This is very common in many of today’s heroic tales as well. I thought Gilgamesh and Enkidu starting off as enemies and becoming dear friends soon after was another familiar aspect of the story of “Gilgamesh. ” Their strong friendship and alliance showed a common bond that today’s audience would immediately relate to and latch on to. When Enkidu died you can almost feel Gilgamesh’s pain through the pages you were reading the story from.
That type of pain and emotion is so familiar to today’s audience because it leaves a lasting effect on the reader. In conclusion, the story of Gilgamesh was entertainingly strange and familiar to today’s audience because of it once being a lost work of literature and it containing several elements that today’s audience can relate to. After reading the story of “Gilgamesh” I have a better understanding of how knowing about a certain culture can change your opinion on how you view certain elements in a story.
If I was more knowledgeable of ancient Middle Eastern cultures I might not have found some of the elements I thought were strange to be strange at all and I might not have thought that some of the elements I thought were familiar to be familiar at all. Works Cited Clinton, Wright Jerome and Bernard M. W. Knox. “Gilgamesh. ” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Sarah Lawall and Maynard Mack. 2nd ed. Vol. A. New York, London: Norton & Company, 2002. 10-41. Print.