Essay Gilgamesh and John Campbell's Hero's Journey

1778 Words Feb 16th, 2014 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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The fact that the trapper requires Shamat to remove the man from his woods and “overpower” Enkidu implies that the wild man would have refused his “call to adventure” had Shamat not been there. This initial rejection to adventure satisfies Campbell's third criteria that a Hero will initially refuse this call. Gilgamesh, in contrast, arguably lacked this criteria entirely; While it can be argued that Enkidu's intervention in the marital chamber when Gilgamesh tried to rape the newly wedded woman – and the subsequent brawl that occurred as a result - could have served to meet Campbell's second and third criteria, these events would not have happened had Enkidu not been called first.
Enkidu also profoundly meets Campbell's fourth and fifth criteria; meeting the mentor and crossing the threshold. At this point in the story, Gilgamesh has yet to truly fulfill any of Campbell's steps. Arguably, then, Gilgamesh is not a hero during this first leg of the tale; rather, he serves as Enkindu's mentor. Mentors are significant because they often provide the hero with guidance and wisdom, which requires these figures to have some sort of superiority over the hero. It is clear, then, that Gilgamesh is a guide; not only is he, being royalty and part god, higher on the social hierarchy than Enkidu, it is also established throughout the poem that Gilgamesh has “mightier [in] strength” (Anonymous , n.d.). Gilgamesh also must have more wisdom than Ekindu, as, most of