Personal Expectations in the Epic of Gilgamesh


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Understanding one’s own potential

People who do not let go of the past will be hopelessly searching for reasons or excuses (which may not even exist) of what happened in history. However, others who look forward to the future will have an optimistic or joyful mindset. For example, Gilgamesh saw his friend Enkidu pass away, and he realizes that he could also die any day. Therefore, he seeks apotheosis. Although Gilgamesh loses a friend and tries to find immortality to end his despair, in the epic Gilgamesh, translated by Herbert Mason, his experiences with defeated expectations force him to accept the fact that history is gone, so one needs to constantly renew oneself to live a new future.

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The death of Enkidu causes Gilgamesh to be filled with despair but also with expectations to end despair. Enkidu and Gilgamesh were very good friends. They fought battles and went on adventures together, until one day, Enkidu was killed. Therefore, he questions, “Why did he have to die?

He would have stayed with me in death.

He would not have let me die alone” (68).

By asking this, Gilgamesh shows how he is full of expectation; he expects someone to live with him and die with him. He doesn’t want to die alone. As a result, he seeks immortality so that he could be at ease and not worry about how the death that happened to Enkidu could also happen to him. During this time, he is trapped in the past of despair, only able to worry about death and nothing else. He does, however, have an expectation that Utnapishtim, a wise man, will help him. However, Gilgamesh has very human qualities, and he fails the test of staying awake. Utnapishtim tells him “Look at the dried out loaves my wife has baked. / How will you bear eternal life? It is not easy to live like gods” (82). The loaves were left at Gilgamesh’s side as he slept for seven days, and as a result, they became stale. The loaves symbolize Gilgamesh’s failure and defeated expectation. Just like how when loaves become stale and therefore cannot turn fresh again, Gilgamesh could never obtain eternal life from the start. He expected that it would be possible to obtain apotheosis, but in fact, that aspiration was impossible for him. After a long journey of seeking immortality, it seems that he got nothing out of the journey; he was never able to obtain his goal.

After seeking Utnapishtim, Gilgamesh was told to find a plant that would give him some form of new life. When he found the plant, “he cut it, and it cut / Into his palms. He saw his blood flow in the water” (85). Utnapishtim understands Gilgamesh’s despair, but since Gilgamesh is not fit to live as a god, Utnapishtim points him into the direction of the plant. The plant was able to cut into Gilgamesh and force his blood out. This blood symbolizes his past life; he would need to get rid of his old life of fear and expectations and let all this flow away. As a result, Gilgamesh’s bone marrow will replace his old blood with new blood, which symbolizes a new life for him. His fear and hatred of the past will go away, and he will have a new start in life. Similarly, when the serpent “devoured / The plant, shedding its skin as slough” (86), the serpent also turns over a new life by eating the plant of a new life and shedding away its old skin. However, this situation gives a chance for Gilgamesh to start a new life by himself; he wouldn’t have to depend on a physical object – the plant – in order to live his life. The situation is a symbol for one’ control of one’s own life, because without the plant, Gilgamesh would have nothing to depend on except for himself. He is the only one who can make himself forget the past, forget despair, and live a new life.

In the end, Gilgamesh finally learns to forget the past and live for the present and future. This is shown as he returned to the city of Uruk, in which

“He entered the city and asked a blind man

If he had ever heard the name Enkidu,

And the old man shrugged and shook his head,

Then turned away,

As if to say it is impossible

To keep the names of friends

Whom we have lost” (91-92).

Gilgamesh returns to Uruk and ponders if others will ever be able to realize his loss of a friend. What he gets as an answer is no. This specific event causes him to realize that he is not a god; he is not the center of attention, and not everyone knows about him. Everyone has their own lives and individual suffering. In fact, Enkidu symbolizes the past. The blind man cannot see; therefore, he never saw Enkidu, and he never saw the past of Gilgamesh’s life. To the blind man, the blind man has his own life to take care of, so he is too busy to worship Gilgamesh like a god by knowing everything about him. Furthermore, Gilgamesh also

“looked at the walls,

Awed at the heights

His people had achieved

And for a moment – just a moment –

All that lay behind him

Passed from view” (92).

This shows how Gilgamesh realized that he needed to live his present life and appreciate what he has. The walls symbolize the greatness of what is in front of him – of what is there in his physical life. He finally realizes that these walls of greatness are still in his life, despite his past. Therefore, at the same time. his past gradually escaped from his view for a moment, and this was the renewal of his life.

In conclusion, Gilgamesh has expectations to be able to live like a god. However, he was not given this status. In fact, he was given a lesson in which he learns to accept his present life and discard his old life. After all, his present life can have many hidden and beautiful qualities. If he held on to his old life, he would never see and appreciate the life he is living in his present time. He would waste his life, lamenting over something that already passed when he could do something more enjoyable. This applies to all people; people cannot be stuck in the past. People have to constantly renew themselves to be able to appreciate what’s present.

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