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 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, through explaining the common issues that people have been facing in the long-gone past and even today. Though a variety of different motifs can be picked and explained from the epic tale of the protagonist Gilgamesh, however, three of these motifs are discussed with reference to the Gilgamesh tale and its reference to the ancient Sumerian culture.


The Dreams Motif – Gilgamesh

The tale distinctly starts off with a lot of dreams being mentioned, where Gilgamesh is seen to dream about embracing a meteorite that had fallen down on Earth. In another instance, he also dreams about embracing an ax, and though these might seem as being absurd dreams, they are correctly interpreted by the mother of Gilgamesh, who was 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 are not direct revelation towards 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 lightening cracking, with everything transforming into ashes. Although these terrifying dreams are often very cheeringly interpreted by Enkidu, however, it explains how humans strive to communicate with their gods and interpret 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, he was not able to 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 future, rather Enkidu also is shown to have these dreams in the last part of his life when he was already ill and his death was certain, 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 very basics of why man was sent to Earth and realizes the one true main theme of the epic which proves that even though immortality is sought by individuals of all eras, it is the kindness and wisdom a person shows that actually 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 in any way sought a rather unusual reaction to the prayers of the people through instructed Aruru the god of creation to devise a response for Gilgamesh. The exact 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 was actually equal to Gilgamesh. Observing the fact that when Gilgamesh and Enkidu met they were equaled not the same. While Gilgamesh was two-thirds divine and one-third human, Enkidu was a two-third animal and one-third human; one was a king of the most happening city of the time, while 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 each other, soon they become friends.

There are also several other examples of balance or pair of twos in the epic such as two major adventures e.g. Cedar Forest and journey to Utnapishtim; two very seductive women, Ishtar and Shamhat;  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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