The Epic of Gilgamesh
Wisdom and Knowledge Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"You understand the rules of my forest, the rules …,
further, you are aware of all the things 'So ordered (by Enlil).'
I should have carried you up, and killed you at the very entrance to the branches of the forest.
I should have fed your flesh to the screeching vulture, the eagle, and the vulture.
So now, Enkidu, clemency is up to you.
Speak to Gilgamesh to spare (my) life!" (5.168-173)
Here, Humbaba is begging Enkidu for rescue by reminding him of what he knows: that Humbaba was appointed as the guardian of the Cedar Forest by Enlil, the king of the gods. Enkidu doesn't want to tick off the king of the gods, does he? Well, you wouldn't think so—but, as it turns out, Enkidu does instruct Gilgamesh to kill Humbaba, does tick off the gods (and Enlil specifically), and does end up getting struck down by a mortal illness (after some other mishaps along the way). Not too wise, Enkidu. Not wise at all.
"I have come on account of my ancestor Utanapishtim,
who joined the Assembly of the Gods, and was given eternal life.
About Death and Life I must ask him!" (9.136-138)
Here, Gilgamesh is chatting with the Scorpion-beings he meets at the rising of the sun. And, surprise: the whole point of the quest is to gain knowledge about life and death. This makes it sound like he is on a very different quest from the last one he made—to kill the monster Humbaba. But are there similarities? Gilgamesh wanted to kill Humbaba because he thought it would bring him undying fame. Now, he's just looking for a way to escape dying at all. Does Gilgamesh's attitude toward his quest at this point show that he has made progress in the direction of wisdom, or is it simply another side of his ongoing immaturity?
"Gilgamesh, where are you wandering?
The life that you are seeking all around you will not find.
When the gods created mankind
they fixed Death for mankind,
and held back Life in their own hands." (Old Babylonian Supplement at 10.72)
Is it just us, or does tavern-keeper Siduri basically provide an answer to the whole question Gilgamesh is after? And her answer is pretty simple: death is what it is; you can't escape it, therefore, you should make the most of life. Yet, for some reason Gilgamesh doesn't take her advice, and demands to speak to Utanapishtim. Why doesn't Gilgamesh listen? Does he not believe that Siduri, of all people, could know the answer? Or is it that wisdom simply can't be acquired until the person seeking it has exhausted all possible options?