The Epic of Gilgamesh
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
King Gilgamesh is treating his people in a really nasty way. The gods hear the people's complaints and create Enkidu as Gilgamesh's equal. So, we have Gilgamesh, a mindlessly selfish macho-man who has not known true friendship, and Enkidu, a mindless, uncivilized wild-man, who has never know … a woman. It's a match made (literally) in heaven, and these two dudes are set up to rock each others' worlds. (In a manly way.)
The "Conflict" stage of The Epic of Gilgamesh is kind of a fake-out. Sure enough, these two musclemen do go head-to-head with each other … but then quickly put aside their differences and become the best of friends. In no time, thanks to Gilgamesh's bright idea, they find someone else to administer a beating to: the monster Humbaba.
The real conflict seems to come later, when Gilgamesh and Enkidu return triumphantly to Uruk, carrying the monster's head. Trouble shows up in the form of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. Ishtar, the goddess, wants Gilgamesh to take her as his wife. Gilgamesh refuses, and not too nicely. Major trouble ahead, Shmoopers.
Don't You Dare Throw That Leg at Me!
Enraged at being rejected by Gilgamesh, Ishtar sends the Bull of Heaven down to earth, intending to have it kill Gilgamesh and Enkidu. But the heroes, fresh from killing Humbaba, are clearly on a roll, and they make swift work of the Bull.
This represents the high point of their monster-killing prowess. And the high point of the heroes' egomania comes when Enkidu tears off one of the Bull's legs and throws it in Ishtar's face. That's like a double climax for the price of one … and the gods aren't about to let them get away with any of it.
Shortly after having a dream in which Enlil, the king of the gods, condemns him to die, Enkidu develops a mysterious illness and dies a painful death.
Hey, Where'd You Get That Immortality?
Once Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh's life loses all meaning, and he becomes tormented with the fear of death. He decides that the only thing to do is to meet Utanapishtim, the one human being who has been granted immortality by the gods. He sets off on a journey beyond the Eastern edge of the earth, where the sun rises, to find out the secret of immortality.
Has Anybody Seen My Magic Flower?
Gilgamesh finally gets to speak to Utanapishtim and learns that immortality isn't for everyone. The only people to get it are Utanapishtim and his wife, after they survived the Flood; Gilgamesh can't hope for the gods to make a similar exception on his behalf. But, thanks to some wifely intervention, Gilgamesh learns about the mysterious flower that will make anyone who eats young again. He even gets the flower—but then a snake steals it.
So much for Gilgamesh's plans to cheat death. When Gilgamesh and Urshanabi arrive back in Uruk, Gilgamesh brags about the magnificent architectural features of the city. This echoes the opening words of the poem, thus bringing us full circle (always a good sign).