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Essay on Key Theme of the 'Epic of Gilgamesh'

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The famous playwright Euripides once said, “One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives” ( The presence of friends makes our life worthwhile, but it is difficult to find a decent companion who will be with us in all the circumstances of life. In the ancient Babylonian epic Gilgamesh, we can observe a close bonded relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. The two men, who are equally strong, uniting their courage and fear, grow together emotionally and physically, thus making a perfect team. Through the death of his beloved friend Enkidu, Gilgamesh feels an enormous abyss and refuses to recover from it. The most significant plot detail in the primary scene of Gilgamesh is the establishment of friendship between the two characters. Towards the end of the episode, it serves to introduce the theme of friendship and the pain of loss as a humanizing element. To illustrate his grief towards the dead, Gilgamesh builds the statue of Enkidu, dresses like him to reenact his existence, and sings songs about him. Additionally, his actions reveal an unhealthy way to grieve since he cannot get over the fact of human mortality.

From the beginning, Gilgamesh never had an equivalent to share his vitality, quality, and experience until he met Enkidu, who is physically similar to him. A friend that is willing to fight with someone from your side is a friend to keep. When a hero fights someone evil because of their negative impact, people become closer under struggle. To illustrate this, fighting with the Bull of Heaven is an incident of physical fellowship. Both warriors contribute to murdering the bull, where Enkidu skillfully controlled the Bull of Heaven, and Gilgamesh butchers it between its shoulders and the base of its horn. They work together as a team and become closer soul mates, thus making their bonding even stronger.

Togetherness and support are central themes of friendship, and this is continually present between them. Their fellowship is established through their battle with the beast Humbaba, who resides in the Cedar Forest. Where Enkidu seeks to prevent Gilgamesh from fighting and entering the endless forest, however, the self-driven king refuses to do so. His future notoriety and glory mean a great deal to him: “Listen, dear friend, even if the forest goes on forever, I have to enter it, climb its slopes, cut down a cedar that is tall enough to make a whirlwind as it falls to earth” (Mitchell 92). Even though Gilgamesh is courageous, he depends on his friend to guide him in the unknown land.

To protect his only friend, he leaves him on a treacherous journey. All along the way they had to camp together and find needs for survival while comforting and taking care of one another. Basically, they were parenting each other. During the night, Gilgamesh got terrifying dreams that shook his determination about winning the battle against the fire-breathing monster. His five dreams foreshadowed the idea that death may be approaching in the future, or that something dangerous is about to happen next. A piece from his third dream uses imagery that implies death “By the time the flames died out, the ground was covered with ashes” (Mitchell 110). The brave king might say that he is courageous but is also scared. He continually needs reinsurance of comfort from Enkidu since he becomes tensed after watching every dream. This is another moment in which the brotherhood between the two grows further. They encourage each other along the way and hope for the best in their favor. As Enkidu says a few last words of encouragement to Gilgamesh, he exclaims, “Courage, dear friend. Close your ears to Humbaba’s curses. Don't listen to a word. Slaughter him! Now!” (Mitchell 127). When Enkidu convinces Gilgamesh to kill Humbaba, the epic reveals that influential friendships will always have a positive outcome. A feeling of achievement will occur and a will when determining something ambitious. A friend can only provide this since they are the ones who understand you the most.

Loss can mean two things, one being a failure at hard work and the second, being death. Gilgamesh was never a slothful king, but death was something that he was never prepared for. After combating two mighty devils, Enkidu dies. Gilgamesh feels lost and helpless because his mighty strength could not save his friend. Rather than dying gloriously in a battle, he instead lays in his bed and leaves the world. Furthermore, instead of burning him, he keeps him in that bed for six days until the seventh day, a maggot fell out of his nose. Even after his death, he was holding on to the hope that just maybe his friend would wake up somehow. It took him seven days to finally realize that he is powerless against death, and eventually, every human must die, including him. Even though he is half-human and half-mortal, Gilgamesh refuses to accept the fact of life and visits his family ancestor Utnapishtim in the underworld. During the conversation with Utnapishtim, he describes, “When gods assemble, they decide your fate, they establish both life and death for you, but the time of death they do not reveal” (Mitchell 179). Humans cannot forever stay young and keep on living. This is the reason why parents have kids; there must be someone who must come after and keeps the family tree present. The ancestor guides him towards a leaf that is underneath the water and is supposed to keep Gilgamesh young. However, failure strikes and the snake eats the leaf.

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The mighty king is in such a state of depression after his friend's death that he cannot move past it. Gilgamesh finally gives his friend a lavish burial ceremony, laying him to rest in what he describes as a perfect resting place. “I will lay him down on a bed of honor, I will put him on a royal bier, on my left I will place his statue in the seat of repose, the princes of the earth will kiss its feet” (Mitchell 155). Additionally, Gilgamesh also serves many offerings to the rulers of the underworld so that his friend is taken care of. It is essential to realize true friendship where companions matter more than anybody else.

In addition, his grief does not end here. He expresses his loss through mourning practices, which include building a statue, dressing like him, and singing songs. He calls on his craftsmen and has them build a statue in the image of his great friend covered in gold and other precious metals and stones to forever immortalize his friend. This is exceptionally impactful for Gilgamesh to do such a magnificent thing to remember his friend. The statue is like a representation of God. Instead of communicating with God, he would now communicate with Enkidu and devote his time to him in this way. His heart is metaphorically connected with the statue in a way that cannot ever be detached. In ancient times kings built statues that are personally connected to them, but building a statue, in this case, is the only way for Gilgamesh to see his friend in his proper glory.

The wild man, Enkidu, is assumed as half animal, but his physical appearance shows him as a pure human. The wilderness boy left his footprint and deep sorrow on Gilgamesh to follow his path. Gilgamesh leaves his lavish home behind and goes to wander in the deep forest in order to remember Enkidu’s presence. He dressed like an animal “with matted hair, in a loin skin” (Michelle 155). Gilgamesh went to where Enkidu came from. It evokes his dead companion’s wild origins as he personifies the meadows and landscape and projects his grief upon them. In other words, nature also symbolizes separation or getaways since there is not a solid door, there is a transition for Gilgamesh from civilization to the wilderness, to spend some time by himself and think about his best friend. Enkidu is transformed, leaving behind the world of animals and nature and entering the world of humans. In the same way, Gilgamesh is also leaving the world of humans and joining the wild.

Singing songs for his dead friend is another action performed by Gilgamesh. It provides him the satisfaction that his friend might be listening to him and might later respond to him. In this way, singing songs also relates to singing performances held in churches. When people sing in churches, they are trying to remember God and absorb his goodness in their hearts. This is exactly what Gilgamesh is trying to do. He is representing his devotion to his friend instead of God. As a result, he is communicating with Enkidu to get peace and finally accept the reality of death.

While the setting of Gilgamesh is set in ancient Egyptian times, it set a standard of death in modern-day society. More specifically, humans are still petrified of the idea of death. Therefore, we can all learn from Gilgamesh that we might be living in a kingdom that fully provides one individuality, expression, and hope, unfortunately, every human must depart this earth one day. As a result, it is imperative that we all live our lives in the present and not focus on what we have lost.

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Essay on Key Theme of the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 10, 2023, from
“Essay on Key Theme of the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023,
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