The Epic of Gilgamesh
Life, Consciousness, and Existence Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"I will go in front of you,
and your mouth can cry out: "Go on closer, do not be afraid!"
Should I fall, I will have established my fame.
(They will say:) "It was Gilgamesh who locked in battle with Humbaba the Terrible!" (2.228-237)
Apparently Shamhat isn't the only one with opinions on what life is all about: Gilgamesh has them too. Here, after Gilgamesh has suggested that he and Enkidu should go to the Cedar Forest to fight Humbaba, Enkidu throws up some pretty valid objections. In response, Gilgamesh says that everyone dies anyway, so the best thing to do is to do dangerous deeds and win undying fame. Fair enough, Gilgamesh—but couldn't the thought that we all die anyway just make us want to preserve our lives all the more carefully, and not risk them in pointless battles with distant monsters?
Enkidu prepared a sleeping place for him for the night;
a violent wind passed through so he attached a covering.
He made him lie down, and … in a circle.
They … like grain from the mountain …
While Gilgamesh rested his chin on his knees,
sleep that pours over mankind overtook him. (4.11-16)
Okay, so if you read these lines in their original context from Tablet 4, where the same episode of preparing for the night takes place five times in almost the exact same words, you might be thinking something more like: you're telling me I have to read this business again? Don't worry: we feel your pain. (Shmoop had to read it too.) But bear with us. In fact, we're going to ask you to read the passage one … more … time. Do you see what's interesting about it? That's right: Gilgamesh sleeps, even though Shamhat insisted that he didn't! And the narrator really rubs the point in by calling the sleep that overtakes him "sleep that pours over mankind." Ha! Take that, Mr. Thinks-he's-so-superior-two-thirds-god-man! But there's still the problem of how to interpret this. Do you think Shamhat was wrong all along? Or is Gilgamesh undergoing a transition to a more ordinary human state as the story goes on? Either way, we're definitely learning something interesting about Gilgamesh's life and existence here.
"Now Gilgamesh is your beloved brother-friend!
He will have you lie on a grand couch,
and will have you lie in the seat of ease, the seat at his left,
so that the princes of the world kiss your feet.
He will have the people of Uruk go into mourning and moaning over you,
and fill the happy people with woe over you.
And after you he will let his body bear a filthy mat of hair,
will don the skin of a lion and roam the wilderness." (7.129-137)
Here, Shamash is trying to comfort a dying Enkidu. What's interesting here is that Shamash thinks one of civilized life's big pay-offs for Enkidu is that there will be ceremonies to commemorate him after he is dead. But, if he's dead, what difference does it make to him? How do people's lives change if they have consciousness (as Enkidu now receives) of what will happen to them after their existence is over? (And what's the point of coming up with a belief about the afterlife if it's this depressing?)