There is no denying that the epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest and most important stories of the world which has been able to survive until our modern age. The epic is said to be around four thousand years old and is accepted as a cornerstone in world history and literature. Gilgamesh was the king of Sumerian Uruk city, a historical town which was established by Sumerians on the lands of today’s Iraq, between rivers Euphrates and Tigris (Mesopotamia). Although Mesopotamian civilizations are mostly known with Babylon king Hammurabi and his code of law which is the first written code of law of the world and based on the principle of “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”, the epic of Gilgamesh constitutes a huge place in Sumerian, Babylon and in general Mesopotamian civilizations. The epic of Gilgamesh consists of 12 tablets (of which 11 tablets are readable) and has a poetic, laconic style. In this assignment, I am going to analyze whether the relation between Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the epic can be explained by Freudian concept of alter-ego. I will argue that alter-ego conception would be very beneficial for us to understand the epic. I am going to support my argument by giving examples, justifications from the epic. In order to reach this point, I will start by a short summary of the epic. I am going to concentrate especially on the parts where the relation between Enkidu and Gilgamesh is the dominant topic. Later, I am going to explain alter-ego conception from a Freudian perspective. Thirdly, I will apply alter-ego conception to the relation of Gilgamesh and Enkidu. I will also try to show how this perspective might be useful for historians to understand the epic in a different way. At the final part, I am going to manifest my own views.
Now, I am going to begin with a short summary of the epic. Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk, is a creature of two-thirds God and one-third human. Gilgamesh is a hero and a strong king in the eyes of his people but he does not hesitate to oppress his people. In order to get rid of Gilgamesh’s despotism, people complain about his behaviors to God Anu, the chief god of the city, to help them. In response, Anu creates a wild creature called Enkidu who has the power of dozens of animals. Although Enkidu is very powerful, he lacks humane qualities. People who saw Enkidu running naked with animals in the forest make a plan to save him. They decide to send a beautiful woman to seduce and weaken Enkidu. A beautiful woman Shamhat seduces Enkidu and Enkidu gains knowledge and understanding at the expense of losing some power. Shamhat convinces him to come to city with her. Meanwhile, Gilgamesh talks about his dreams to his mother and his mother analyzes his dreams in such a way that a man of really huge power would come soon and help Gilgamesh in doing great things.
Shepherds teach Enkidu how to eat, how to speak and how to wear clothes properly. Enkidu enters to city during a festival when Gilgamesh was about to use his first-night right to have sexual intercourse with new brides on the first day. Enkidu opposes to Gilgamesh and they start to fight in a very violent way. Finally, Gilgamesh was able to beat Enkidu. They embrace each other after the fight and become good friends that respect each other. Later, Gilgamesh proposes Enkidu a great adventure to go to Cedar Forest and to kill “Humbaba the Terrible”, the guardian of the Cedar Forest. Enkidu tries to convince Gilgamesh not to go since he knows the power of Humbaba from his wild days in the forest. However, Gilgamesh rejects Enkidu’s idea and seems confident of success. His mother and all people of Uruk pray Gods to protect their adventurous king from Humbaba.
Enkidu and Gilgamesh continue their way towards the Cedar Forest by cutting the trees. They finally find Humbaba and begin to fight. Humbaba cleverly tries to destroy the friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu by asking Gilgamesh why he listen the words of nobody like Enkidu as the king of Uruk. However, Gilgamesh is not affected from Humbaba’s propaganda. They continue to fight with him but Gilgamesh terrifies from Humbaba’s power and escapes. Later, Enkidu shouts at him and inspires him with courage. They continue to fight and finally beat Humbaba. Humbaba begs for his life but Gilgamesh kills him. Before dying, Humbaba curses Enkidu. Gilgamesh and Enkidu return to their village with success and huge reputation. Gilgamesh’s widespread fame attracts the sexual attention of goddess Ishtar. She asks Gilgamesh to become her lover. However, Gilgamesh refuses this proposal by insulting her and listing her human lovers. Ishtar goes to his father, Anu and begs him to let her have the Bull of Heaven in order take revenge from Gilgamesh. Anu accepts her daughter’s wish and the Bull of Heaven is sent down in Uruk which begins to kill people. Enkidu and Gilgamesh by fighting together again kill the Bull and save the city. Enkidu begins to insult Ishtar and threatens her with death. He even throws one of thighs of the Bull to her face.
After all these insults and violence, Gods decide to punish someone. They chose Enkidu as the scapegoat and order his death. A great demon is sent to kill Enkidu. After suffering 12 days, Enkidu at last dies in pain. Gilgamesh becomes so sad after Enkidu’s death, he orders all Uruk citizens not to become silent and mourn after Enkidu’s death. Gilgamesh in pain begins to think of death. He now knows that he would die one day too and the idea makes him panicking. He decides to find Utnapishtim, the only immortal human in the world who was a king before the Flood, in order to learn the secret of immortality. After a long journey Gilgamesh finds Utnapishtim and they start to talk. Utnapishtim talks him about the Flood and how he managed to escape from it. Later, Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that he can become an immortal if he achieves to stay awake for six days and seven nights. Gilgamesh accepts this and he sits on the shore. However, he falls asleep and he loses his chance to become an immortal. Utnapishtim by pitying him tells him about a magic plant but Gilgamesh fails again keeping this magic plant that would make Gilgamesh young again. At the end of the epic, Gilgamesh returns to his city.
In this paragraph, I want to talk little bit about alter-ego conception. Alter-ego by dictionary definition means “another side of oneself; a second self”. According to Sigmund Freud, Austrian physician and founder of psychoanalysis, there are basically three dimensions that determine people’s behaviors and attitudes: ego, id and superego. Id is the animal part of human beings which is full of desires, appetites and away from reason. Id can be very dangerous for people who cannot satisfy their desires because id is also a place where emotions are located and in addition to love, pity, humans have feelings like hatred, anger etc. Ego is the center of the self which tries to balance id in Freud’s view. Ego is the place of rationality and helps people in acting reasonably to satisfy their desires. Superego on the other hand, is the place of ethics in people’s minds. Superego similar to ego tries to suppress uncontrolled and wild desires of id and orientates individuals to act flawlessly. Superego tries to direct ego to act on the basis of ethics more than rationality in Freudian thought. Turning back to alter-ego, we can say that alter-ego is something different from id, ego and superego, it symbolizes the complementary and opposite part of a person.
When we analyze Gilgamesh from a Freudian perspective, we can first underline his aspect that he is a creature half-human and half-God. Enkidu on the other hand, is a creature created by Gods as half-animal and half-human. We can clearly notice that Enkidu is the other self of the Gilgamesh which balances him and make him a human being. Without Enkidu, Gilgamesh is a living above humans so, he acts cruelly to other people, forces women to sleep with him and makes many cruelties to his people who are inferior to him. However, with the addition of Enkidu who is inferior from humans and close to animals, Gilgamesh finds himself equal with other humans. They together make heroic things; Gilgamesh does not continue to act cruelly to the people of his city Uruk. Enkidu is not civilized and rational unlike Gilgamesh although they both have strong ids to be satisfied. Enkidu can be easily deceived like he was deceived in the forest by Shamhat, the prostitute. In this respect, Gilgamesh completes Enkidu’s lack of rationality and civilization. There is also a kind of homo-erotic relationship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh which can be explained as the strong attraction and the need to become complete of both sides namely, Enkidu and Gilgamesh. “I loved it and embraced it as a wife. I laid it down at your feet, and you made it compete with me” (The Epic of Gilgamesh, p. 11). Gilgamesh also represents the group of elites (elitism) contrary to Enkidu who is more of a ordinary person. That is why Enkidu attacks Gilgamesh in the name of people whose wives are forced to make love by Gilgamesh on the first day of their weddings. That is why they begin to fight. However, they end up kissing each other and making peace. This is like an uprising of the people against their rulers but finally the restoration of order by a kind of agreement between people and ruler. They know that both sides need and complement each other (alter-ego – ego relationship) and that is why peace is consolidated with the wishes of both sides. “They kissed each other and became friends” (The Epic of Gilgamesh, p. 18).
After unifying their power, instead of terrorizing people, Gilgamesh begins thinking about making good to people. “Enlil assigned him as a terror to human beings” (The Epic of Gilgamesh, p. 19). Although Gilgamesh is very willingly to make this journey to kill Humbaba, Enkidu seems involuntary. However, again they complement each other because Gilgamesh inspires Enkidu courage and Enkidu helps him finding Humbaba in the forest. When they meet Humbaba, this time Enkidu gives courage to Gilgamesh and Gilgamesh kills Humbaba. Moreover, when Humbaba tries to spoil their friendship, Enkidu warns Gilgamesh and Gilgamesh is not affected from Humbaba’s tricks. However, the death of Enkidu later again makes Gilgamesh to lose his balance and to seek immortality to become a God. “I am going to die! Am I not like Enkidu?” (The Epic of Gilgamesh, p. 75). His godlike nature appears again after the loss of his animalistic alter-ego (Enkidu). Gilgamesh becomes little bit cruel again and he forces people to mourn after Enkidu without stopping. When the perfect balance is gone with the death of Enkidu, Gilgamesh’s success do not continue. He fails at staying awake for immortality and also loses the magic plant of mouth.
Applying this Freudian alter-ego perspective to the myth of Gilgamesh would provide us many advantages in my view. First of all, Gilgamesh’s early cruelty and successes after being friend with Enkidu gain deeper meanings from this perspective. Although the epic of Gilgamesh, is a story about many things (about friendship, the struggle between Gods and humans, about a journey), it is basically about a self-discovery story of a man, namely Gilgamesh. In other words, this is the story of a man who completes deficiencies in his character with the help of his alter-ego and becomes a big hero. However, his success starts to decrease after the death of his alter-ego. This can be said to be a story of life itself with rise and falls. Moreover, applying Freudian method of alter-ego can help us to see the differences easily because since we assume two personalities as two opposite poles (two ideals), we will notice differences without problems. These ideal types are also used in social sciences by Max Weber in order to differentiate concepts from each other.
Finally, in my opinion the epic of Gilgamesh is a very precious historical document and an art piece that should be read and carefully analyzed. Freudian perspective of alter-ego would help us a lot to explain the relationship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh and we will have more facts to solve this puzzle. Gilgamesh can be the starting point of alter-ego stories which become important genre in literature and cinema now. The novel and the movie Fight Club can be a good example for this in my opinion. The epic of Gilgamesh is also significant in touching some events such as the Flood that are also mentioned in holy books. The character of Utnapishtim can be identified as the prophet Noah and the flood as similar to Noah’s Flood. It is also very exciting to see that although it was written approximately four thousand years ago, humans have same feelings, same problems with today’s individuals. We still make terrible things to each other, we still search for our real personalities, we still find friends and lose them. Lastly, as far as I am concerned the epic of Gilgamesh will stay as an important and exciting document as long as the humanity will exist.
- “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, 1989, California: Stanford University Press
- Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com
 Definition taken from http://www.dictionary.com
 “Then he, Enkidu, offspring of the mountains, who eats grasses with the gazelles, came to drink at the watering hole with the animals…” (The Epic of Gilgamesh, p. 8).