Dreams, Journey, and Balance as in Gilgamesh

by Shamsul
Epic of Gilgamesh
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Dreams, Journey and Balance as in Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh is the story of a mythical king of Uruk in Babylonia, situated on the Euphrates River. It is known as modern Iraq today. The significance of this story is that it still manages to touch the hearts of many individuals even after centuries. It explains the common issues that people have been facing in the long-gone past and even today. Though various motifs can be picked and illustrated from the epic tale of the protagonist Gilgamesh, three of these motifs are discussed concerning the Gilgamesh adventure and its connection to the ancient Sumerian culture.

The Dreams Motif – Gilgamesh

The tale distinctly starts with a lot of dreams being mentioned, where Gilgamesh is seen dreaming about embracing a meteorite that had fallen on Earth. In another instance, he also dreams about embracing an ax. Though these might seem like absurd dreams, they are correctly interpreted by the mother of Gilgamesh, a goddess, claiming it to be pointing towards the coming of Enkidu in Gilgamesh’s life, who would act as a friend and a comrade in his life.

Further on, the dreams are presented as being the main communication mode between humans and gods and goddesses. Several times during the tale, Gilgamesh has dreams that, even though they are not direct revelations of any occurrence, are symbolic all the time. However, they are accurate almost mysteriously all the time.

Other examples of dreams explaining the future of Gilgamesh and even Enkidu include the terrifying dreams of Gilgamesh. Where he witnessed a fighting bull, raining death and lightning cracking, with everything transforming into ashes. Although these scary dreams are often very cheeringly interpreted by Enkidu. They explain how humans strive to communicate with their gods and solve their future through their dreams. Gilgamesh is also shown to pray to Shamash, the sun god, to give him these dreams. It is vital to mention that while Gilgamesh had these prophetic dreams. However, he could not decipher them effectively, for which he was seen to acquire help from his mother and friend.

Gilgamesh is the only one to have these dreams of the future. Instead, Enkidu is shown to have these dreams in the last part of his life when he is already ill and his death is inevitable. He witnessed the horrors of the Underworld via his dreams.

This explains how ancient Sumerians believed in gods communicating with them via their dreams and how these dreams showed the path forward or the future to the individuals.

The Journey Motif – Gilgamesh


As far as the motif of the journey is concerned, the entire Gilgamesh epic is one big journey. It is like almost every character is in a state of the journey to achieve something. Examples include Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s journey to the Cedar Forest, Enkidu’s journey from the wild towards Shamhat, leading ultimately towards civilization, Enkidu’s journey to the underworld, etc. The journey realized in the classic heroic tale not only signifies the physical journey but also states the psychological journey from one point to another. The biggest journey depicted in this tale is of Gilgamesh, where he physically sets off to faraway lands to find Utnapishtim in search of immortality, and his transition psychologically from initially seeking a never-ending life to realizing that a human is unique only due to his mortal nature.

The story discusses in detail not only Gilgamesh’s journey from a tyrant to a benevolent and caring leader but also Enkidu’s metamorphosis from a wild creature to a civilized one. This motif indicates the basics of why the man was sent to Earth. It realizes the one true main theme of the epic. This proves that even though individuals of all eras seek immortality, it is the kindness and wisdom a person shows that keeps him immortal in the minds and hearts of others and that achieving physical immortality is impossible for a human. The several journeys undertaken by Gilgamesh led to his internal journey from being an outrageous person to a devoted and selfless king.


The Balance Motif Gilgamesh

Balance is another motif explained in detail in the Gilgamesh tale. The very first instance of this balance is experienced. When the people of Uruk ask for help from the gods. So, that they can be relieved from their outrageous king Gilgamesh. The god, instead of punishing him, sought a rather unusual reaction to the prayers of the people by instructing Aruru, the god of creation, to devise a response for Gilgamesh. The words used were “Let Him Be Equal To Gilgamesh’s Stormy Heart, Let Them Be A Match For Each other So That Uruk May Find Peace (1.79-81).

As the story unfolds, we realize the response is equal to Gilgamesh. Observing the fact that when Gilgamesh and Enkidu met, they were identical, not the same. While Gilgamesh was two-thirds divine and one-third human. Enkidu was two-thirds animal and one-third human. One was a king of the most happening city of the time, The other was a survivor, coming from the wild to the banks of civilization.

The initial motive of Enkidu, when he goes to meet Gilgamesh is to fight him and prove his greater strength. However, as the two entangle or grapple, they soon become friends.

There are also several other examples of balance or pair of twos in the epic. There is two major adventures, e.g., Cedar Forest and journey to Utnapishtim. They were very seductive women, Ishtar and Shamhat. Also, two monsters, the bull of heaven and the Humbaba, etc. the list is exhaustive.

This represents the belief of the Sumerians in having equals. It is this balance that, according to them, decides how successful or failure a man would be. Gilgamesh changed when he found his equal and realized what he really wanted to do.


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