The Epic of Gilgamesh Explication Assignment

Then he called to the man Gilgamesh, he called to the child of the gods: “”Why have you come so great a journey; for what have you travelled so far, crossing the dangerous waters; tell me the reason for your coming?”” Gilgamesh answered, “”For Enkidu; I loved him dearly, together we endured all kinds of hardships; on his account I have come, for the common lot of man has taken him. I have wept for him day and night, I would not give up his body for burial, I thought my friend would come back because of my weeping. Since he went, my life is nothing; that is why I have travelled here in search of Utnapishtim my father; for men say he has entered the assembly of gods, and has found everlasting life. I have a desire to question him concerning the living and the dead.”” The Man-Scorpion opened his mouth and said, speaking to Gilgamesh, “”No man born of woman has done what you have asked, no mortal man has gone into the mountains; the length of it is twelve leagues of darkness; in it there is no light, but the heart is oppressed with darkness. From the rising of the sun to the setting of the sun there is no light.”” Gilgamesh said, “”Although I should go in sorrow and in pain, with sighing and with weeping, still I must go. Open the gate of the mountain.”” And the Man-Scorpion said, “”Go Gilgamesh, I permit you to pass through the mountain of Mashu and go through the high ranges; may your feet carry you safely home. The gate of the mountain is open.”” The Norton Anthology, World Masterpieces, Gilgamesh, 32.

In this passage, Gilgamesh, after the death of Enkidu, wants to go to Utnapishtim who has achieved immortality and wants to gain immortality for himself. Gilgamesh has to go through the great mountains of Mashu and the Man-Scorpion was guarding it. The Man-Scorpion according to the text is half man and half dragon. Gilgamesh, 32.

This shows the guard of the mountains as a terrifying creature that people cannot go through because of fear. The Man-Scorpion resisted from letting Gilgamesh go at first but eventually let Gilgamesh pass because of his unbreakable determination of meeting Utnapishtim to achieve immortality. When the Man-Scorpion calls Gilgamesh, he uses the terms ‘man’ and ‘child’. The use of the term man shows that the Man-Scorpion was not afraid of Gilgamesh and had a higher position and power than him even though Gilgamesh is two third god and has defeated multiple enemies before meeting the Man-Scorpion. The word ‘man’ also in a way foreshadows Gilgamesh’s fate, that even though he was searching for immortality, he would not find it because men are mere mortals and have to die. Another term that the Man-Scorpion uses is ‘child’. The use of the word child portrays the childlike nature of Gilgamesh. Even though Gilgamesh went through changes since being with Enkidu, he is still called child because he has little knowledge of things such as death just like a child. The only time Gilgamesh experienced death personally was when his friend, and brother in arms, Enkidu, died. This affected Gilgamesh, as he did not experience death closely before.

Another thing that can be seen from this passage is Gilgamesh’s selfishness. Gilgamesh was asked why he had ‘travelled so far’, he said that it was out of his love for Enkidu. He wanted to ask Utnapishtim about the ‘living and the dead’ and wanted to know how to achieve immortality. Enkidu’s death made him realize that his life could potentially come to an end as well no matter how strong the gods made him. However, that passage also shows that Gilgamesh did truly love Enkidu. Before Enkidu died, they did a lot together and according to the passage, Gilgamesh told this to the Man-Scorpion, “”I loved him dearly, together we endured all kinds of hardships””. The word ‘dearly’ means, “”with affection: fondly”” and also “”heartily, earnestly.”” “”dearly.”” Merriam-Webster.com. 2018. https://www.merriam-webster.com (30 November 2018).

This shows the amount of love Gilgamesh had for Enkidu and relating it back to one of Gilgamesh’s dreams where he saw a meteor and an axe, and he said to his mother that he loved them like a woman. Gilgamesh, 16

A man loves a woman more affectionately than he would love his brother and so Gilgamesh saying that he loved Enkidu ‘dearly’ shows that they had a very strong relationship that was beyond just being brothers in arms. The part of the sentence when Gilgamesh says, “”we have endured all kinds of hardships”” can be seen as Gilgamesh talking about the difficult battles that him and Enkidu have been through but another not so obvious meaning behind it is that it can be seen as a husband and wife going through, or ‘enduring’ hardships in their life. Even though that meaning is not obvious to readers at first, through the relationship that Gilgamesh and Enkidu had before Enkidu died, shows how much Gilgamesh loved Enkidu and was willing to make a long and difficult journey for him. This reason, however, contradicts Gilgamesh’s selfish reason to go to Utnapishtim and gain immortality so that he himself does not die.

Enkidu’s body had been taken away for burial by people whom Gilgamesh describes as, “”the common lot of man””. The meaning of the word common in this context is to be, “”characterized by a lack of privilege or special status.”” “”common.”” Merriam-Webster.com. 2018. https://www.merriam-webster.com (1 December 2018).

The use of the word ‘common’ to describe the people shows that Gilgamesh still thought of himself highly, and above others, so the people that took away Enkidu’s body were just common people without any special privilege or status unlike Gilgamesh who was a two-thirds god. Gilgamesh did not want Enkidu’s body to be taken away and did not want Enkidu to die, so he was crying day and night and he thought his crying could bring back Enkidu. This again shows Gilgamesh’s childlike knowledge of death. Once someone is dead, he or she cannot return back to life, but Gilgamesh did not know that and so he was weeping for Enkidu to try to bring him back. This can be related to the beginning of the passage when Gilgamesh was called a ‘child’ by the Man-Scorpion, which shows that even though Gilgamesh was higher than others in strength and status, he had knowledge of things such as death like a child. However, this little knowledge of death also shows that Gilgamesh previously did not care about it much, neither other’s death or his own, but when Enkidu, someone extremely dear to him died, it was as if he was shaken up, and came to the realization that someday it could be his own fate.

After the death of Enkidu, Gilgamesh felt as if he lost purpose in life, which is why he says to the Man-Scorpion, “”Since he went, my life is nothing””. The pronoun ‘he’ is referring to Enkidu and the use of the word ‘nothing’ shows that Gilgamesh felt empty as if the loss of Enkidu made him lose something of his own since they were so close to each other. He did not know what to do in his life at that point and that is the reason he gives to the Man-Scorpion to let him pass through the mountains to meet Utnapishtim. Gilgamesh refers to Utnapishtim as his father, as he says to the Man-Scorpion, “”that is why I have travelled here in search of Utnapishtim my father””. It is not clear how Gilgamesh is referring to Utnapishtim as a father in this context. It could be as his actual father or father in meaning someone higher than him, such as addressing gods or kings. It could be that Gilgamesh is referring to Utnapishtim as a father because he had “”entered the assembly of gods”” by gaining immortality. Utnapishtim gained immortality in when Uruk was flooded by the god Enlil, but as Utnapishtim survived he was blessed with immortality by Enlil. Gilgamesh, 37-39.

Gilgamesh desired for this everlasting life as well. He says to the Man-Scorpion, “”I have a desire to question him concerning the living and the dead””. Gilgamesh wants to ask questions to Utnapishtim and find out the secret of life and death and how he could be immortal. The use of the phrase “”I have a desire””, rather than “”I want to””, shows how much Gilgamesh cares about this subject, ‘life’, and he emphasizes his will to ask and know about the living and dead by using the word ‘desire’. To this, the Man-Scorpion said that no man born of woman had ever done what Gilgamesh had asked to do. He also said that no mortal man had ever gone through the mountains. By saying no man born of a woman and the word mortal man, the Man-Scorpion asserts his position over Gilgamesh, that he is more powerful than him, but it also foreshadows Gilgamesh’s fate that he will die as a mortal. The use of the term mortal also strengthens the Man-Scorpions argument that Gilgamesh is mortal and since no mortal man had gone through the mountains, Gilgamesh could not either. The Man-Scorpion tries to input more fear into Gilgamesh by describing the path inside the mountain. The path had no light, there was “”twelve leagues of darkness””, and he also says, “”the heart is oppressed with darkness.”” The entire length of the journey would take Gilgamesh days because the Man-Scorpion says that from when the sun rises to when it sets, there is no light in the mountain. The path seems to be a very long and difficult path but what is most interesting is when the Man-Scorpion says the heart will be oppressed with darkness. This could mean that fear would not let someone complete the journey through the mountain as it is so dark. The word oppress means to “”crush or burden by abuse of power or authority”” and also “”to burden spiritually or mentally.”” “”oppress.”” Merriam-Webster.com. 2018. https://www.merriam-webster.com (8 December 2018).

This shows that Gilgamesh would be mentally oppressed in the darkness, as he will not be able to see or comprehend his surroundings.

Gilgamesh is not moved by the Man-Scorpion, he is still determined to go through the mountain to meet Utnapishtim. He says that he would go in ‘sorrow’ and in pain, sighing and crying, but he still had to go no matter what. This bold determination most likely comes from him not wanting to die, and his sorrow, pain, and weeping come from the death of his dear Enkidu. The word ‘sorrow’ in this context means, “”deep distress, sadness, or regret especially for the loss of someone or something loved””. “”sorrow.”” Merriam-Webster.com. 2018. https://www.merriam-webster.com (14 December 2018).

This definition of sorrow confirms that one of the pushes for Gilgamesh to go to Utnapishtim was the death of Enkidu. Yet there is a conflict with another reason for Gilgamesh to go to Utnapishtim, which is his selfish will to become immortal. This conflict can, however, be resolved when Gilgamesh later goes to Utnapishtim and he gets knowledge of the plant which restores youth. When Gilgamesh gets this plant, he not only wants to use it for himself but also give it to other old men to restore their lost youth. Gilgamesh, 40-41.

This shows a change in Gilgamesh from being very self-centered in the beginning to caring about others as well. As the Man-Scorpion, the guard of the mountains permits Gilgamesh to go through he says, “”may your feet carry you safely home””, indicating that at the end of the journey, Gilgamesh would be at a place which would be his home. Somewhere he can rest at ease. This foreshadows Gilgamesh’s death as it could mean that his home is his afterlife, where he can live eternally at peace.

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The Epic of Gilgamesh Explication Assignment. (2019, Jul 29). Retrieved July 28, 2021 , from
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