Man's Greatest Fear

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate April 2001

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Fear is a trait that pervades all mortals. Through strength, some are able to overcome these fears. In some cases, however, even the greatest of strengths is not enough to allay uncertainties regarding life. Gilgamesh and Enkidu find strengths in one another that allow them to overcome their physical fears, but through friendship the two are unable to conquer man's ultimate fear and fate, death.

As friends, these two companions support one another in shortcomings. Where Enkidu is weak, Gilgamesh is strong. Where Gilgamesh is apprehensive, Enkidu is brave. Together, the two set out to make their names known and to earn eternal fame. Along their journey, Gilgamesh and Enkidu must face the terrifying Huwawa, Bull of Heaven, who guards the Cedar Forest through which they must pass.

In entering battle with Huwawa, Bull of Heaven, Gilgamesh appears concerned, but he is not truly fearful. He does not hesitate in fighting this mighty creature because he understands that he and Enkidu, the companion, are fully capable of defeating the terrifying beast.

Knowing that they are unrivaled in strength, the two fight under the tenet that "Two people, companions, they can prevail together against the terror." With the belief that their friendship is greater than both men as individuals, Gilgamesh and Enkidu are victorious in their encounter with the beast, slay him, and enter the Cedar Forest so as to continue their quest for everlasting fame. The encounter with Huwawa differs from the fated encounter with death, however, in that while Gilgamesh wants to conquer death, as a mortal, he is not capable of escaping the destiny of man. In fighting Huwawa, there was always the possibility of victory.

While battles against physical beings can be fought with companionship, as illustrated throughout the journey of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the ultimate battle against the unseen death cannot. The two, unfortunately, are not able to learn the secret of immortality, and the companion becomes ill. When Enkidu falls sick, as is his fate predestined by the gods, Gilgamesh must slowly and painfully give up the misconception he previously held about not having to face his own mortality. As Enkidu lies on his deathbed, he is saddened by the fact that Gilgamesh cannot support him. The strength that the two companions found in each other is proven to have been merely an illusion, and Enkidu must ultimately face death alone. With the death of Enkidu, Gilgamesh is able to accept his own mortality and no longer fear it.

Through his friendship with Enkidu, Gilgamesh learns the truths about life and the inevitable death that accompanies it. Though companionship is unable to support neither Enkidu nor Gilgamesh in death, the camaraderie between the two allows the two to learn about themselves--about their foibles, their fortes, and their fears. It is through this realization that Gilgamesh is able to change and grow not only as an individual, but also as a hero.