The World Weeps for Enkidu
In the Epic of Gilgamesh and specifically Gilgamesh’s lament for Enkidu, the poet enhances Enkidu’s value to Gilgamesh by projecting his grief and sorrow into his natural surroundings. In Gilgamesh’s lament, nature is made to react to the very human situation of losing a friend and in doing so the poet is able to craft a pastoral elegy that is fitting for Gilgamesh to pay homage to his dear friend. Formally, this personification of the bond of sympathy between man his natural surroundings is known as the “pathetic fallacy” and has been a dominant motif in early literature, particularly in epic poems.
It is during this period of the epic that we can truly see the sympathetic and compassionate side of Gilgamesh. The grief in his heart has far exceeded the magnificent pride that he has previously displayed to the people of Uruk. With the death of his best friend, Gilgamesh is distraught with grief and denial and the poet uses the pathetic fallacy to convey his sorrow.
Gilgamesh begins his lament in a formal tone where begins by addressing his people, “Hear me, great ones of Uruk, I weep for Enkidu, my friend.” Gilgamesh then begins to evoke his beloved companion’s wild origins by personifying the landscapes around him. “All long-tailed creatures that nourished you weep for you, all the wild things of the plain and pastures; the paths that you loved in the forest of cedars night and day murmur.” Gilgamesh is so stricken with sorrow that, to him, even the rivers and the animals grieve for Enkidu.
“And the beasts we hunted, the bear, the hyena, tiger and panther, leopard and lion, the stag and the ibex, the bull and the doe. The river along whose banks we used to walk, weeps for you, Ula of Elan and dear Euphrates, where once we drew water for the water-skins. The mountain we climbed where we slew the Watchman, weeps for you.”
Gilgamesh contrasts this personification of his natural surroundings when he repeatedly laments that “the warriors of strong-walled Uruk where the Bull of Heaven was killed” also weep for Enkidu.
Both humankind and nature mourn for Enkidu; all the world grieves at Gilgamesh’s loss. The loss of his friend catapults Gilgamesh into denial which fuels his quest for immortality. By describing the sorrow that Gilgamesh felt through nature, as readers we can begin to understand that this is an important turning point in the life of Gilgamesh. The poet invokes the pathetic fallacy to illustrate Gilgamesh’s denial of death. His sorrow rendered him unable to see reality as it was and instead projected his emotions into his natural surroundings. The rivers, the animals, and the mountains that Gilgamesh and Enkidu once shared together now “weeps for [Enkidu]” alongside Gilgamesh. The repetition of the phrase “weeps for you” serves as the personifying action of the many different subjects of Gilgamesh’s lament. The structure of the lament seems to fittingly recount Enkidu’s journey from his fall from nature, to mankind’s graces, and with his death, back to nature. It is no doubt that the bond of sympathy between nature and mankind is explored in the Epic of Gilgamesh but the poet’s use of personification and specifically the pathetic fallacy serves to highlight the importance of Enkidu to Gilgamesh.