Updated September 10, 2022

The Use of Archetypes in the “Epic of Gilgamesh”

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The Use of Archetypes in the “Epic of Gilgamesh” essay
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“The collective unconscious consists of the sum of the instincts and their correlates, the archetypes. Just as everybody possesses instincts, so he also possesses a stock of archetypal images” (Jung). An archetype is a recurrent motif or symbol and is similar to a mold so that copies of the originals can be made. Archetypes enhance the readers’ ability to comprehend the literature and the authors’ deliberate message. The use of archetypes are important in all types of literature and relates the literature to the minds of the readers.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the archetypal literature would not be well depicted, without the use of characters, plot, and images.

To begin, the use of characters influences the archetypal literature. First, Utnapishtim is an example of a wise old man archetype. Utnapishtim is primarily a teacher and mentor to Gilgamesh. He is the one Gilgamesh went to, seeking information about gaining everlasting life. Utnapishtim is an old man and the only person that can give Gilgamesh advice about eternal life. Second, Gilgamesh is an example of the hero archetype. As the prologue states, he is an “…unvanquished leader, hero in the front lines…” (Mitchell 1). Gilgamesh is loyal, determined, and arrogant, but after the journey, over the time of his quest, he changes as a character. The readers see his kindness and growth because he becomes less arrogant, and they see that he is human and not perfect all the time. Third, Enkidu is an example of an outcast. He is a character that is banished due to his wrongdoing. Enkidu is sent sickness and disease from the gods after he battles Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven. Killing him is a way to punish both him and Gilgamesh after their transgression and misconduct.

Next, the use of plot patterns and elements demonstrate the archetypal literature. To begin, Gilgamesh goes on a quest. He is in search of immortality, which is something that he thought would restore righteousness in his life. It states, in the Search for Everlasting Life, “When he had gone eight leagues Gilgamesh gave a cry, for the darkness was thick and he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him” (Sandars 2). Next, Gilgamesh executes a task. He performs many deeds and tasks that most common people will not. He swims to the bottom of the ocean to gain a special plant. He executes this to help himself, and the old men of Uruk. This is a nice deed he achieves something for others, that is beyond what any normal person will partake in. Last, Gilgamesh has a fall. He up kills Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven with Enkidu, which are wrongdoings. These actions cause the gods to send disease to kill Enkidu. Due to his loss of his best friend, he falls to a lower level when he loses all of his positivity and happiness.

Finally, the use of images embodies the archetypal literature. To start, there is the use of water. In the story of the flood, water is used as purification. There is a feeling of death and rebirth of the population. Rebirth and purification are shown through the use of colors, especially white. It is shown when he washes his hair and receives new clothing before he heads back to Uruk. Also, there is a serpent used as an image. The return explains, “…deep in the pool there was lying a serpent, and the serpent sensed the sweetness of the flower” (Sandars 1). The serpent takes Gilgamesh’s only chance to restore youth for himself and the town elders, which gives a sense of destruction. The serpent takes it and immediately leaves with the plant which is evil. After the serpent goes into the well, Gilgamesh begins crying, which shows his sadness, hopelessness, and the struggle he is facing. Lastly, the use of numbers is an image in the epic. The number seven is specifically prevalent throughout the story. Gilgamesh is told to sleep for six days and seven nights. Utnapishtim’s wife makes bread for each day he sleeps, and there are seven loaves of bread. The number seven is an example of the completion of perfection. In this case, staying awake for seven days is a test to see if he would be worthy and exceptional enough to have immortality. Gilgamesh is unable to prove that he is perfect enough to stay awake. The idea of perfection is portrayed in the beginning when Gilgamesh thought he is perfect, but as he became less arrogant the readers realize that nobody is perfect.

The use of characters, images, and plot are the reasons the archetypal literature is so well portrayed. The characters Utnapishtim, Enkidu, and Gilgamesh are examples of the wise old man, outcast and hero. Gilgamesh’s quest, task, and fall are examples of images. The water, serpent, and numbers are examples of purification, evil, and perfection. The use of archetypes is significant to literature because it is important to the readers’ understanding and helps enhance the authors’ ability to give their message to the readers.

The Use of Archetypes in the “Epic of Gilgamesh” essay

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How does Gilgamesh model the epic hero archetype?
Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, obtains unique characteristics that make him an example of an archetypal hero in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Some characteristics of an archetypal hero are to be charged with a quest, possess supernatural abilities, and to be accompanied by a mythical creature or helper .
What archetype is The Epic of Gilgamesh?
In the Epic of Gilgamesh the main character, Gilgamesh, is an example of a superheroic archetypal hero . He took on an epic quest for everlasting life by following the archetypal steps of a hero's journey.
What are the archetypes of an epic?
Archetypes assist, hinder, guide, teach, and confuse the protagonist . They may not be central characters but they are key characters, without whom, the protagonist's story would not be possible. Next time you watch a movie or read a book, keep this list of archetypes handy and try to identify them in the story.
Why The Epic of Gilgamesh holds archetypal significance?
Gilgamesh the main character in the Epic of Gilgamesh displays the characteristics of an archetypal hero because he was born three parts god, had Enkidu to help him along the way; along with the gods help, and goes on a quest to obtain immortality .
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