What Are the Good & Evil Forces in "The Epic of Gilgamesh"?
“The Epic of Gilgamesh” is one of the oldest known poems, and it contains myths from ancient Sumeria. Although much of the story is original to “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” the poem also contains elements common in ancient literature, such as a flood myth, which covered the Earth and destroyed most of humanity, as well as the hero’s journey.
As is fitting for an epic that bears his name, Gilgamesh himself is a very complicated character, embodying both good and evil. Gilgamesh is part human and part divine, giving him powers such as super strength and beyond-human endurance. At the beginning of the book, he uses his powers to mistreat the people under his rule. By the end of the book, however, after he has had journeys with his friend Enkidu and saved his people from the ravages of the Bull of Heaven, he is kinder. However, he is still selfish, leaving his people to roam the wild and seek his own immortality in response to a great grief.
Good Human Forces
The human forces in “The Epic of Gilgamesh” are good. The main supporting character in the poem is Enkidu, originally a wild man sent to distract Gilgamesh from his tyranny. Enkidu, hearing of Gilgamesh’s exploits, tries to stop him, whereupon they fight and then become friends. Enkidu is a loyal friend throughout several adventures and battles. The character Utnapishtim, a human with eternal life granted when he survived the Flood, is also good, attempting to help Gilgamesh obtain immortal life.
Evil Divine Forces
The evil divine forces in the book are mostly embodied in the character of Ishtar, a jealous goddess who is stung by Gilgamesh’s refusal to be her lover. In revenge, she sends the Bull of Heaven to wreck Gilgamesh’s kingdom. The bull destroys people and property, ruining the river and the town, before Gilgamesh and Enkidu manage to kill it. The gods Enlil and Anu, however, decide that Enkidu must die for killing the Bull of Heaven and a monster named Humbaba.
Good Divine Forces
In response to Gilgamesh’s oppression of his people, including sleeping with women on their wedding nights, the gods send Enkidu. This is an example of beneficence, as the gods respond directly to the requests of the mistreated people. Though he is ultimately unsuccessful, Isthar’s father attempts to block her revenge on Gilgamesh, and therefore demonstrates a moral compass. Shamash, another god, sends help to Gilgamesh and Enkidu when they battle the monster Humbaba, and he also comforts Enkidu on the road to death.
- The Epic of Gilgamesh: A New Translation; Andrew George, translator
Sarah Moore has been a writer, editor and blogger since 2006. She holds a master's degree in journalism.