The Epic of Gilgamesh
How we cite our quotes:
In the middle of the night his sleep came to an end,
so he got up and said to his friend:
"My friend, did you not call out to me? Why did I wake up?
Did you not touch me? Why am I so disturbed?
Did a god pass by? Why are my muscles trembling?
Enkidu, my friend, I have had a third dream,
and the dream I had was deeply disturbing." (4.88-101)
Poor Gilgamesh, scared of a little nightmare. (Okay, not so little. And not just one.) On the journey to the Cedar Forest to fight Humbaba, Gilgamesh is tormented every night by horrible nightmares. Each time, Enkidu is the one who steps in to interpret the dreams in a more favorable light. Do you think Enkidu really believes in the interpretations he puts forward throughout Tablet 4? Or is he just putting a brave face on things, in order to cheer up Gilgamesh? And, either way, who do you think is truly more courageous: Gilgamesh or Enkidu?
"I am going to die!—am I not like Enkidu?!
Deep sadness penetrates my core,
I fear death, and now roam the wilderness—
I will set out to the region of Utanapishtim, son of Ubartutu, and will go with utmost dispatch!" (9.2-5)
After Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh becomes consumed by overpowering fear—the fear of death. Why is death something to be afraid of? Or is this just another example of the fear of the unknown? In that case, it makes sense that Gilgamesh would go on a quest to find out what death is. But Gilgamesh never finds out what death is—because everybody he encounters tells him that nobody knows what death is. So how does he end up overcoming his fear?
When he reached Mount Mashu,
which daily guards the rising and setting of the Sun,
above which only the dome of the heavens reaches,
and whose flank reaches as far as the Netherworld below,
there were Scorpion-beings watching over its gate.
Trembling terror they inspire, the sight of them is death,
their frightening aura sweeps over the mountains.
At the rising and setting they watch over the Sun.
When Gilgamesh saw them, trembling terror blanketed his face,
but he pulled himself together and drew near to them. (9.48-57)
Is true courage never being afraid? Or is true courage being afraid, and then mastering your fear? If it's number two, Gilgamesh is definitely showing some courage here. Even though the whole point of the Scorpion-beings is to make people scared out of their wits, Gilgamesh musters up the gumption to go forward. Gilgamesh's ability to conquer his fear, even without his buddy Enkidu to egg him on, shows just how powerful the fear is that is driving him on—the fear of death. Compared to that, Scorpion-beings are a piece of cake.