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Archive for August, 2010

An epic is a lengthy poetic composition that is comprised of three main elements: a hero, his/her journey, and a lesson learned or goal achieved upon completing said quest. A story is not an epic without a hero. But what is a hero? For the purposes of this story, a hero is just this: someone who sets out to challenge themselves on both mental and physical planes in order to gain knowledge/goods. However, my idea of hero differs from many others in that the acceptance of one’s fate is the deciding factor of if you’re a true hero or not.

With this being said, is Gilgamesh a hero? I would say so, yes. However, he had to go through quite a character transformation before I could even consider him to be heroic.

In the prologue of Gilgamesh, I thought the protagonist to be an arrogant pansy in need of complete control and dominion over his subjects. How can a pansy be a hero? Sure, he is the son of the goddess Rimat-Ninsun and king to the people of Uruk, but does royal and divine blood constitute what it is to be a hero? Not in the slightest. A crown does not change a country, the leader does. So does Gilgamesh possess any real gusto? Can he overcome extreme physical and mental obstacles? Throughout the epic, Gilgamesh proves his physical brawn by defeating Humbaba alongside his companion Enkidu and Shamash, the sun god. However, his strength was not enough to convince me of his heroism. He had assistance in defeating the forest beast. True heroism is shown when the protagonist can stand alone against his/her aggressors. It is up to the individual to face their demons, and in this case, Gilgamesh must resign to the fact that he will not live forever. Near the end of the epic, his only opponent is himself.

Gilgamesh

Heroes go through trials and tribulations throughout their journey and display character transformations toward the end of the tale. It was not until the death of Enkidu that Gilgamesh “saw the light,” so to speak. By watching his friend slip into the mortal coil, Gilgamesh soon began to question his own state of being. Finality and “the End” are frightening concepts to any mortal. Even for Gilgamesh, a demi-God, he could not bear the thought of aging into oblivion. With this issue haunting his thoughts, Gilgamesh sets out to remedy his mortal state and achieve immortality. He journeys on to seek out the counsel of Utnapishtim, a known immortal. The plant that Utnapishtim suggests is swept away by a serpent and once his chance to cheat death slips away, Gilgamesh is left in shambles. It is after this failure that Gilgamesh truly discovers himself. Despite failing to achieve immortality, Gilgamesh learns the worth of mortality. He reflects on the magnificence of his life back home. Does being a hero mean living forever? Not necessarily. In the flesh, Gilgamesh will eventually fade away. In stories, Gilgamesh will live forever. When  it comes down to it, changing one’s mind is often tougher than changing the physical world because humans are stubborn creatures. Why would Gilgamesh want to live forever without Enkidu, anyway? In the end, Gilgamesh learned that mortality is a gift, not a curse. It is with Gilgamesh’s acceptance of his fate that he truly achieves the title of hero.

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Here ends my ENG 102 Research blog and begins an adventure into the world of epics, heroes, and World Literature (ENG 231).

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