Character Analysis: The Epic Of Gilgamesh

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Gilgamesh, the eponymous protagonist of the epic poem Gilgamesh and the king of the large ancient city of Uruk, is a military hero who completes a series of quests during the span of the book, triumphing over his enemies. Despite the fact that Gilgamesh is very cruel to his people, the epic still considers him a “hero.” His murderous, violent nature does not dissuade the epic’s author from almost revering him as a great leader. The Mesopotamian definition of a “hero” was one who excelled in and dominated everything and served as an epitome of masculinity, and not one who necessarily benefitted the lives of others, reflecting the patriarchal and militaristic culture of Mesopotamian society.
The characteristics that win Gilgamesh glory are his
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How “manly” one was, especially in regards to having a propensity for violence, was a large part of what a Mesopotamian man would be judged by. “If I die in the forest…won’t you be ashamed,” Gilgamesh asks Enkidu, “when people say ‘Gilgamesh met a hero’s death battling the monster Humbaba. And where was Enkidu? He was safe at home’” (93). Gilgamesh is using a view, prevalent in Mesopotamian society, that not embracing violence is a sign of being effeminate and weak, whilst actively involving oneself in fights is one of heroism and bravery. The fact that he is no stranger to violence played a large role in his heroization. Gilgamesh is also considered a hero by Mesopotamian society because of his determination to change the world. “I have to enter [the forest], climb its slope, [and] cut down a cedar that is tall enough to make a whirlwind when it hits the earth,” Gilgamesh tells Enkidu (92). He wants to make a “dent in the universe,” in the words of Steve Jobs, to leave behind a legacy so that his name and his heroic deeds will never leave the minds of men. He wants to make a whirlwind because it makes a dent in the universe. It will ensure that he is not forgotten. As Gilgamesh tells Enkidu, “I will make a lasting name for myself, I will stamp my fame on men’s minds forever” (94). Gilgamesh fears being forgotten. This is ultimately what drives Gilgamesh and made him a hero in the eyes of Mesopotamia: he has made the world his own, and has dominated every aspect of life. To Mesopotamians, being a hero is a combination of changing the world and exhibiting a powerful masculinity. Gilgamesh is aggressive and violent; intent on changing the world; and obsessed with making a name for himself in the annals of

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