Role of Heroism and Morality in the Characterization of Gilgamesh
In epic “Gilgamesh” the central character, King Gilgamesh, has been depicted as a hero who is strong, mighty and powerful. He can go into conflict with anyone dangerous and ferocious like Humbaba. “The Epic of Gilgamesh” describes the heroic and laudable deeds of Gilgamesh in an elegant narrative style. This epic poem celebrates his heroic struggle with the dangers and adversaries around them. It deals with King Gilgamesh’s pursuit for immortality, grandeur, and reputation through heroic struggles (Bowra 3). Throughout the whole text Gilgamesh’s heroism remains the same elegant throughout the whole text. An instance of his heroism is upheld in the following lines:
Supreme over other kings, lordly in appearance,
he is the hero, born of Uruk, the goring wild bull.
raging flood-wave who destroys even walls of stone! (Gilgamesh Tablet 1)
Gilgamesh, who is a superhuman, two-thirds god and one-third human, go into strife with the gods’ will. But he is not immortal. He desires to achieve immortality against the will of the gods. Also he attacks and kills Humbaba. By killing Humbaba he commits a crime, but he escapes from the punishment as Ekindu is punished in lieu of him. Gilgamesh does all these in order to prove his superiority. (Bowra 12-13) Therefore he certainly cannot be called a moral character. Glgamesh’s goal is corrupted within itself. Therefore his actions cannot be appreciated much from a moral perspective. But only appraisal he draws from the readers is that he is courageously devoted to his passion and goal. Gilgamesh makes a journey to the land of Humbaba. In some ways or other, the epic hero deals with a common popular interest of the people of the age in which the epics are written. King Gilgamesh’s nationalistic ambition and zeal is expressed in the following lines of
He walks out in front, the leader,
and walks at the rear, trusted by his companions.
Mighty net, protector of his people, (Gilgamesh Tablet 1)
The moral system of the Greek world, presented in the text “Epic of Gilgamesh”, permits favoritism and nepotism. If the morality is something universal in the modern sense and something that can be applied to all irrespective of race, status and strength of human being, Gilgamesh as well as his society that has been portrayed in this text lacks such morality to a great extent. But certainly these societies hold the morality in some other forms that are crucial for their sustainability.
In the epic “Gilgamesh”, the moral systems, that is based on the belief in the gods and goddesses is greatly determined by their natures and their relationship with man. Morality exists here in form of priority. In fact the concept of morality in the society of Uruk is determined with the relationship between man and god. It is remarkable that the society in the ‘Gilgamesh’ follows a hierarchical orders based on the man-god relationship that ensures an honorable position for the one who is mighty and the mighty in such a society enjoys the privileges. Therefore the gods are granted to be tyrannical while the weaker has to bear the whims of both the mighty gods and the people. He attempts to cut down the beautiful Cedar forest and at the same time enjoys the favor of the Sun-god Shamas, because he is the son of Nimat Ninsun. So it is evident that the concept of morality in King Gilgamesh’s society is based on nepotistic value.
Anonymous, The Epic of Gilgamesh. 11 March, 2012
Bowra, C. Maurice. Classical studies scholar. New York: Syngeta Publishers, 1971