After killing Humbaba in the forbidden forest of cedars, Gilgamesh and Enkidu returns home to find Ishtar, the goddess of love full of lust for Gilgamesh.
She says to Gilgamesh, “Come to me Gilgamesh and be my bridegroom, grant me seed of your body, let me be your bride and you shall be my husband” (Sandars 86). However, Gilgamesh rejects her love offer. This rejection marked the genesis of Gilgamesh’s gain of consciousness as analyzed next in this paper.
The events preceding the appearance of Ishtar in the epic portray Gilgamesh as a cruel despot who cared less about his subjects. He lived an “unconscious” life subjecting people to brutality. Probably this came from the fact that he was partly a god and partly a man; therefore, to some extent, he was immortal; so he thought. This aspect of immortality made him lose consciousness about needs of people. However, the events that followed his rejection of Ishtar’s love makes him gain consciousness because he realizes that immortality of men is just but a dream.
After Gilgamesh rejects Ishtar’s love, she becomes infuriated. She requests Anu, who doubles as her father and the god of the sky, to release the Bull of heaven to deal with Gilgamesh. Anu grants her daughter’s wishes and sends the Bull, which brings calamity upon the land in form of seven-year long famine upon the land. Due to their heroism, Enkidu and Gilgamesh manage to wrestle and kill the Bull. This fables the gods who meet in a meeting and decides that one of the two heroes has to die as a punishment for the sin they had committed.
Enkidu becomes the sacrificial lamb and he dies after a short illness. Gilgamesh enters in deep mourning to an extent of exchanging his robes for animal skins. The death of Enkidu devastates him such that he will do anything to gain immortality. This immortality can only come from Utnapishtim, who supposedly escaped Noah’s deluge. However, to get to Utnapishtim is not easy but Gilgamesh is determined to reach there.
After harrowing experiences of traveling in darkness, determination and courage brings Gilgamesh to a clear sea. Here he meets Siduri, who explains to him that searching immortality is vanity for death is inevitable for the living. Nevertheless, this negative advice does not deter Gilgamesh and after series of events, he finally crosses the Waters of Death to meet Utnapishtim. Here he learns historical events; what led to the deluge and how Utnapishtim escaped. Gilgamesh insists that he want this immortality; however, he has to undergo a test and after succeeding, he would gain immortality. The test involves staying awake for a week, a task that proves too hard for Gilgamesh and he fails terribly. After this failure, he has to go back to Uruk and face the reality of mortality.
Gilgamesh returns home empty-handed but totally convinced that he is mortal just like anyone. This fact brings him back to senses, thus awakening is consciousness.
By rejecting Ishtar’s love, Gilgamesh knew very little about what was to happen. However, the death of Enkidu sets him on a journey, which reveals to him that mortality is absolute and immortality of men exists only in the mind not in reality. As this reality dawns on him, he regains his consciousness and realizes that the only thing that could signify immortality in him was the things that he had done because the legacy lives on from generation to generation.
Sandars, Nancy. “The Epic of Gilgamesh.” London: Penguin Group, 1960.