Those are typically the qualities that come to mind when we think of a hero; however, when we think of the evil force that compliments the hero, we think of someone/something that causes harm onto the land, and thus brings fear to everyone when the name of that entity is spoken. In the case of The Myth of Gilgamesh, the distinction of hero or villain is distorted. There is significant evidence that suggests that not only is Gilgamesh a villain, but also he is an environmental hazard. In the Myth of Gilgamesh, we are introduced to the so-called “hero” and leader behind the great walled city of Uruk.
Gilgamesh “had seen everything…had journeyed to the edge of the world…had carved his trials on stone tablets…restored the holy Eanna Temple and the massive wall of Uruk…Gilgamesh suffered all and accomplished all. ” (2-3) This introduction leads us to believe that Gilgamesh does possess some of the qualities that would make him be considered a hero; his soldiers refer to him as “the fortress” and “protector of the people, raging flood that destroys all defenses. ” (3) It is rather instinctual for the reader to feel an admiration towards the character. However, one must not be so quick to judge.
Words are just words, but actions are far louder. What is true of the statements that are said by his soldiers is that Gilgamesh destroys all defenses, in the ecocritical perspective; he destroys the defenses of the Cedar Forest. As the story unfolds, we begin to see Gilgamesh more as a villain than a hero. For example, Gilgamesh “does whatever he wants, takes the son from his father and crushes him, takes the girl from her mother and uses her, the warrior’s daughter, the young man’s bride, he uses her, no one dares to oppose him. ” (4) Gilgamesh abuses his role of the hero/ruler of Uruk so that he can rape women and command his soldiers.
He is inconsiderate of the feelings of others and only does as he pleases without thinking of the well being of his people. Gilgamesh feels like he is above men, king of kings. The people of his land don’t respect him, they fear him; thus the people of Uruk beg the gods to bring a force strong enough to calm Gilgamesh. That is when we are introduced to Enkidu, Gilgamesh’s double. Enkidu is the exact opposite of Gilgamesh, he is what epitomizes the desired ideal of a hero: he protects the animals from poachers, protects women from the lust of Gilgamesh, and is sensible. He is strong, witty, and has a love of nature.
Enkidu is everything the people of Uruk wished Gilgamesh to be. If Enkidu is the person that suits the role of the hero, it is fair to say that Gilgamesh is not a hero at all. Gilgamesh is ambitious, and wants to be forever known by the people of his land. Thus, he wants to preserve the great walled city of Uruk and make it a relic for the great empire ruled by the greatest the Fertile Crescent had ever seen. This need for an unnecessary relic that will require heavy resource consumption (in this case lumber) is an anachronism for a similar phenomenon that occurs within industrialized countries, affluenza.
Affluenza is the suggestion that material possessions will bring joy to the individual. This is detrimental to the environment because it causes resource overuse and is very unsustainable. The latter part of the myth begins to show environmental degradation due to Gilgamesh’s greed. The Cedar Forest is the unknown and savage realm beyond the walled city of Uruk that is protected by an evil force named Humbaba. From an ecocritical perspective, the wilderness beyond Uruk is just nature or the environment.
It is human anthropocentricism that makes it hard to realize that the wilderness is not something to fear just because we don’t have complete control over it. Man above nature is the cause of the Cedar Forest’s demise. Our villain-disguised hero needs to venture into the wilderness in order to face himself with his enemy Humbaba; it is during this section of the myth that another character flaw is revealed: Gilgamesh is a coward for being afraid of the force that is Humbaba (nature manifested as the Cedar Forest). He convinces his double, Enkidu, to embark on the same journey and help him defeat the deity.
Gilgamesh is quick to talk about how he wants to be remembered for his glory and ensure that every inhabitant of Uruk will remember the great ruler he was. Yet, he is such a coward that he cannot do this alone. He has nightmares about entering the forest are a psychological indication that he is not as mighty as he thinks he is. These nightmares are also critical of the environment, Humbaba is portrayed as a ruthless monster that will “tear [Gilgamesh] from limb to limb,” and “crush [him]” leave him “bloody and mangled on the ground. (29) This perspective of the environment as ruthless and relentless is the driving force for Gilgamesh to want to destroy it, to rid himself of the fears of what nature bestows. Nature is not a scary nor evil as this classic literature suggests, in modern contemporary times and even in the pastoral times, nature is giving and beautiful, once the value of the environment is known, it becomes less frightening. Gilgamesh had a fear for the unknown and a thirst for power; in essence, destroying nature would be the only way to realize how important nature truly is.
After the fall of Humbaba, Gilgamesh stripped the forest of its tall and luscious trees. Not only did Gilgamesh rape the women of his soldiers, but he raped the forest as well. This was the ultimate goal of our villain’s quest: Gilgamesh gained full access to the Cedar Forest in order to create the relic that he so desired. Gilgamesh needs to feel that he is in control of everything, including nature. On the night of the attack, the weapons Gilgamesh used to combat Humbaba were axes, instead of swords or other conventional weapons. This story is a great metaphor for deforestation.
Gilgamesh is the modern day logger in thirsty for virgin lands to satiate his thirst for common pool resources. At the moment, Giligamesh only cares about the reputation and glory, not about how much damage he is causing to the land. This damage turned out to be one of the greatest environmental mishaps of all time. The Myth of Gilgamesh took place in ancient Mesopotomia. This area was previously referred as the Fertile Crescent. After this large-scale deforestation, there wasn’t really anything fertile about it. In A Forest Journey by John Perlin, we learn about the technologies created within the era of Gilgamesh.
It is evident that as human ingenuity kept rising, environmental degradation followed. The people of the Third Dynasty at Ur, 2100 B. C. harnessed the power of lumber to create “axes, hammers, hoes, and sickles [to] facilitate work. ” (37) Tragedy of the Commons, another anachronism, surfaced as the people of the land began the exploitation of the common pool resource of the Euphrates poplar. With the rising demand of wood, policy and trade became instituted and modern day problems such as selling resources at low prices, not including the environmental impact, in addition to transporting these resources long distances.
The physical environment also changed with excessive silt and high salinity. Silt was a huge problem because the “Euphrates, Tirgis, and Karun rivers became full of silt and salt” (38); water levels declined which made it difficult for irrigation and transportation by ship. High salinity also damaged the agriculture industry as high amounts of salty minerals inhibited successful crop yields. Throughout history we have read about marvelous civilizations with great empires and feats, majestic lands with beautiful relics to preserve their culture forever. Learning about their rise is as amazing as learning about their fall.
In the case of Mesopotamia, greedy leaders such as Gilgamesh who wish to preserve his era by means of environmental degradation not only make him an incompetent leader by virtue of not being humble and lack of desired qualities, but also one of the key reasons that this great civilization became a barren land. Works Cited Mitchell, Stephen. "Book One to Book 5. " Gilgamesh: a new English version. New York: Free Press, 2004. 1-32. Print. Perlin, John. A forest journey: the role of wood in the development of civilization. New York: W. W. Norton, 1989. Print.