The Epic of Gilgamesh
Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis
Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.
Plot Type : Voyage and Return
Anticipation Stage and "Fall" into the Other World
Gilgamesh is a proud and immature king who is driving his citizens crazy with his incessant demands for athletic contests and sex. In response to the prayers of the people of Uruk, the gods create Enkidu and place him in the wilderness. At first, Enkidu is completely wild, but he gets initiated into the human world through having sex with Shamhat.
Because it makes Enkidu lose contact with the animal world, sex with Shamhat can be seen as a sort of "fall" for Enkidu. But Enkidu's transformation won't be complete until he goes to Uruk and encounters Gilgamesh. At the same time, Gilgamesh has been having mysterious dreams about the arrival of a companion. Clearly, both heroes are missing something: what they don't realize yet is that it's each other.
Initial Fascination or Dream Stage
The main initial fascination going on here is the fascination Gilgamesh and Enkidu feel for each other, after their first epic wrestling match outside the house of Gilgamesh's ritual bride. And what better activity for two newfound friends than heading off into the distant wilderness to do battle with a fearsome monster? (Coffee is just boring).
When Gilgamesh and Enkidu return home with Humbaba's head, floating down the Euphrates on a raft made from the tallest tree in the Cedar Forest, you know they're living the bromantic dream.
But there's trouble in paradise. Not long after Gilgamesh and Enkidu make their triumphant return to Uruk, trouble shows up—and its name is Ishtar.
Just like in every other buddy-movie you've seen, it's bad news when an attractive lady starts hitting on one of the valiant heroes, especially when that lady is a goddess. That's because, when Gilgamesh rejects Ishtar's advances, she does what any self-respecting goddess would do: sends down the mythical Bull of Heaven to punish Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Luckily for our heroes, they're able to face down this new challenge and kill the Bull of Heaven.
Their triumph is short-lived. The gods don't take kindly to humans who get too big for their britches, and they decree that one of the humans must die—Enkidu. Sure enough, Enkidu falls ill and dies a long, painful death, with Gilgamesh at his side.
After the death of his friend, Gilgamesh is super bummed: he tears off his rich garments, clothes himself in animal skins, and heads off into the wilderness. You know, basically how we used to react when our Tamagotchi died. He's determined to find Utanapishtim, the one human who has been granted immortality by the gods: he will know how to release Gilgamesh from his predicament. Almost definitely.
Thrilling Escape and Return
This final section of the poem—which includes Gilgamesh's entire journey to and from the dwelling place of Utanapishtim, beneath the earth—is a "Thrilling Escape" stage with a twist.
How so? On one level, Gilgamesh learns that there is no escape: with the exception of Utanapishtim, all human beings are condemned to die by the gods, with no ifs, ands, or buts. On a deeper level, though, we think the ending of the poem does qualify as an escape.
Isn't it striking that, when Gilgamesh gets back to Uruk after losing the rejuvenating flower, he tries to impress Urshanabi with a catalogue of all the cool features of his city? Doesn't this show that he has come to appreciate the good things in life again, and has thus, in a small way, been liberated from the fear of death? Could this count as an escape?
Of course, in a less metaphorical level, Gilgamesh does make it back home safe and sound from a journey beyond the rising-point of the sun—which should count as a decent escape in anybody's book.