Critical Response on The Epic of Gilgamesh
Symbolism is the use images and objects to represent an idea. In literature, symbolism enhances an author’s writings and gives them deeper meaning. The writer of The Epic of Gilgamesh uses symbolism in a creative manner in order to make a reader connect with the culture of the Mesopotamians. In particular, he is able to illustrate their civilization, religion, and societal views. Consequently, this book is informative on their traditions and customs.
Symbolism in The Epic of Gilgamesh is used to illustrate civilization in Mesopotamia. Given that this book was written thousands of years ago, it is impressive that these people were so technologically advanced that they could forge metallic tools.
“He built the walls of ramparted Uruk,
The lustrous treasury of Hallowed Eanna!
See its upper wall, whose facing gleams like copper,
Gaze at the lower course, which nothing will equal” (“The Epic of Gilgamesh” 1.10-13)
These sentences have been included to show the modernity in Uruk. In addition, they serve the role of contrasting the prestigious residence of King Gilgamesh compared to the jungle where Enkidu lived. Therefore, a reader is able to connect with the Mesopotamian culture and understand their perspective about the world.
Symbolism is also used when describing Enkidu. In ancient Mesopotamia, there were rural areas and it expected that some people may have been unkempt since they were hunters and gatherers. The description of Enkidu as a beast-like creature mainly shows that he was a strong muscular man who lived in the jungle either as a hunter or a gatherer.
“Shaggy with hair was his whole body,
He was made lush with head hair, like a woman,
The locks of his hair grew thick as grain field.
He knew neither people nor inhabited land,
He dressed as animals do.
He fed on grass with gazelles,” (“The Epic of Gilgamesh” 1.94-100).
This description also shows Mesopotamians attitudes towards nature. Mesopotamians viewed themselves as civilized individuals superior to their neighbors. The fact that Shamhat was able to seduce Enkidu shows that he had similar behavior as civilized people. Therefore, her description of him been unkempt and eating grass was simply because he came from a society that had a different culture from the Mesopotamians.
Another element of symbolism used in the article is the use of the word ‘bull’. Gilgamesh is described as a ‘wild bull’, which implies he is both strong and lives in the forest. In Mesopotamian, bulls were some of the strongest creatures; therefore, the word ‘bull’ symbolizes Gilgamesh’s strength.
“Of him, Gilgamesh, who underwent many hardships.
Surpassing all kings, for his stature renowned,
Heroic offspring of Uruk, a charging wild bull, (“The Epic of Gilgamesh” 1.27-30)”
Interesting, his mother is called ‘wild cow’, which symbolizes she is the mother of a ‘bull’. The name “wild” indicates that she is a woman who loves to explore while ‘cow’ shows she is a woman and a mother.
“Wild calf of Lugalbanda, Gilgamesh is perfect in strength,
Suckling of the sublime wild cow, the woman Ninsun,” (“The Epic of Gilgamesh” 1.36-38).
The author creatively uses an axe to represent Enkidu. In a dream, Gilgamesh dreams that an axe is thrown on a street in Uruk and all the people surround it.
“An axe was thrown down in a street of ramparted Uruk,
They were crowding around it,” (“The Epic of Gilgamesh” 3.272)
This scene illustrates the arrival of Enkidu. His arrival was marked with a lot of hype. Later on, Gilgamesh dreams that he fell in love with the axe.
“I fell in love with it, like a woman I caressed it,
Then you were making it my partner.” (“The Epic of Gilgamesh” 3.278)
This section illustrates the strong friendship bond that is formed between Gilgamesh and Enkidu. The use of an “axe” shows that Enkidu is important, strong and dangerous. In Mesopotamia, an axe was an essential household tool that was used to chop-off trees.
Symbolism, as used in The Epic of Gilgamesh, enables the author to convey his thoughts in a detailed manner. In particular, the symbols enable a reader to understand the writer’s culture and the setting in which the book was written. In this regard, he is creative in the use of symbolism and imagery, and he provides a good literal copy that academicians may use when learning the different elements of writing.
The Epic of Gilgamesh. 1st ed. Translated by Kovacs Maureen, Stanford University Press, 1989.