The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient Mesopotamian epic poem that is believed to be the oldest known work of literature still in existence. This was one that I am glad I read in my college Literature class. The biggest reason that I started this Literature of Lost series was because I was looking for new books and I thought this would be a good way to read some classics that I had not read yet. A five thousand year-old epic poem probably falls outside of the type of books I enjoy. Gilgamesh is a good tale, just not one that I would probably enjoy reading for entertainment.
The work itself does not actually appear in Lost, although that would have been a pretty hilarious touch given the ancient history of the Island. It is referenced in John Locke’s crossword puzzle in the season two episode Collision. While sitting at the Hatch computer, the camera focuses in on 42 down. The clue is “Enkidu’s friend” and the answer is “Gilgamesh.”* According to Lostpedia, this answer does not actually fit in with the across clues, so that lends credence to the fact that the Lost writers wanted to emphasize the clue, since they probably changed an existing puzzle to fit Gilgamesh in there.
* As an aside, the poem must in fact be EPIC: neither Gilgamesh or Enkidu gets the dreaded spell check’s red squiggly line.
At the beginning of the epic, we are introduced to Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk. He is a bit of a douche and the Uruk-ians hate him. They plead to the gods to do something about their leader and they respond by creating Enkidu.
Enkidu is a half-man, half-beast like creature who has strength that matches Gilgamesh, who is extremely strong in his own right. After spending time out in the wilderness, doing what man-beasts do, Enkidu goes to challenge Gilgamesh to a fight. After a prolonged struggle, Gilgamesh prevails over Enkidu, but not before they gain each other’s respect. The two become best of friends and go on various journeys together. Sorta like a Sumerian Batman and Robin.
The two go through forests, mountains, deserts, and the like and perform great deeds along the way. After a series of adventures, the goddess Ishtar makes advances on Gilgamesh. He turns her down and she appeals to her father to send the Bull of Heaven to avenge her death. Gilgamesh and Enkidu kill the bull, but the gods determine that someone must die in penance for killing it. They choose Enkidu to die. Enkidu suffers for twelve days before dying.
Gilgamesh is a mess. He is distraught over his own friend and terrified at the prospect of his own mortality. It gets awkward. Eventually, he pleads to a different god to grant him immortality. The god ponders it for a while, but declines the request.
Now Gilgamesh is even more upset. Not only is Enkidu dead, but he fears that he soon will die. In the end, he returns to Uruk to return to his post as the city’s leader. He is happy again at the city and he finally understands the lesson: everyone dies, but the key is enjoying the life in front of you now. Amazing that the motto is still the basis of most self-help books 5,000 years later.
The Epic of Gilgamesh appears in the same episode as the first time Locke meets Mr. Eko. It is clear what the Lost creators wanted us to think – Locke plays the role of Gilgamesh and Eko plays the role of Enkidu.
In the episode, Eko and the Tailies meets the middle section survivors for the first time. When they meet, Locke is the leader of the Hatch (like Gilgamesh and Uruk) and Eko is a semi-silent mysterious man from the wilderness (like Enkidu).
Although they are not direct adversaries, their relationship is a bit frosty at first. Locke is overly concerned with the Hatch and Eko is indifferent at best. But like Enkidu and Gilgamesh, the two must team up later in Season 2 to figure out the mysteries of the Island. Eko brought Locke to the question mark after Yemi appeared to him in a dream. The question mark turned out to be the Pearl station. The Pearl was used as an observation station and Locke became convinced that the Swan was just a giant social experiment.
Eventually Locke’s faith was so shaken that he had to figure out what would happen if he did not press the button. This led to the implosion of the Hatch and, indirectly, to Eko’s death early in Season 3. After Eko’s death, Locke became resolute in his faith. Never again did he question the Island. Eko’s death started Locke on the journey that eventually lead to the climax of the show. In the epic poem, Enkidu had to die for Gilgamesh to figure out the secret of life. In Lost, Eko had to die for Locke to figure out the Island.
There are a couple other themes that deserve to be mentioned. The epic poem deals with how to handle the loss of a loved one. Lost deals with this on many occasions. Similarly, Gilgamesh begs the gods for immortality because he was scared to die after Enkidu’s death. This reminded me of Richard Alpert in Lost, who asked Jacob for immortality because he did not want to go to Hell.
I mention these only briefly because I think they are covered better in other literature works. In an wandering epic poem like The Epic of Gilgamesh, there are bound to be similarities in characters and themes with a wandering epic TV show like Lost. The most important comparison appears to be the foreshadowing the relationship between Locke and Eko.
For more reviews, visit the rest of my Literature of Lost series.