The Epic of Gilgamesh is a potentially true story about a Sumerian king named Gilgamesh who ruled around 2600 BCE. One thing we learn from the story is the Sumerian value system as it relates to their leaders. Gilgamesh possessed qualities in which the Sumerians placed great value. He was a brave king, a wise king and a strong king, all traits that were important to the Sumerian people. He was also described as quite beautiful, which appeared to be important to the Sumerian people as well.
It was also very fitting that the author portrayed him as part human nd part god, since the Sumerians worshiped their kings as if they were deities instead of mortal men. The epic also shows many ways in which the Sumerians believed in balance. When Gilgamesh first began his rule he was a tyrant who ruled by force and took what he wanted with no regard for anyone else. He raped women and oppressed his subjects. In the story, the Gods sent Enkidu to balance King Gilgamesh, in what can be described as a good vs. evil scenario. A battle ensues upon their first meeting because Enkidu finds King Gilgamesh about to rape a woman.
They fght and even though Gilgamesh wins the fght, it makes him befriend Enkidu. King Gilgamesh’s chracter is then tempered through Enkidu’s influence. Another example of the Sumerian concept of balance being prevalent in the society occurs in the beginning of the book. Enkidu is living in the wild and the city sends a prostitute out into the wild to bring Enkidu into civilization. The Sumerians believed women have a calming effect on the men of Sumer. They believed women had the ability to use their gentle nature and their sexual ways to create a balance for the masculinity of Sumerian men.
This balance is reflected by two groups that were believed to have made up the early Sumerian people; the Semites and the Highlanders. The Semites, were a war-driven people led by men, while the Highlanders were a more peaceful people led by the women of the tribe. The values and institutions of the Sumerians were unique because they seemed to demonstrate much more forward thinking than what was common at the time. The culture placed significant value on learning and writing. The story tells of King Gilgamesh traveling to the end of the world and writing what he learned from his journey on stone tablets.
This is in the same fashion that the Sumerians recorded the original story of Gilgamesh, in cuneiform on the same type of stone tablets. The Sumerians were also known for having the first set of written laws. The Sumerians also placed more value on women in their society than any other culture for hundreds of years after them. Women were allowed to own property and allowed to conduct business. In the story of King Gilgamesh women are shown to be positive influences on the major male characters; first when the Priestess Shamhat brings Enkidu in from the wild, and next when the tavern keeper Shiduri helps King
Gilgamesh find the strength to fight his grief and move forward. The Sumerians did not Just look at women as concubines or harlots to give sexual pleasure to the males ot the society, as did many societies ot the time . This attitude towards women is definitely a more modern belief. The Sumerians also firmly believed in a caste system, which wasn’t very common of the time. There were four specific classes of people among the Sumerians; priests, upper class, lower class, and slaves. The characters of the story, The Epic of Gilgamesh, are relatable no matter when it has been read or by whom.
One of the central themes in the book is King Gilgamesh’s search for immortality. Death is something that people have been mentally struggled with throughout time. It is a concept that is both ancient and modern. Though King Gilgamesh’s quest may not be something someone today would physically do, in ancient times when actually went on physical quests for knowledge or understanding. However, the people today may go on metaphorical quest for enlightenment. The concepts of friendship and love, and the mentor and mentee relationship between King Gilgamesh and Enkidu, is something that still relates over housands of years.
Most everyone has been at a point in their life where they need the guidance or support of another person, especially to help their personal growth and experience. The fact that the story lacked a female love interest was a bit unusual for a heroic tale, but it strengthened the theme of platonic love. Although the characters originate in ancient times, it is clear that the struggles and mentality of humans, and the propensity of human nature to desire connection exemplified in this tale, apply to the modern day world.