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character in Gilgamesh undertakes a journey which is more than a trip from one place to another. This kind of journey is a quest, a quest for self. Gilgamesh is trying to learn who he is and to understand his place in the world, and this is the quest he begins, a quest that takes him far and that takes a lot of time to complete. The physical journey he takes is only the visible part of the quest, while the main part is internal, a journey into his own soul to find himself.
The time of the story is one in which human beings felt close to the gods and felt that the gods intervened in their lives. Gilgamesh is a ruler who is considered to be too devoted to war, and the gods hear the lament of the people and send their own created hero, Enkidu, to do battle with Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh defeats Enkidu, after which they are friends. They set out together against Humbaba to do battle. When Gilgamesh refuses the marriage proposal of the goddess of love, Ishtar, she sends a divine bull against him, and he and Enkidu kill it. Enkidu dreams that he must die for his role in killing the bull, and he does die. Gilgamesh seeks a way to see that his friend is granted eternal life and sets out on a journey to meet the one man who survived the Great Flood and who can give him answers.
Many of the elements in this epic can be found in other epics, from the journey as a quest for some advantage to the slaying of a creature sent to do destruction. The epic also involves certain social values in its celebration of the hero, its reverence for the gods, and its belief in the ruler-hero as a god himself. The people of this time also believe in fate and place their fate in the hands of the gods. Gilgamesh has these same values and lives in a way that is ordained by the gods. Gilgamesh is described as "the favorite of the gods, the beautiful, / strongest of all, the terror, the most desired" (9). He is the leader, and he is the most revered and because he represents the fate, security, and stability of the people and their kingdom. When Gilgamesh dies, the people lament. Every aspect of life is ascribed to a god or gods -- the death of Gilgamesh is attributed to Ereshkigal, the Queen of Death, and it is said that "He did not fall in battle . . . The Nether World itself it was that seized him" (90).
The people see the world as a place of dangers, ruled by different gods who behave as rulers of their particular kingdom. The people value the warlike strength of Gilgamesh because he can protect them from these other gods, as well as from other rules who might attack them. At the same time, as is shown in the creation of Enkidu, Gilgamesh himself is ruled by the gods and subject to their will, though his strength and power are such that he becomes a god himself in the end. The gods speak to individuals through their dreams, and dreams foretell the future and provide lessons which come directly from the gods.
The quest undertaken by Gilgamesh has two aspects, as noted, the first being the physical journey, and the second being the quest for an understanding of himself. The first is heroic in the epic mold, taking Gilgamesh into danger. Gilgamesh is warned by the old men of the city that there will be danger, and they say "Helpless is he who enters the Cedar Forest" (18). Gilgamesh says he will enter the forest anyway. The journey he undertakes with Enkidu is difficult, and especially difficult for Gilgamesh as "The two of them traveled fifty leagues a day, / Never resting except at night" (21). This is not a hardship for Enkidu, who does not eat or sleep, but it is difficult for Gilgamesh, who does need to eat and sleep. Gilgamesh also undertakes a different sort of journey in his dreams, for dreams are a way for the gods to speak to humans and to take them on a journey to the soul in a less direct manner. His dreams are ominous, but they are interpreted as good…[continue]
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