“Gilgamesh” by Anonymous

Aristotle writes in Magna Moralia, “When we wish to see our own face, we do so by looking into the mirror, in the same way when we wish to know ourselves we can obtain that knowledge by looking at our friend. For the friend is, as we assert, a second self.”

For Gilgamesh, the demigod-king of Uruk, knowledge of his intimate friend Enkidu, his second self, ultimately leads to knowledge of death, for when Enkidu dies, he also dies, though without the oblivion of death. He is driven by fear on a quest for immortality, the quest of mankind.

Enkidu
Have you abandoned me now, dear friend?
You told me that you would come to help me when I was afraid.
But I cannot see you, you have not come to fight off this danger.
Yet weren’t we to remain forever inseparable, you and I?



Gilgamesh
My friend, my brother, whom I loved so dearly,
who accompanied me through every danger –
Enkidu, my brother, whom I loved so dearly,
who accompanied me through every danger –
the fate of mankind has overwhelmed him.
For six days I would not let him be buried,
thinking, ‘If my grief is violent enough,
perhaps he will come back to life again.’
For six days and seven nights I mourned him,
until a maggot fell out of his nose.
Then I was frightened, I was terrified by death,
and I set out to roam the wilderness.
I cannot bear what happened to my friend –
I cannot bear what happened to Enkidu –
so I roam the wilderness in my grief.
How can my mind have any rest?
My beloved friend has turned into clay –
my beloved Enkidu has turned into clay.
And won’t I too lie down in the dirt
like him, and never arise again?

(Stephen Mitchell’s version)

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