In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh, the hero of this epic, achieves many feats of skill, which makes him famous, but that is not the reason it is an epic. The Epic of Gilgamesh fulfills the requirements of an epic by being consistently relevant to a human society and carries immortal themes and messages. By looking at literature throughout history, one can infer the themes that are consistently passed on to other generations of humans. It is in human nature for people to want to excel in life and strive to make a name in this world for themselves. We want to be remembered by name or for something we have done. Most, who actually succeed, are forgotten about in a matter of years. However, some are remembered for tens, hundreds, and even thousands of years, because of their great intellectual achievement to feats of outstanding skill.
Gilgamesh is not only a character of a story; he is actually a portrayal of people and how they act out of human nature. He, like many of us, does not want his existence to end when he leaves this world. He is not content with what he has, good looks, money, and power, and desires more in life. The Epic of Gilgamesh is a story that we, as people, can relate to. There are similarities between Gilgameshs journey and our own journey through life. Some of the texts that will be compared with The Epic of Gilgamesh, are the Bible, and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The characters of these stories are all have that burning desire to be successful in life, which we can relate to. These texts span across different time periods and societies illustrating how human nature, particularly the desire to obtain more than one possesses, plays a significant role throughout written and present human history.
It is in human nature to want to be recognized and receive what one think he or she may deserve. In the Bible, one of many themes is the quest for something greater than what the seeker currently has, in terms of stature or wealth. One of many examples is the theft of Esau’s birthright by Jacob. In Genesis 25: 27-34, Esau Sells His Rights as the First-Born Son, Jacob wanted more than his proper inheritance, he wanted the rights as the first born son. His brother Esau was hungry and asked for some soup that Jacob was cooking. Jacob answered, “I will give it to you if you give me your rights as the first-born son.” Jacob could not be content with what he already had. He wanted a larger portion of the inheritance entitled to the one who is the first-born as well as the title. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh seeks to gain more fame by attempting feats of great proportion. One of the feats is the slaying of Humbaba, the giant beast who is the keeper of a forest. By doing so, Gilgamesh becomes famous for killing the dreaded Humbaba, even though it does not pose any threat to people who stay out of that particular forest. “?Together we will accomplish a work the fame of which will never die?your dream is good, your dream is excellent, the mountain which you saw is Humbaba, Now, Surely, we will seize and kill him.” He does this is for fame as well as access to the cedar trees. After this event, he announces to every person he meets, “?I killed the watchman of the cedar forest, and I killed the lions in the passes of the mountain.” Both Gilgamesh and Jacob wanted more than they had. Jacob already had an inheritance coming to him, but desired more of it as well as recognition as the first-son. Gilgamesh already had good looks, strength, and kingship, yet he had to go out and kill Humbaba to gain fame and rights to cedar trees for it. Jacob still would have gotten part of the inheritance without taking the first-son birth rights from his brother, and Gilgamesh still could get access to the cedar trees without killing Humbaba, yet that was not enough for them.
Most people would not find their life as fulfilling without adventure. In Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck sees life as an adventure and lives it out in that fashion. Huck runs away from home and lives through many perils for basically sheer excitement. “We said there warnt no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft dont. You feel mighty free and easy, and comfortable on a raft?what he (Tom) had planned in his head from the start was for us to run him down the river on a raft, and have adventures plumb to the mouth of the river?” Huck was expected to live a normal life, learning manners and conforming to social norms, yet that did not please him. He looked for adventure in life and realized that a life on a raft would be more fulfilling. The Epic of Gilgamesh carries the same theme because Gilgamesh is constantly searching and going on adventures to distance places, killing the Bull of Heaven, Humbaba, and the lions in the passes of the mountain. He searches for these adventures because he wants to make the most out of life. Just being king and never leaving the city can be monotonous and boring. Gilgamesh travels to distant forests and crosses “the waters of death” for, what amounts to, an adventure. He is searching for something worth living for. Just as we, as people, can not live everyday doing absolutely nothing. This theme tells us that we all need some adventure in our lives to make it worth living. It is just like riding a roller coaster, living for the anticipation of the ride and the adrenaline rush. Huck, Gilgamesh, and all of us were born with the desire to explore and live dangerously because the feeling of adventure and adrenaline helps us to believe that we are truly “living” life to the fullest.
All of Gilgameshs excursions were driven by the need for adventure except for the last.. The last journey was the search for everlasting life. Being two-thirds god was not enough for Gilgamesh. No, he wanted immortality. He wants to live forever so that no one would ever forget him. “Tell me truly, how was it that you came to enter the company of the gods and to possess everlasting life?” But Gilgamesh is not the only person who searches for immortality. In many stories there is a search for the Fountain of Youth. The water from this fountain would restore youth to the old and one would never have to die. Fear of death and desire to live forever has driven people to do all they can so that they may extend their existence to as long as possible.
Because of the Bible, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Epic of Gilgamesh is clearly has consistent relevance historically. In today’s society, all these stories still remain relevant. People are striving for more today. There is nothing good that people don’t want more of. They want more power, more value, more money, more sex, and the list goes on and on. That is the motivation for science, technology, and economics. Just as Gilgamesh killed Humbaba for fame and bragging rights, people today say they have slept with celebrities and seen aliens. Today, in our advanced society, people are still looking for immortality. People do not have the maturity to accept death. This is why there has been an enormous growth in the health care industry. People want to live longer youthful lives. People want wrinkle-free skin in their 50’s. People want to play sports in their 60’s and 70’s. At the same time, people are striving to live over a century. Gilgamesh approaches this cause with a less scientific approach by seeking out the god Utnapishtim and asking for immortality. He is told that he needs to get a piece of the plant of everlasting life. He ends up failing and Gilgamesh is forced to face death. Death will always be a given in a human society, but the way we perceive it will determine our maturity. This book clearly portrays themes that are consistently relevant throughout history and today. Humans rarely change in their nature, and therefore some aspects of humanity will never be absent. Humans will always fear death because it will always remain an unknown because the dead can not relate their observations. And people will always fear the unknown because of possible harm. Men and women will also always deem themselves as superior over nature because humans are superior in the sense that they can exterminate any living being. Humans will always strive for more because there is a true social Darwinism, survival of the fittest. In order for people to live, they must always be above the line of absolute poverty. In the human perspective, the greater the amount of money you have, the farther you have “to drop” to get below the poverty level. It is basically a bigger buffer zone in terms of economic status. Therefore, in a human society, there will always be certain inalienable aspects of humanity. The Epic of Gilgamesh fulfills the requirements of an epic by being consistently relevant to a human society and by carrying immortal themes and messages. Epics will always be present because there are certain themes about humanity that can not be denied. In this era, it is easy to say that the world is rapidly changing. But, humans aren’t changing with it and there lies the root of most of the problems in society. We must recognize and maybe change the world to be more suitable for humanity.