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Who was the greater hero – Gilgamesh or Enkidu?

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A firefighter enters a burning building to rescue a young girl trapped on the top floor. A mighty superhero easily lifts a gigantic monster off the ground and throws him into the bottomless pit. A scientist uses his knowledge of medicine to create an antidote for a deadly epidemic. Heroes in different stories are often described as people who are courageous, strong, or wise. One particular anecdote that illustrates the perfect example of such a protagonist is the legendary myth of Gilgamesh, which recounts the adventures of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, two friends who are equally valiant, stalwart, and insightful. Although both men are considered idyllic heroes, Enkidu seems to be a more favorable character. Unlike Gilgamesh, Enkidu possesses a virtuous personality, which renders him a greater protagonist.

Even when Enkidu lived a savage life, he already had a sense of righteousness. He constantly released the animals from the hunter’s traps as a way to express his gratitude for their milk. After the priestess transformed him into a civilized human being, he gained “a greater understanding and wisdom” (187). When the shepherds clothed him and nourished him with bread and wine, Enkidu displayed his appreciation by using his weapon “to kill the wolves and lions so the shepherds [could] rest at night” (188). Through slaughtering his former companions for the benefit of those who helped him, Enkidu demonstrated his knowledge of morality. In contrast, Gilgamesh did not understand the importance of respecting others. He interfered “in the lives of his subjects beyond his right as king” (185), which made him a resented individual among his people. As a result, the citizens of Uruk looked to Enkidu as their salvation from Gilgamesh’s tyranny.

In addition to being an impertinent king, Gilgamesh possessed hubris as well. Because of his godly abilities, Gilgamesh perceived himself as an invulnerable mortal even though he was aware of his doomed fate. He sought to challenge a great monster named Humbaba, whom his advisers, including Enkidu, considered too powerful for the mighty king of Uruk. Despite their warnings, Gilgamesh insisted on journeying to Cedar Forest to slaughter the terrorizing giant. His impetus to kill Humbaba was his strong desire to be remembered as one of “the great names of the past” (191). On the other hand, Enkidu did not wish to be honored in history. He recognized that despite his superhuman strength, his power has limitations. When Gilgamesh tried to convince him to go on the quest for Humbaba, Enkidu humbly replied, “I shall not walk behind you, my friend . . . . While you are traveling to the land of the living, I shall remain in the strong-walled city of Uruk” (191). Clearly, Enkidu possessed humility for he knew that he could easily have been defeated by the giant regardless of his special abilities.

Although Enkidu primarily refused to accompany Gilgamesh on his expedition, he later agreed to embark on their journey to Cedar Forest out of loyalty to his comrade. He could not fathom himself abandoning Gilgamesh to such a dangerous quest; thus, Enkidu declared to his friend, “If your heart is set upon such an adventure and you are determined to enter the land of the living, then, I will reluctantly accompany you” (191-192). By assenting to partake on a perilous excursion despite having no desire to, Enkidu certainly proved himself a true comrade to Gilgamesh. When the two heroes finally confronted Humbaba, the giant’s terrifying appearance filled Gilgamesh’s heart with fear. Sensing his friend’s anxiety, Enkidu said to Gilgamesh, “Now let courage enter your heart, and prepare to kill this monstrous giant” (196). Strengthened by Enkidu’s motivating words, Gilgamesh was able to defeat Humbaba and rid the land of all evil. Because Enkidu lingered by Gilgamesh’s side, he was able to fortify his friend’s courage, which led to the success of their journey and the assurance of his allegiance to the king of Uruk.

Enkidu and Gilgamesh certainly contrast each other. Though similarly gifted by the gods, Enkidu possesses a greater understanding than Gilgamesh, which constitutes him as the better hero. He acknowledges the importance of respect, humility, and camaraderie. Without Enkidu, Gilgamesh would have remained a tyrannical king instead of becoming the great hero that he is.

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