Is Gilgamesh a virtuous character? What is the crucial point for his transformation from a tyrant to one who seeks knowledge? Is Gilgamesh a man of action or a man of contemplation?
Whether Gilgamesh is a virtuous character or not is contentious. At first, he is seen as a self centered, wild savage, oppressor, cocky, arrogant, and a selfish king who befriends a half man, Enkidu, and goes for adventures with him. For instance, the fourth stanza of the first tablet depicts a man who is ruthless and even goes ahead to rape” the daughter of the warrior” as well as the “bride of the young man” (Carnahan, 1998). However, it is only after the death of his beloved friend that he realized that there was no need to continue with his evil acts; hence, became an admired wise ruler. Therefore, it is a tale of how a rash, thoughtless, egomaniac king went though various hardships to become wise and worth of his epic. Gilgamesh was a self confident man who felt that he was superior to the others. Such arrogance led to him being perceived as cruel. Therefore, the people asserts, “Gilgamesh does not leave a son to his father, day and night he arrogantly…” (Carnahan, 1998). The readers get to see a king who compels young men to engage in ineffective activities for his mere pleasure. Although they do not get a chance to know what activities they were, it is obvious that it was nothing that would contribute to the security as well as the reputation of Uruk. This is because the people allege that the main character ‘arrogantly’ compels them ‘day and night’. However, as the story unfolds, Gilgamesh becomes kind-hearted to some extent and is supportive of his friend and when they go to war with Humbaba he tells him, “You will surpass all of them…a friend who knows battle understands fighting… (Carnahan, 1998). He also reveals that he is sensitive when Enkidu dies as he takes time to mourn him. In the eighth tablet, he says, “…may the elders of the broad city of Uruk-haven mourn you…” (Carnahan, 1998). That is the same period when his weakness is revealed since he is afraid of death and goes to search for immortality in vain. Despite his prior uncouth behavior, he is seen as a hero since he had defeated a lot of enemies; thus, the people claim that, “Gilgamesh is the best formed of heroes” (Carnahan, 1998). Therefore, it is sound to argue that the character’s vices and virtues are outsized and the fact that the story ends with the transformation of Gilgamesh as a wise, sincere, and a humble king shows that he is virtuous to some extent.
Gilgamesh’s crucial point for his transformation from a tyrant to a king who seeks knowledge was the death of his friend, Enkidu. The epic commenced with the people of Uruk describing the character as an aggressive ruler. The readers get a glimpse of who the character is and his goals in life. He acts in different ways as an overbearing leader who is resented by the people, as a strong fighter, a depressed, deflated man, and finally as a king who is fully contented with what he had accomplished. The death of Enkidu transformed him from being a ruthless and shallow leader to a content and introspective king. It is after his death that he abandoned his wealth, power, and glory and began a journey in quest of immortality since he did not want to die like his friend. In the ninth tablet he avowed, “…I fear death, and now roam the wilderness…” (Carnahan, 1998). He went to the wilderness, where he sought the counsel of Utnapishtimu, who was a Mesopotamian Noah and had been granted eternal life by the gods. However, his quest for mortality failed since he only managed to get wisdom and at the end became a respectable king.
It is without a doubt that Gilgamesh is a man of action. For instance, when the goddess of love, Ishtar asked Anu, his father to send the Bull of Heaven to punish Gilgamesh, he did not calculate his motives and the consequences. Instead, with the help of Enkidu, they wrestled and killed it, without worrying about the repercussions. If he was man of contemplation, he would have chosen to do something different rather than anger the gods who later killed his friend. It is also apparent as the story unfolds that Gilgamesh was a man of action since after the death of Enkidu, he decided to exchange his worldly clothing for animal skins as he had chosen to go to the wilderness to seek eternal life. He did not have to go to the wilderness to change or seek mortality rather he would have decided to change his cruel ways and become a better king. However, since he was still brooding about his own death, he had no time to contemplate on other strategic and sound actions but somewhat decided to act on impulse.
Carnahan, W, (1998). The Epic of Gilgamesh. Retrieved from