The story of the great hero, Gilgamesh, fulfills the requirements of an epic. Gilgamesh is consistently relevant to society and it conveys timeless themes and messages. 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 Gilgamesh’s 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.
Accuracy in Epic of Gilgamesh and The Hebrew Bible
There is much debate over the historical accuracy of the Hebrew Bible and The Epic of Gilgamesh. Some claim that to understand a work of literature requires extensive knowledge of the background of this work. The contrary position is that a work of literature can be interpreted solely on it’s content. The meaning of the term classical literature is that it can be applied during any period of time, it is eternal. Yet the conditions surrounding the author might still be of interest to the reader, and of importance to the work. As with many cases, the truth is somewhere in between the two extremes. Both sides have valid arguments about the importance of historicity.
To say that historicity is of the utmost importance may seem extreme. Yet to understand a work, it is important to know if these were fantastic, yet true tales, or if they came from the mind of an author. Some may read a deeper significance into a fictional work. The fact that a story was ‘invented’ usually mean that it was created for a specific purpose. An author would be more prone to using certain literary devices, even in the story line, then fate, or whatever one believes creates the true stories. A completely fictional story may have more use of symbolism, and to search for the meaning of this symbolism, it might be important to know the environment in which it was written.
On the other hand, a reader may put greater emphasis on the meaning behind stories based on fact. This may be because of a faith in a higher power that controls the events in a story. If one believes in God, or in any higher power, the events of a particular story can take on meaning as an act of this power, or even as a symbolic work from god. Still others may be more inspired by the…
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…f a leader. The fact that Gilgamesh is presented as divine in the book ends credence to the possibility that the actual King was believed to be godly.
It is in this instance, and others like it that we see another example of the importance of historicity. By studying these works, we can gain insight into ancient cultures, and even hypothesize about the past. If a work is highly historically accurate in other respects, it might lead one to believe that the other accounts in the work are accurate. Through this method, we may discover some of history through works of literature, history that records may not contain. Yet through this method we can only speculate, we cannot be certain of the accuracy of our results.
Norman K. Gottwald The Hebrew Bible . Fortress Press, 1985.
Sandars, N. K., trans. The Epic of Gilgamesh. London: Penguin, 1972.