Philosophy & literature: mythology through gilgamesh Essay
The idea of psychological archetypes has an important connection with the portrayal of mythology. This concept is mainly in agreement with Joseph Campbell’s suggestions of mythology in regard to the hero archetype. Campbell claims that the power of mythology lies in the fact that myths reflect realistic and valid archetypes.
Since the ancient time, myths have been the main way of explaining battles, major life events and people’s behavior. There is always a hero in such stories or myths, who faces a struggle that acts as the basis of the story’s plot.
With a lot of strength, talent, as well as admiration, the hero upholds the most precious thing to the audience, heroism. However, as time goes, the role of the hero remains indistinguishable from any other character (Mitchell 1).
A myth about Gilgamesh describes the main hero as a person that beholds different heroic characteristics seen in many stories. At the beginning of the myth, Gilgamesh decides to conquer the jungle’s beast, Humbaba. Gilgamesh sets this goal for himself. Every hero must set a certain aim.
Otherwise, there would be nothing to accomplish or tell in a myth. After Gilgamesh defeats the Humbaba, he loses Enkidu, his best friend, which is a great loss and challenge to any hero. In his mourning, Gilgamesh goes through a transformation making him appear like Enkidu.
The hero appears in tatters and puts on animal skins. This makes Gilgamesh the opposite to Enkidu. Civilization influences the appearance of Enkidu like that of Gilgamesh. In this case, the hero becomes more savage. Changing appearance is a way of keeping Enkidu alive by appearing like him (Mitchell 11).
Gilgamesh finds it hard to believe Enkidu is dead and is in denial of the idea of his death. However, after seeing a worm coming out of Enkidu’s body, Gilgamesh accepts the fact that his friend is no more alive. He realizes that he is not immortal.
This makes Gilgamesh seek a way to cheat death. Gilgamesh chooses to look for Utnapishtin, thus he goes to Mashu. He encounters lions on his way and seeks the protection of Sin. These adventures are presented as a dream and actual encounters. In some cases, Gilgamesh is scared even though it is not clear whom the hero faces (Mitchell 1).
As Gilgamesh reaches Mashu, at the mountain’s entrance, he walks into darkness. This is a common feature in most heroic myths. Gilgamesh faces a terrifying encounter as he meets Hunbaba. This proves Gilgamesh’s heroism.
As a hero, Gilgamesh must go through this experience alone. The whole place is dark, and Gilgamesh can see neither front nor behind. Gilgamesh cannot escape his solitude. Literally, there is nowhere for Gilgamesh to go. There is also nobody to turn to for assistance. In the literal sense, the darkness symbolizes Gilgamesh’s solitude.
After challenging Hunbaba, Gilgamesh arrives at the other part of the mountain. He enters beautiful gardens filled with brightly colored flowers and fruits. Gilgamesh can see the sea beyond the garden. Gilgamesh is now in a new world. The passage through darkness symbolizes the process of birth. Gilgamesh’s emergence in the new world symbolizes his rebirth.
In his mourning for Enkidu, Gilgamesh is actually seeking to have his own salvation. Even though Gilgamesh believes these problems can be solved by immortality, he discovers that there are different forms of salvation.
Joseph Campbell suggests that the power of mythology is that myths are reflection of psychologically realistic and valid archetypes. The heroes’ behavior in the myth is similar to the stereotype human conduct. Just as seen in the case of Gilgamesh, every hero goes through various stages of progression.
These include the hero being introduced to the ordinary world, being called for adventure, being reluctant at first and then being encouraged by a wise man or a woman. After Gilgamesh goes through the first threshold, he faces various tests as well as meets friends ready to help him.
The hero then reaches darkness and faces an extreme ordeal. The hero decides to fight, goes through reemergence and finally returns with his treasure (Mitchell 51). These are interesting elaborations that are clear in the case of Gilgamesh.
The myth of Gilgamesh is a well-known literary piece. Gilgamesh is a renowned king. He encompasses all the characteristics of an archetypal hero. Joseph Campbell suggests that Gilgamesh represents the greatest myth of the quest for the elixir of immortality.
However, the objectives of Gilgamesh in his heroic journey are not the same as those experienced in the modern day world. Gilgamesh looks for immortality and glory. These rewards are impossible for heroes in the modern world. In most cases, the opposite happens.
The heroes usually end up giving their life for the sake of humanity. However, their traits still incorporate all the attributes of a hero. The hero does not die as such; he merely takes a different form in accordance to the changing world in terms of technology and various values a hero should have (Mitchell 2).
Mitchell, Stephen. Gilgamesh: A New English Version. New York: Free Press, 2010, Print.
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