The hands with a few fingers left

The Two Sagas of Gilgamesh Western literature has few epics of any real greatness: readers can probably name most of them and count them on their hands with a few fingers left over. Of these, The Epic of Gilgamesh is by far the oldest. The standard version of the epic grandfathers Homer's Iliad and Odyssey by centuries. But what does it mean to call Gilgamesh an epic?By the standards of Homer's outline of an epic, Gilgamesh's tale could be seen as two distinctly different, yet drawn together sagas. "There is a hero of great national or even universal importance in a vast canvas, a setting that may be the whole world or larger." In the beginning we are introduced to our hero as not only the great king of Uruk, son of the goddess Ninsun and the great king, Lugalbanda, but also a great tyrant who became a hero. From the beginning of his story this man is destined for a fantastic journey that spans the worlds beyond what any of his peasants can dream to see.

We are told that he is more godly than not, yet still must suffer the same fate as all mortals. With destiny set against his mortal, or physical life Gilgamesh must take the journey to the great cedar forest of Lebanon where he will prove his superior strength (and favor from the gods) to the world. "The plot involves battles involving superhuman deeds or a long, difficult journey while gods or other supernatural beings are interested and involved." Gilgamesh does encounter all of these things. Not once, but twice.

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In the first part of this tale he battles Humbaba, the feared giant who protects the trees of the cedar forest. Alongside him is his trusted friend, Enkido. Enkido was made by the gods, an equal of Gilgamesh which they planted in the wild as a man to grow strong in the wild of the animals. It is after Enkido has become Gilgamesh's friend that he complains of feeling weak from civilization, and gives Gilgamesh the idea of conquering something great to reclaim his strength and perpetuate their names. In this task they are also helped by Shamash; the god responsible for the cedar forest because he takes pity on Gilgamesh's mortality. Yet his story does not end at the defeat of Humbaba.

Nor does it stop at the return of the mighty king of Uruk. His return to his strong-walled city is greeted by the marriage proposal of the goddess, Ishtar. He turns her down.

This spurns the bitter goddess to beg of her father the bull of heaven. The beast is defeated by the daring duo, but Enkido grows ill and falls victim to the fate of all men. An epic can be defined by the extravagances of its journey, but Gilgamesh takes more than one journey.

There is a distinct break between two tales about the same man. After the death of his "beloved friend" Gilgamesh yerns to avoid the fate of all human men. He sets out on his own this time, and after "many weeks of travel.

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