The Epic of Gilgamesh is not just an epic poem but is also one of the first surviving notable literatures and religious texts being almost four thousand years old. This epic tale recounts the story and life of King Gilgamesh, Ruler of Uruk, and it begins from the Third Dynasty of Ur which is set around 2100 B.C. The full text of the epic is on 12 incomplete tablets found in the 19th century by a Turkish archeologist Hormuzd Rassam. Many versions of Gilgamesh’s tale use both Sumerian and Akkadian names for gods, which can tell how the story might have spread orally in ancient generations. It is also an interesting study of how two religious traditions combine over time.
The central theme of the story is focused on being a hero’s journey. At the start of the story, Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, is both a bad person and a bad king. His subjects are unhappy, he disrespects the gods and is generally unkind towards others. But Gilgamesh, like many protagonists, has divine parentage – a goddess mother and a human king father. Unfortunately for him, Gilgamesh remains a mortal and that is hard for him to accept adding more frustration to his personality.
Eventually, Gilgamesh has a number of crazy adventures. He chops down famous trees and meets his best friend Enkidu who helps him become a better man and a better king. Having grown close to his friend, when Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh travels to the underworld to try to bring him back. He fails, however, and must admit to himself that’s a human after all and has to come to terms with that fact. In the end, Gilgamesh is considered a hero, not just for his incredible deeds, but also for coming to understand and accept his true nature. This kind of introspection and self-growth over time has become an important part of a hero’s journey. Characters like Gilgamesh can serve as a symbol for an aspect of the human condition, the ability to move past mistakes and accept one’s limitations. And that’s what makes him a “hero” in the truest sense of the word, even if he wasn’t one at the beginning of the story. Not all heroes are born, some of them are made.