Essay about Gilgamesh's Transformation

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The Epic of Gilgamesh is an important story that shows the transition of a mythical hero. Gilgamesh is a character who undergoes a significant change throughout the book, as his personal characteristics are called into question and he develops new norms with relationships with those around him. Throughout the epic, one can see some lessons being taught about the nature of friendship and the nature of leadership. Accordingly, one learns of legacy and how, even if one has a negative legacy in the beginning, he or she may be able to change that legacy if they are able to do enough of the hard things. For Gilgamesh, the beginning brought on a legacy of death and destruction. He was powerful, vain, and cruel, wanting to leave behind nothing but fear in his wake. Over time, though, this changes, and it is his friendship with Enkidu and the death of that friend that ultimately causes Gilgamesh to have a change of heart. He decides to dedicate himself to something new and to change his ways in a manner that provided him with more fulfillment. What this epic shows is that it is never too late for a person to change their legacy, but if one has a severely negative approach, then it can be difficult to do so. On top of that, the epic shows that good leaders are not people who are feared by those around them, but rather, are people who lead by example and are able to generate love and respect for their followers through proper means rather than just intimidation. Throughout the course of the epic, the fact that Gilgamesh is able to change his ways provides hope that even the worst possible leaders can have a change of heart and a change of strategy in order to do better.

At the beginning of the epic, Gilgamesh saw himself as a person and a leader who could not be touched. For example, the epic explains, “In Uruk-the-Sheepfold he walks [back and forth,] like a wild bull lording it, head held aloft, He has no equal when his weapons are brandished, his companions are kept on their feet by his contests” (Epic of Gilgamesh 3). This is the manner in which he saw himself, as a person who could not be defeated even while those around him would falter. This is a model of leadership that is self-serving and arrogant. One might even say that the model is the opposite of servant leadership. Autocratic leaders are those who think that they are above everyone else and that no one else can compare to their strengths. This does not motivate people, and this is something that Gilgamesh eventually had to think about and deal with. It is in this that he angers the people he is supposed to be leading, but it is also in this that Gilgamesh comes to realize his mistakes.

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The transformation of Gilgamesh comes as a result of his friendship with Enkidu. Enkidu is created in order to give the leader an equal, but it becomes more than that. Gilgamesh comes to respect and loves Enkidu in a way that he has never known how to love before, and it comes to bother him deeply when Enkidu is not able to complete the journey with him. When Enkidu dies, this crushes Gilgamesh, and it causes him to want to have a different relationship with the people under his charge. After it all, he comes to want to live his life in such a way that it actually honors Enkidu. He wants to think about the legacy of his friend, and his friend would have wanted him to be softer, calmer, and kinder. In the beginning, this effort is a selfish one, too. He says at one point, “I shall die, and shall I not then be as Enkidu? Sorrow has entered my heart! I am afraid of death, so I wander the wild, to find Uta-napishti, son of Ubar-Tutu” (Epic of Gilgamesh 70). By this, he means that his brother’s spirit is immortal, and he wants to be that. This means that he is looking for some kind of fountain of immorality, like one of the Utnapishtim. Ultimately this is also foolish and reflects the fact that in the beginning, he did not make a full transition. However, as he began to look for a method toward that kind of immortal behavior, he comes to find something about himself. It was not just being immortal that was important to him. If he wanted to honor his friend, then he had to come to see the people around him like his friend would have. This meant that he needed to be a gentler person who was not indulging his every vice. It meant that he need not be the kind of person who is lured by sex and other distractions. Rather, he needed to find a sense of honor.

Over the course of the epic, he eventually comes to find that he had been wrong in how he viewed people and treated people. He came to see that being kind was a different sort of strength. He had viewed this in the past as being a weakness, but this was no longer the case moving forward, so he wanted to change his ways. Eventually, Gilgamesh finds that he cannot do it on his own, and he needs help. He says at the end of the epic, “O Ur-Hanabi, climb Uruk’s wall and walk back and forth! Survey its foundations, examine the brickwork! Were its bricks not fired in an oven? Did the Seven Sages not lay its foundations?” (Epic of Gilgamesh 99). At that moment, Gilgamesh thinks back on the leader he once was. He thinks about how cruel he was to his people and realizes that he needs to make a change. He wants to be a better leader for his people, in honor of Enkidu. He wants to be able to feed them and provide something rather than just being the kind of leader that dominates and takes. This is one of the ways in which he transforms himself as a leader. He stops being an autocrat in part because he sees that nothing good can come of it. Rather, he starts to be a kind of servant leader. This theory suggests that a leader should gain support and motivate his followers by getting out in front and serving them. It is a sort of leadership where a leader does not talk big or try to scare people but depends on the concept that if a leader is doing things for other people, then they will know their value and will want to do their best just the same. This is a miraculous transformation that ultimately shows that if one is motivated enough, they do not have to be bound by their old norms.

Ultimately the legacy that Gilgamesh has, in the end, is very different from the one he began with. He began leaving a legacy of a mean person who was to be feared above all else. He was not loved or appreciated, and in reality, he was not even respected by those around him. Of course, this all changes over time, as Gilgamesh comes to do something different with his life. He begins to become a kinder person and a stronger ruler than he once was. Instead of being harsh, he began to show compassion for his people. He is then seen as a person who cared deeply for his friend and began to want the best for the people under his charge. This became his enduring legacy, as well as the capacity to make hard changes, which was not a small thing, either.

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