The Epic of Gilgamesh
Life, Consciousness, and Existence Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
The eleventh and twelfth day his illness grew ever worse.
Enkidu drew up from his bed,
and called out to Gilgamesh …:
"My friend hates me …
(Once), while he talked with me in Uruk
as I was afraid of the battle (with Humbaba), he encouraged me.
My friend who saved me in battle has now abandoned me!
I and you …" (7.258-265)
Unfortunately, the tablet on which this passage appears is broken in several places. Still, we get the general idea: Enkidu thinks that Gilgamesh, who once stood at his side in battle, is abandoning him. Sure, he's probably reacting to the fact that Gilgamesh can't save him from the disease that is ravaging his body. But how would Gilgamesh do that? Do these words by Enkidu show that he does not truly understand how life works? Or should we just cut a dying man some slack?
"May the holy River Ulaja, along whose banks we grandly used to stroll, mourn you.
May the pure Euphrates, to which we would libate water from our wineskins, mourn you.
May the men of Uruk-Haven, whom we saw in our battle when we killed the Bull of Heaven,
May the farmer…, who extols your name in his sweet work song, mourn you.
May the … of the broad city, who … exalted your name, mourn you.
May the herder …, who prepared butter and light beer for your mouth, mourn you.
May …, who put ointments on your back, mourn you.
May …, who prepared fine beer for your mouth, mourn you.
May the harlot, … you rubbed yourself with oil and felt good, mourn you.
May …, … of the wife placed (?) a ring on you …, mourn you." (8.16-25)
Gilgamesh's lament over Enkidu is no exception to the poem's interest in what makes the good life. Take a look at the things he is listing: nice walks along the River Ulaja, triumphing in battle, singing, eating butter and drinking beer, and so on. Isn't this basically a catalog of the good things in life? Why do you think Enkidu's death makes Gilgamesh think of these things? And why does he want all of these things to partake in his grief for his friend?
He covered his friend's face like a bride,
swooping down over him like an eagle,
and like a lioness deprived of her cubs
he keeps pacing to and fro.
He shears off his curls and heaps them onto the ground,
ripping off his finery and casting it away as an abomination. (8.47-52)
Right after Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh swoops in to protect him. And yet, why would one bother protecting something that isn't even living? What is it about us humans that makes us take care of our dead, as if the dead somehow knew what we were doing?