"What we are today comes from our thoughts of Yesterday and our present thoughts build our life Of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind". ~Dhammapada~ Upon reading the "Epic of Gilgamesh", one may wonder if there is a lesson to learned. What insight into life is presented as a moral of the story? One lesson may suggest the conditions that inspire a fulfilling life. This lesson is one of growth; to appreciate a life that inevitably ends in death, a person must prepare a foundation of experiences to leave as a legacy.
Through the experiences of the principle character, King Gilgamesh, the "Epic of Gilgamesh" suggests that acts of personal greatness and selfishness are not the key to a fulfilling life and legacy. Additionally, the text suggests that meaning and appreciation can be established through wisdom and altruism. Building a fulfilling life begins by examining the negative qualities that are not essential to the end result. In the "Epic", it is the selfishness portrayed by King Gilgamesh that suggests to the reader that a legitimate life legacy requires more than personal indulgence and fame. As king, Gilgamesh acts less like a guardian shepherd, watching over the "flocks" of Uruk, than he does as a wild, uncontrolled force the people of Uruk refer to as an "unmatched beast" and a "loose bull" (3).
The reason he is described in such negative terms is that he does nothing positive for the citizens of Uruk. Instead, he spends his time taking young boys from their families, as well as keeping young women from their husbands "for his own purpose" (4). That the king tyrannizes over his citizens in this manner suggests that he longs for power and greatness, but shows he does not care for his people in the way a shepherd would care for his flock. Another example of Gilgamesh's selfishness is his abandonment of Uruk for the fame of slaying Humbaba, the wild guardian of the forest. According to Gilgamesh, "glory will be mine" if he can "conquer this unprecedented foe", which illustrates his determination to obtain recognition for his potential triumph (23).
He even suggests that, should he die in battle with the great beast, the future clans of Uruk would pra is his heroism (24). Focused solely on his desire for fame, Gilgamesh appears oblivious to the citizens' fears that he may die, as they describe Humbaba as "the awful mother" whose breath is mixed with "fire and death" (23-24) suggesting that they consider it impossible for him to succeed, and are worried that they will be left without a leader. A fulfilling life requires a foundation of wisdom, with which an individual may gain an appreciation of the aspects of life that a precious and important. This is emphasized when King Gilgamesh is given a wise insight on his quest for immortality from Siduri the barmaid, and Urshanabi the boatman. When Gilgamesh meets Siduri at her inn, he asks for advice and directions to help him on his way. Stating that an appreciation of life comes from "relishing warm food and cool drinks,"cherishing children to whom you love gives life", and by playing "joyfully with your chosen wife" (68), Siduri's response is on that gives a deeper answer to his need for directions.
She views him as "one who searches everywhere for grace" suggesting that she understands that Gilgamesh is a person who seeks fulfillment with his life (66). Urshanabi the boatman, provides Gilgamesh with similar insight. The observant ferryman mentions twice that Gilgamesh's face seems tense; [his] eyes do not glance well and hell itself is part of how [he] looks... [he is] like one who's been without a home, without a bed or roof for a long time, wandering the wilds on some random search (70). The emphasis on "random search" suggests that Urshanabi is referring to the futility of a quest for immortality, when the appreciation of the comforts of home should become the focus of the king's quest for a meaningful life.
Finally, it is through emotional hardship, and spiritual cleansing that one may gain an appreciation of the wisdom from others, leading to a fulfilling life and legacy. The "Epic" illustrates this through King Gilgamesh, by his actions after the death of Enkidu, his journey to find immortality, and his eventual return to Uruk. When gilgamesh's close companion Enkidu dies, he appears to regress into a state of wildness, as he is described as "wander [ing] through the woods like a savage beast" (59). Stripped of his direction (as suggested by his "wandering" path), the king says, "I am afraid" (59) indicating the fear an individual may experience when facing life choices independently. In this period of transition, Gilgamesh's concept of what makes his life important is changing.
The emotional breakdown of the king may suggest the elimination of his negative preconceptions, such as selfishness, which will allow new wisdom, such as an appreciation of others, to enter his mind. This transition is also reflected in the passage of darkness Gilgamesh takes on is journey for immortality: Oh the night, unholy and blind, that wrapped him as soon as he stepped forth upon that path (62). While the image of darkness suggests a loss of focus, it may also serve to clarify the lesson in the text. It suggests a sense of vulnerability that accompanies the transition of Gilgamesh's personal beliefs, before he gains sight of "all precious goods", (63) that lead to a fulfilling life. Upon returning home, Gilgamesh asks Urshanabi to "study the base, the brick, the old design [of the walls surrounding Uruk]. Is it permanent as can be?
Does it look like wisdom designed it?" (89). He appears to recognize the value of wisdom when applied to useful actions, such as in the structure of the walls. By this, the lesson may be the importance of the "old design"; the wisdom imparted by others with which one may achieve a fulfilling life, and leave a legacy that possibly provides others with he same wisdom for growth. By suggesting that gaining a fulfilling life can be achieved through the acceptance of wisdom and good will, rather than through self-indulgence or fame, the text offers an insight about life. As the narrator suggests, one who " [acts] nobly in the way one should to lead and [act] wisely too as one who [seeks] no fame" (2), is one who will lead a fulfilling life.
This lesson of the "Epic of Gilgamesh" may cause one to pay close consideration to the quality of on " es life and of the legacy one may intend to leave behind for others to follow. While readers do not have to endure the same journey as King Gilgamesh, each individual may encounter different difficulties or obstacles in their passage through life that require the humble use of other's advice. Jackson, Danny P. "The Epic of Gilgamesh". Wauconda, Illinois: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 1997..