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Archetypes in the Epic of Gilgamesh

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, there were several behavioral examples or archetypes manifested by some of its major characters. It can be said that these archetypes are highly significant considering the fact that this epic is one of the oldest among its kind. In general, among all the characters in the epic, it is Gilgamesh who stood out as one who exhibited multiply archetypes. It is noticeable that Gilgamesh, being the story’s main protagonist, is not the typical hero archetype or one who fights for his country, his people, or the oppressed, in the name of honor and justice.

This is why it is hard to pinpoint an exact archetype that can best describe him. Initially, Gilgamesh exhibits qualities that are not usually found in a hero. Being a two-thirds god and one-third man, he is shown as a wise, powerful, and attractive man who rules over the kingdom of Uruk. However, he rules his kingdom with cruelty as he treated his subjects very harshly and raped every woman he finds interest in. He also forces excessive labor on his followers and orders to them to constantly go on battle.

In general, right from the start, it is shown that Gilgamesh lacks the qualities and traits present in a hero archetype such as kindness, compassion, selflessness, and nobility, among others. This perhaps can be attributed to the fact that he is still part human and therefore, is vulnerable earthly desires and sins. In other words, it can also be argued that Gilgamesh best represents the archetype of sin. Aside from being cruel, he is also selfish and would do anything to satisfy his desires from raping women to erecting high towers at the expense of his workers exhaustion.

This characterization may also lead to another archetype, which is the archetype of a cruel leader. Since he is powerful and god-like in all aspects, Gilgamesh is feared and can be compared to a tyrant who rules by force. Furthermore, Gilgamesh behavior and character is further expounded when he meets and forms a deep friendship Enkindu, who in turn represents another archetype. Basically, Enkindu serves as the opposite of Gilgamesh. He is entirely made from clay and began his life in the wild. He is raised by animals and is unrefined and crude throughout the entire story.

In other words, Enkindu best represents the native and uncivilized archetype who possesses animal instincts. Moreover, when Enkindu died, it made an enormous impact on Gilgamesh’s character. The latter suddenly forgot his quest for glory, wealth, and power, which are all human desires, and instead sought out the secret of immortality. When Enkindu died, Gilgamesh feared the prospects of his own death and realized that despite being all-powerful, he is till mortal. In a sense, his friendship with Enkindu enabled him to connect with his human side more and in effect, creating another dimension to his archetype.

In a lot of ways, Gilgamesh represented the archetype of a mighty king who has a number of flaws and one of which is his mortal life. When he lost the magical plant that would make him young again, he realized that he has achieved the closest thing to being immortal through the kingdom that he has built, including the many towers and structures within it. He realized that even though he did not attain immortality, his legacy would live on through his kingdom. In short, it can be said that he is a combination of a number archetypes.

However, in general, Gilgamesh’s archetype can mainly be described as a flawed, sinful hero, who is able to seek redemption in the end. Furthermore, another notable archetype in the epic was the depiction of women as objects of sex. This is best highlighted by Ishtar, the goddess of love, who lusted for Gilgamesh but was rejected by him. In addition, the women in the kingdom of Uruk were also portrayed as victims of Gilgamesh burning desires as they were raped and abused. It can then be surmised that women represented the archetype of lust and sex and in effect, created a gender disparity.

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