English 3, 4 7 October 2012 The Quest for Immortality In the “Epic of Gilgamesh” translated by N. K. Sanders, Gilgamesh completes a series of many challenges and obstacles, fulfilling the conditions of an archetypal quest story. In order to fulfill an archetypal quest story, the hero or protagonist must complete a series of hurdles, on their way toward achieving their goal. In the “Epic of Gilgamesh”, Gilgamesh hunts for his main obsession, immortality, while he battles off monsters, with the help of some friends.
Sensing Gilgamesh embraces too much power, the gods create a friend for Gilgamesh named Enkidu in the hopes of lessening Gilgamesh’s power. Enkidu and Gilgamesh turn out to be best friends after Enkidu loses a wrestling match to Gilgamesh. Enkidu decides to join Gilgamesh on his journey to seek immortality. Along the way the way they encounter enemies such as Humbaba, the guardian of the forest, and the Bull of Heaven. With the help of Enkidu, Gilgamesh travels a relentless journey and faces a road of trials, which carries out an archetypal quest story.
Gilgamesh and Enkidu come across the guardian of the forest named Humbaba. Believing that Humbaba is undefeatable, Gilgamesh thinks that whoever slays Humbaba will receive immortality. Gilgamesh and Enkidu attack Humbaba with a “thrust of the sword to the neck and Enkidu his comrade struck the second blow” (22). With one more strike to the belly, Humbaba falls. Hoping to achieve everlasting life, they realize that defeating Humbaba does not give them eternal life. Instead, it gives them eternal fame.
Still unsatisfied, with not having found everlasting life, Gilgamesh tells his companion that “the boat of the dead shall not go down” (20) and is determined that he will never die. The next challenge Gilgamesh faces is the Bull of Heaven, sent by Ishtar’s dad, Anu. Ishtar is the goddess of love who makes advances on Gilgamesh, wanting to marry him. Gilgamesh is wise and realizes Ishtar is the woman as a temptress and knows she treats her husbands poorly. Ishtar is a distraction and will pull him away from his goal.
When Gilgamesh rejects her advances, Anu directs the Bull of Heaven to attack Gilgamesh’s homeland, Uruk. Gilgamesh and Enkidu easily kill the Bull of Heaven which enrages the gods when they hear that the bull is dead. The gods make Enkidu become terribly ill, which kills him seven days later in a very painful death. Seeing his friend die, Gilgamesh obtains apotheosis and continues on his expedition of seeking immortality. Gilgamesh encounters Utnapishtim, a man who survives the great flood and receives immortality.
Utnapishtim gives Gilgamesh eclectic tasks to achieve eternal life. The first task is to stay awake for seven days, which Gilgamesh is unable to accomplish. Feeling sorry, Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh a secret that if he finds the “plant that grows under the water… [it] restores his lost youth” (31). Gilgamesh lights up and ties rocks to his feet to sink down to search for the marvelous plant. Gilgamesh finds the ultimate boon. He is overjoyed and eager to bring the plant back to his homeland to restore the youth of all the men there.
The refusal of the return occurs when, he was returning home and becomes careless and bathes in a nearby well of cool water, leaving the plant unattended. A snake suddenly appears and eats the plant, restoring the snake’s youth. Gilgamesh begins to weep upon seeing that he failed in his quest for immortality. Gilgamesh returns back to his homeland, Uruk, and engraves his story on a stone for everyone to see and remember. In conclusion, the “Epic of Gilgamesh” executes the qualities of an archetypal quest story by Gilgamesh going on a trip to find immortality while performing the road of trials.
The hero generally wishes to achieve a goal or object and return home with it, in this case, eternal life. The protagonist also might lose a few things he loves; an example is how Gilgamesh lost his best friend, Enkidu. Gilgamesh also had to fight off enemies such as Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven, while searching for his obsession. From the departure, the initiation, and to the return of his journey, made the “Epic of Gilgamesh” an archetypal quest story.
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