May 13, 2023

From Gerald R. Lucas

Gilgamesh’s Enduring Influence

The Epic of Gilgamesh stands as a literary masterpiece, captivating readers with its vivid storytelling and profound exploration of the human experience. It serves as a reminder that, despite the vast changes in society over millennia, the fundamental questions and concerns of humanity remain constant. The epic’s depiction of Gilgamesh's quest for immortality prompts readers to reflect on their own mortality, encouraging them to seek meaning and purpose in their lives.

Gilgamesh stone carving.jpg

The theme of friendship speaks to the universal need for connection and companionship. As college undergraduates navigate the complexities of relationships and personal growth, the epic’s portrayal of Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s transformative bond serves as a poignant reminder of the transformative power of friendship. The friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu reflects the universal need for companionship and highlights the role of interpersonal relationships in shaping our identities and experiences. In contemporary society, where individuals often face feelings of isolation and disconnection, the importance of genuine connections and meaningful friendships cannot be overstated.

Additionally, the theme of friendship speaks to the inherent value of human connection. In an increasingly digital age, where social media often serves as a substitute for genuine interaction, the epic reminds us of the irreplaceable value of face-to-face connections. It encourages us to prioritize meaningful relationships, investing time and effort into building authentic connections that enrich our lives.

The quest for meaning, another significant theme in the epic, resonates deeply with contemporary audiences. In a society where individuals often grapple with questions of purpose and fulfillment, Gilgamesh's relentless pursuit of immortality prompts readers to consider their own quests for meaning and the significance of their actions and relationships. The epic encourages introspection and prompts individuals to reflect on their choices and the impact they have on their own lives and the lives of others.

Gilgamesh’s relentless pursuit of immortality reflects a yearning to defy mortality and escape the inevitability of death. However, his journey ultimately leads him to recognize the futility of such pursuits and the importance of cherishing the life he has been given. Through his encounters and hardships, Gilgamesh gains a deeper understanding of the value of his own mortality and the fleeting nature of human existence.

This exploration of the carpe diem theme serves as a reminder to college students, who are often consumed by future aspirations and anxieties, to embrace the present moment. It encourages them to cultivate gratitude for the opportunities and experiences available to them here and now, rather than constantly striving for future achievements or dwelling on past regrets.

Gilgamesh highlights the significance of appreciating what we have in life by juxtaposing moments of joy and fulfillment with instances of loss and grief. For instance, when Gilgamesh and Enkidu embark on their quest to slay the monstrous Humbaba, they experience a profound sense of camaraderie, adventure, and triumph. However, the subsequent death of Enkidu plunges Gilgamesh into despair, leading him to confront his mortality and reevaluate his priorities.

Through these contrasting experiences, the epic conveys the message that life’s fleeting moments of happiness and fulfillment should be cherished and savored. It reminds college students that life is a mosaic of varied experiences, and they should not take moments of joy, friendship, and love for granted. The epic encourages them to appreciate the people, opportunities, and experiences that enrich their lives, recognizing their transient nature.

In this sense, the epic demonstrates that the pursuit of immortality or an obsession with the future can overshadow the present and hinder genuine fulfillment. Gilgamesh’s quest for eternal life ultimately proves futile, and he realizes the importance of finding meaning and purpose in the here and now.

In today’s fast-paced and achievement-oriented society, the carpe diem theme resonates with college undergraduates who often face pressure to constantly plan for the future and achieve specific milestones. The epic reminds them to pause, reflect, and appreciate the journey itself, rather than being solely fixated on the destination.

A stilll from “Darmok.”

The contemporary relevance of Gilgamesh extends beyond its literary impact. It can also be observed in popular culture, where references and adaptations of the epic continue to captivate audiences. The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Darmok” serves as a compelling example of the epic’s enduring influence. In this episode, the encounter between the crew of the starship Enterprise and an alien species highlights the challenges of communication and understanding between different cultures. The episode draws upon the universal themes of Gilgamesh, emphasizing the importance of overcoming differences and developing empathy and understanding.

The Epic of Gilgamesh stands as a testament to the timeless power of storytelling and its ability to address universal themes. Its exploration of the human condition, friendship, the quest for meaning, and mortality continues to resonate. Gilgamesh reminds us that, despite the passage of time, the fundamental questions and concerns of humanity remain constant, encouraging us to reflect on our own lives and the world we inhabit.