The Epic of Gilgamesh

Tablet V

The poem suggests that fear and death are inescapable, but it also shows us how we can function in spite of them by being part of a community. As both Gilgamesh and Enkidu demonstrate, working within a community offers the opportunity to be part of something greater and longer-lasting than is possible individually, and it expands boundaries beyond what the individual flesh encloses. Alone, the prospect of death is overwhelming. Within a community, even one as small as that of Gilgamesh and Enkidu clinging together for warmth on the eve of a battle, fear fades. Gilgamesh and Enkidu distract each other from fear and persuade each other that they have the power to make their names, if not their bodies, immortal. The distinction between the personal and the collective is at the very heart of Gilgamesh. Culture, community, creativity, and camaraderie ultimately help Gilgamesh and Enkidu transcend the finality of death. When characters begin to believe that they really are immortal or that they deserve to be, they are guilty of excessive pride, which rarely goes unpunished. When Enkidu suggests that they can foil the god Enlil by killing his servant Humbaba quickly, before Enlil finds out what they’re doing, he deceives himself. The gods may be capricious and silly, but they are also implacable. Even as Enkidu and Gilgamesh triumph over the monster, they are laying the groundwork for their fall.