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The Gilgamesh Epic is among the earliest works in history and is categorized under epic poems. Originating from Mesopotamia, the poem consists of twelve tablets covering the relationship between the main character Gilgamesh and Enkidu who is his closest male companion. The narration is done in past tense trying to bring out the fact that the poem is Gilgamesh own wordings and he wrote it by himself. ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh” commemorates historical deeds and people as it breaks down Gilgamesh life experiences that were characterized by grief, heroism, and his wisdom in a universal and perpetual process. His story can be viewed to be both immediate and timeless. The scope of this paper however will be limited to the themes, ideas, characterization and arguments that are evident in tablet 1 of the poem (Andrew pg 45).
The characters used in the poem have played a major role in the development of the plot, themes, ideas and symbols. The main character is introduced as Gilgamesh and has been given a double and unstable compound role of being a man in some parts and a god in others. He is considered to be the greatest of all the men in the poem, and both his flaws and virtues are outsized. Gilgamesh is best known to most characters in the book as a being the most ambitious of al the builders and fiercest of all the warriors. These strong traits are not only brought out in the first table but in the rest of the poem. However, his characters change as the story unfolds in the rest of the tablets. He later turns around to his loyal subjects with forced labor, ceaseless battle and arbitrary power exercise (Andrew pg 78)
Enkidu on the other hand is presented by the narrator as a brawny and hairy chested man whose main role in the tablet was to serve as a faithful sidekick to Gilgamesh. In this table, he remains a faithful helper and loyal servant to the main character later becoming, more like his brother, soul mate, and even his conscience. His life was a wild one being raised by animals making it unrefined and crude. This explains the role he plays in the poem though he was to some extend instinctively chivalrous. Though he is bolder than most of the characters in the poem, he come out as being less pious as he is expected by most people. The other supporting characters include Siduri and Utupishtim. Though they dint play a major role in the story, they contributed a lot in the plot development.
Themes are always fundamental in any work of literature and are mostly used in exploring ideas inversely. This is the case in “The Epic of Gilgamesh” as the book has made use of several themes to bring out the main ideas and motives. The most outstanding theme is the love that is brought out as a motivation force. It is the platonic and erotic love that is behind Gilgamesh motivation. This can also be seen when love was responsible for changing Enkidu to a noble man from a wild man. The change came about as a result of his friendship with Gilgamesh. This friendship was mutual as through it Gilgamesh was also transformed from a tyrant and bully into an exemplary hero and king. Though the narrator did not bring out female love interest in the epic, he makes use of the erotic love (Andrew pg 29)
Humanity is evident in the female life force that was characteristic of fertility, sex, nurturance and domesticity. The other evident theme is the inevitability of death. The poem brings it out clearly that death is inescapable and inevitable. Gilgamesh is the best illustrator of this theme as it is the greatest lesson learned by him in the story. He is so better that it is only the gods who can live for a life time. The gods are also brought out as being dangerous. Both Enkidu and Gilgamesh learn it the hard way and too well that gods are dangerous. The narrator uses the two characters to paint a clear picture that gods are not answerable to any one but live by no laws and behave irrationally and emotionally as children. The gods regard piety as very important and expect flattery and obedience whenever possible. They are helpful in many ways but are easily angered to sheer madness.
Motifs have also been used as literary devices, recurring structures and contrasts in helping inform and develop the major themes. Some of the motifs used include; seduction, doubling and twinship, journeys and baptism. Gilgamesh faces two sides of seduction, that of failure and success. In doubling, Gilgamesh can be seen to be full of events and characters that resemble each other. It was characteristic of Gilgamesh actions to begin with journeys. Enkidu is also seen to have journeyed to Uruk from wilderness. Baptism is evident in this tablet in the rebirth and continual renewal of Gilgamesh characters. Enkidu also anoints and washes himself after tasting beer and coked food (Andrew pg 29)
The poem also has utilized symbols as a means of representing abstract concepts and ideas. Religion has been symbolized by Gilgamesh as a character and events such as festivals, sacrifices, sex, dream, shamanic magic and dream interpretation. Enkidu is a hirsuteness symbol of the uncivilized and natural state. Images of portals, doorways and gateways have constantly recurred in Gilgamesh as a character. It was Enkidu who blocked the bribe’s chamber doorway and went ahead to wrestle Gilgamesh. The first tablet played a big role in introducing the plot of the story, the major characters, crucial themes, motifs and symbol leaving the reader with a clear idea of what to expect. However, it failed to introduce some of the characters that were later included in the plot development.
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