Gilgamesh and John Campbell's Hero's Journey

1753 words 8 pages
When reading Gilgamesh, it is not uncommon for many to relate the tale's protagonist to John Campbell's theory on the twelve steps of a Hero's journey, which characterizes the typical progression of most epic stories. However, I make the claim that, as per Campbell's theory, it is not Gilgamesh himself who is the hero of the tale. Rather, Gilgamesh and his ally Enkindu combine to form the single hero of the story, with Enkindu actually meeting most of Campbell's criteria. Together, both characters symbolize one hero who embodies mankind's yearning to “incarnate unearthly covenants” (Campbell, 1968, p. 3), consistent with Campbell's views on mythology.
The tale begins with an exposition describing Gilgamesh and Enkindu's daily life.
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Furthermore, Gilgamesh is responsible for outfitting Enkidu with the tools needed to wage battle in Humbaba forest; “Come, my friend, I will go over to the forge and have them cast the weapons in our presence!” (Anonymouse, n.d.). Without Gilgamesh's guidance in Uruk, Enkidu could not have been adequately prepared for adventure. Enkidu's introduction to the city of Uruk – and his process of becoming a civilized man – simultaneously fulfills Campbell's fifth Hero criteria, which is to cross a threshold. It is clear, here, that his transformation from a feral being to a civilized warrior satisfies this step.
Until this point in the story, it is clear to the reader that Gilgamesh and Enkidu are two distinct, independent figures; Enkidu is the Hero with a humble background, and Gilgamesh is the mentor who takes part in Enkidu's transformation. However, before the two men travel to the Humbaba forest, they undergo a transformation that essentially makes them the same person. As a final preparation before embarking on their first adventure, the the men seek a blessing from the Goddess Ninsun's temple. Despite the fact that both men are present during this scene, Gilgamesh never once mentions his companion: “I must now travel a long way to where Humbaba is, I must face fighting such that I do not know, and I must travel on a road I have not known!” (Anonymous, n.d.). Even