The Archetypal Significance of Gilgamesh, by Rivkah Scharf Kluger

The Archetypal Significance of Gilgamesh: A Modern Ancient Hero
By Rivkah Scharf Kluger
As a young student of Jung, Kluger was encouraged by her mentor to study the archetypes of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Throughout her career, she gave many lectures on the subject, and was working on this book when she died. This is Kluger’s posthumous opus about the archetypes of Gilgamesh. As you can imagine, this is a very Jungian literary analysis. Her thesis was that the Epic of Gilgamesh was a coming-of-age story in which the character developed became fully aware (or conscious). 

In the first part of the story, Gilgamesh has only an id. He is wild – forcing the men to slave night and day on his building projects. Mothers would weep at the untimely deaths of their husbands and sons who had died from overwork. Gilgamesh would rape the maidens. He would ride around on the shoulders of children (how he managed this feat, I don’t know). Enkidu, likewise, was pure id – though in a different sense. He was someone who could run with the animals because he wasn’t yet quite human. 

When Enkidu and Gilgamesh met, there was the first inkling of ego – they became conscious that there was something else to their selves besides this wild energy. But even after they fought Humbaba, they were still a little wild. They scorned Ishtar, throwing insults (and bull haunches) at this revered and dangerous goddess. They were aware of their egos – they wanted immortality through glory – but they still had no self-control. 

This insult to Ishtar was another step in their development. Ishtar was the mother goddess, as well as the sexual goddess. By insulting her, they separated themselves from their “mother figure,” thus becoming men. Granted, immature men, but men all the same. 

After insulting Ishtar and maddening some others of the gods, Enkidu died. Neither Enkidu nor Gilgamesh was ready for this turn. They had not come to grips with the reality of death. In fact, even after Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh was in denial. He waited for his friend to return until maggots fell out of Enkidu’s nose.

This realization of death was a new step in Gilgamesh’s life. He now needed to discover his superego,  which is the part of himself that would moderate the impulses of the id – his child-like, uncontrolled desires – with his ego – the part of him that was aware of the needs of the real world. Basically the superego is his conscience. 

He dressed himself as a wild-man, in some ways regressing away from his ego’s consciousness, and went on a quest for immortality. Along the way, he was tested – over and over – by gods and men. They kept telling him to turn back, his quest was pointless. But he passed all of those tests and reached his goal: Utnapishtim, the man who had survived the deluge and achieved immortality. Much to Gilgamesh’s disappointment, Utnaphishtim couldn’t tell Gilgamesh how to become immortal. But he gave Gilgamesh a plant which would restore the youth of whomever ate it. 

Instead of eating it right away, Gilgamesh decided to bring it back to his home in Uruk to share with others. Perhaps this was his first glimmer of conscience? But, of course, even this plan failed. A snake found the plant and ate it. Gilgamesh’s journey for immortality had failed. But it was not pointless. Because in that journey, Gilgamesh had gained wisdom. He’d become aware of his conscience. He was fully conscious. 

This was a very difficult book for me to read because I’m not very familiar with Jungian literary analysis. In fact, I don’t think I really processed what Kluger was saying until I tried to put it into my own words. Therefore, this book wasn’t very enjoyable to me, and it will not get a very high star rating. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good analysis, only that it wasn’t for me. 

Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin


Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin

What can I say about Game of Thrones that hasn’t already been said? I’m not even sure how to summarize it properly because there is so much that would be left out. But, briefly, Lord Eddard Stark is swept up into a web of conspiracy when he is suddenly demanded to go to the capital city to be the Hand of the King. He must protect his family, his honor, and the king from enemies – and everyone is an enemy. 

This is a sweeping epic that jumps from character to character to weave an intricate web of plots, subplots, and sub-sub-plots. The characters are heartbreakingly well developed – and I say heartbreakingly because you fall in love with the “good” ones and hate the “bad ones.”  As each character gets thrown into his or her own trap, your heart aches for them. None of the characters are all good or all bad – they’re very human. This is not Tolkien. It’s not a happy story where the good guys always prevail and only a few people die – and that for the sake of heroism. People die left and right. And they don’t necessarily die heroic deaths – they die because that’s what happens in the game of thrones. It’s as bloody and horrifying as the War of the Roses. And I think that’s what makes the book so good: it’s a story about human nature and the struggle between power and honor. 

Usually I drag my feet reading long books. No matter how good a book is, it’s hard because I’m such a slow reader that I feel I’m  not making progress. Not so with this book. This book was so smooth that I barely noticed the length. I didn’t want it to end. As soon as it ended, I bought the rest of the series so I could start them right away. But this book was also a very difficult read for me. There’s so much sorrow in Game of Thrones. The reality of the suffering attenuates the escapism that one usually feels when reading epic fantasy. And yet I couldn’t stop myself from reading. I was too invested in the characters – both the likable and the detestable ones. 



5 snowflakes for sheer awesomeness, intrigue, plot, unexpectedness, character development, world building, battle scenes


Reason for reading: Interest, TBR Pile
Format: ebook



As soon as I finished Game of Thrones, I wanted to watch the first season of the HBO show. I’ve been warned against the show many times because of the graphic violence and sex, which I tend not to like. But I loved the book so much that I just had to watch the show. 

The first season of Game of Thrones followed the book perfectly. It managed to get all the important bits from the plot – there were very few times when I turned to my boyfriend and said “it left such-and-such out.” There were no special scenes from the book that I wished the show had included. I hear the show deviates from the books in later seasons, and I’m ok with that. I don’t think a show has to follow a movie perfectly to be a good show. But I’m always impressed when the creators of a show are able to be so devoted to the book’s plot. 

In some ways, the show was easier to watch than the book was to read. The jumping around from character to character was more smooth, in the sense that I wasn’t spending time during one chapter wondering what happened to the person in the last chapter. But that also could have been because I knew exactly what was going to happen while watching the show. 

I love the opening theme of Game of Thrones – it’s so fitting to the story, and it provides a map that gives you a wonderful visual of where everything is respective to everything else. Of course, George R. R. Martin is so good in his descriptions that I already had a pretty good map in my head, but it’s nice to see a map on a show. I’m glad they found a way to work it in. Very clever. 


My favorite character in the show was Tyrion Lannister, who is played perfectly by Peter Dinklage. There’s just the perfect mixture of lovable and detestable characteristics in Tyrion. Tyrion is so funny, so clever, so conniving. He is kind, yet ruthless. I want him to win, even if he’s on the “wrong” side. Please don’t die, Tyrion! 

The character in the show that ticked me off the most was Cersei Lannister. Her facial expressions just made me want to punch her. And I guess that means Lena Headey is a fantastic actress. Because that’s exactly how I’m supposed to feel about Cersei Lannister. 

Overall, I loved this show, and as soon as I finish Clash of Kings I’ll dive into season 2. 



4.5 stars for sheer awesomeness, ability to follow the book perfectly, character development, plot, intrigue, mise-en-scene, visual effects, acting. Loses half a point for sex and violence, though that’s not entirely fair since the book had just as much sex and violence. But I’d rather read it than see it.

The Epic of Gilgamesh – Analytical Summary

The Epic of Gilgamesh is a story about the futility of seeking immortality. It’s a journey of self-discovery in which Gilgamesh learns the ultimate truth – every human dies. It follows Gilgamesh, king of the ancient city of Uruk in southern Mesopotamia. As a youth, Gilgamesh was a capricious and domineering king. He deflowered the maidens, bullied the children and elderly, and forced labor on the men. His people prayed to the gods that they would send respite. So the gods formed the magnificent wild-man Enkidu out of clay. Enkidu fought in mighty hand-to-hand combat with Gilgamesh. When they found themselves nearly equal in strength, they embraced and became dear friends. 

Gilgamesh found entertainment and love in his new friend, and left the people of Uruk alone. But the two unearthly men soon became bored. They decided that they wanted to earn immortality by achieving great feats – or at least die trying. Rash youths, they glorified death, thinking it would immortalize them. 

First, they set out to defeat the beast Humbaba, whom the god Enlil had appointed protector of the forest. Once conquered, Humbaba begged for mercy. But the two youths, mistaking death for victory, chopped off his head and then downed many of the huge trees Humbaba had protected. 

Gilgamesh and Enkidu certainly made an impression, because upon returning to Uruk, Ishtar, the fertility goddess, fell in love with Gilgamesh. In his blood-glory, Gilgamesh scorned the love of Ishtar, who ran to daddy and pouted and screamed until her father loaned her the Bull of Heaven to punish Gilgamesh. 

The Bull brought famine and drought. He drank the Euphrates in a few gulps. He snorted, and the earth cracked before him. But Gilgamesh and Enkidu were in a blood-lust fury. They tore the Bull apart, and Enkidu threw the shank of the Bull at Ishtar claiming he’d tear her limb from limb if only she’d come down from the wall. Then Gilgamesh and Enkidu rode through the streets exclaiming: “Who is the most magnificent hero? Gilgamesh is! Enkidu is!”
With these two “victories” over death, Gilgamesh and Enkidu fancied themselves equal to the gods. But they soon found themselves sorely wrong. The gods punished the two by giving Enkidu a wasting illness. Before, they had glorified death as a path to immortality. But now they were standing face-to-face with death, and they were appalled by what they saw. To slowly die breath by breath? Humiliating! The loss of life, of friendship, of love? Tragic!
Gilgamesh could not face the reality of his friend’s death; refusing burial until maggots fell out of Enkidu’s nose. Then Gilgamesh melted down. He realized that he is human – and humans die. And death is not glorious. It leads to rot and decay. This was the second stage of Gilgamesh’s folly: he no longer saw death as a path to immortality, nor did he see it as a natural part of life. To Gilgamesh, death was an enemy who must be defeated.

Gilgamesh wrapped himself in the bloody skins of a lion and roamed the earth trying to hide from death. He became increasingly more violent and insane. In one passage, he found a boat that would take him to a man-god who Gilgamesh thought could advise him on becoming immortal. But instead of asking the boatman to ferry him across the lake to Utnapishtim, Gilgamesh furiously destroyed everything in sight. Having shown his power, he then demanded the boatman ferry him. But the boatman told him “How can I? You have destroyed the tools I need to do that.”

Everyone Gilgamesh talked to on his journey told him the same thing – death is inevitable. You are wasting your life in futility. But he would not listen. 

He finally reached Utnapishtim and asked the man-god how he had become immortal. Utnapishtim related the story of an annihilating flood which killed all but him, his family, and the animals he brought on his ship with him. Realizing the horror that they had empowered, the gods rewarded Utnapishtim with god-hood – promising never again to destroy the inhabitants of earth. But, Utnapishtim assured, the gods would never again grant immortality. Death was now the inevitable finale of life.

Gilgamesh was relentless, so Utnapishtim challenged him to fight death’s younger brother sleep for only seven days. Gilgamesh reclined and immediately fell asleep from exhaustion. He slept for 7 days before Utnapishtim woke him. 

Defeated in the realization that death could not be overcome, Gilgamesh prepared for his journey home. He bathed, anointed his body with oils, and donned civilized clothes. He was now willing to face death as a man. But there was one more lesson Gilgamesh had to learn before returning to his kingdom. 

As a parting consolation prize, Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh that at the bottom of the lake lay a plant that would return youth to whomever ate it. Gilgamesh dove into the lake and retrieved the plant. Instead of eating it right away, Gilgamesh decided to take it back to Uruk. In his hand, he finally clutched a tiny morsel of immortality, something that would allow him to return to Uruk wise and youthful. Yet he hesitated.

While on his return journey, Gilgamesh stopped by a lake and bathed. He carelessly placed the plant on the shore. Of course, the plant was stolen by a passing snake, which sloughed its skin and slithered youthfully into the ground. 

Thus Gilgamesh realized that his entire quest for immortality – from the glory-seeking of his youth, to the insane grasping for godhood, to his desperate clutching at the comfort of youth – was in vain. He returned to Uruk an introspective, wise king. This elderly Gilgamesh finally attained a form of immortality: he built temples, halls, and the great wall of Uruk (parts of which have been found by archaeologists today). He brought prosperity to the city. 

My one lingering question after writing this analytical summary is why did Gilgamesh hesitate to eat the plant? Was it his final folly to hesitate? Or was this hesitation encouraged by his new-found wisdom? I can’t decide.

There are so many things to say about The Epic of Gilgamesh, and I had big plans for this post. But I see now that there’s no way to give even a small portion of Gilgamesh’s due in one post. So I will break this into a series of posts. More is yet to come. If you have anything specific you’d like me to discuss, let me know.

This is a series of posts about The Epic of Gilgamesh. Here is a list of all posts thus far: 

The Stonekeeper, by Kazu Kibuishi

The Stonekeeper (Amulet Book 1), by Kazu Kibuishi

Reason for Reading: Helping my nephew with his book report.

Review
When their father dies, Emily and Navin must move with their mother to a run-down house in the middle of nowhere – an inheritance from a great uncle they’ve never met. On their first night in the disturbing old house, their mother is  kidnapped by a gigantic squid-thing and the kids must rescue her with the help of a talking amulet that they’ve found in a dusty room. 

I read this because my nephew really loved it, and he’s a very reluctant reader. I can see why he liked it – there’s lots of pretty pictures and very few words. It’s a book appropriate for middle-graders both in vocabulary and in plot. It was a cute, fast read, and I’m sure I’ll read the rest in the series. However, it’s not a book that would appeal to me for any other reason than bonding with my nephew. The premise and plot are simply too unsophisticated to be of much interest to most older kids or adults. On the other hand, the book seems to be VERY popular with the younger crowd, and I highly recommend The Stonekeeper for reluctant readers. 

The Aviary, by Kathleen O’Dell

The Aviary, by Kathleen O’Dell

Reason for Reading: Real life book club

Review
Clara Dooley has lived her whole life in the decrepit Glendoveer mansion, where her mother is the care-taker of the elderly Mrs Glendoveer. Clara’s mother keeps her hidden away from the outside world, claiming that Clara’s health is fragile. At 12, Clara has come to an age where she wants to test her boundaries –  and just such an opportunity arrives when her elderly patron passes away, a new girl moves into the neighborhood, and the birds in the aviary begin to speak to her. With her new friend, Clara must discover the secrets of the Glendoveer mansion, and decide whether the birds are friends or foes.

This was a cute little ghost story / mystery for children (probably girls) ages 9-12. It used the basic adults-don’t-want-to-share-secrets format, while keeping the adults likable and intelligent. The two little girls were adorable and fun. And the birds, once they started developing characters, were a very interesting twist. I found this book an engaging and quick read. Highly recommended for lovers of middle-grade ghost stories / mysteries.

Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata

Kira-Kira

Written by Cynthia Kadohata, Narrated by Elaina Erika Davis

Reason for Reading: This book won the Newbery Medal in 2005

Review
In this endearing book, the Takeshima family moves to Georgia so that Katie’s parents can work in the chicken factory. There, young Katie learns about Southern racism and the practically-slave-labor conditions of factory workers. But when Katie’s older sister Lynn becomes sick, Katie learns the hardest lesson of all…This is a sweet story – and pretty typical for Newbery winners. (Newbery judges certainly like bereavement, racism, and Southern settings!) The character in the book ranges from about 5-7, I’d say, but I think the subject and reading level is more appropriate for a 10-12 year old.  

Skellig, by David Almond

Skellig, written and narrated by David Almond

Reason for Reading: It was there

Review
Soon after Michael’s family moves to a new home, his sister is born prematurely. While his parents are ferrying the newborn back and forth to the hospital, Michael deals with his stress by exploring their dilapidated garage. There, he finds a strange owl-like man. As Michael and the girl-next-door nurse the winged man back to health, he learns a lesson about love. This was a sweet little book. It was quite short, so there wasn’t a lot of plot, but the characters and premise was quite adorable. This book would be appropriate for 7-9 year olds who enjoy reading magical realism. 

Almond did a fantastic job of narrating his own book. He has an engaging reading voice and had all the rhythms and intonations flowing well. 🙂