Gilgamesh Dreams Essays

Significance Of Dreams In Gilgamesh Essay

Significance of dreams in Gilgamesh and ancient Mesopotamian Culture

When we look at the meaning of dreams in today's society we find a variation of things. Some believe dreams are based on the subconscious desires, an example of such would be getting a kiss from a female you think is beautiful on television. This theory is called the psychodynamic theory, "According to Freud's psychodynamic theory, the contents of our dreams reflect internal conflicts and unconscious motives... Freud believed that dreams express unconscious desires and conflicts as disguised dream symbols (images that have deeper symbolic meaning)" (Coon 236). Dreams are a reflection of people's inner thoughts and feelings. These thoughts and feelings are too secretive to be expressed to the outside world. It seems that dreams were always a portrayal of a twisted reality but dreams were not always expressions of the subconscious. The value of dreams has depreciated tremendously since earlier civilization. Reading the Bible growing up I came to understand that dreams were used a great deal as communication between God and humans. Gilgamesh makes this theory concrete, as dreams are recurrent in the epic. In Gilgamesh dreams are used as the largest communication device between the gods and humans. Major events are prophesized through dreams and destinies are foretold. It is evident that dreams play a major role in ancient Mesopotamian cultures. In the novel itself dreams foretold the coming of Enkidu, the death of Enkidu, the protection of Shamash during the battle with Humbaba and much, much more. Gilgamesh was not only a fictional but also a biblical text of ancient Mesopotamian society. Since dreams played such a large and important role in the novel, they must have had a significant place in society.

The first mention of dreams in Gilgamesh was with Enkidu and the harlot in the wilderness. "I tell you, even before you have left the wilderness, Gilgamesh will know in his dreams that you are coming" (Sanders pp. 15). The purpose of this passage is to let the audience know that dreams tell the future. It is important for Gilgamesh to know Enkidu is coming because he needs to know that Enkidu comes to bring no harm. Enkidu was created to befriend Gilgamesh, not to challenge him. In the next passage Gilgamesh has dreamed but he did not understand his dream so he asks his mother it's meaning.

Mother, last night I had a dream. I was full of joy, the young heroes were round me and I walked through the night under the stars of the firmament, and one, a meteor of the stuff of Anu, fell down...

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We would seriously be calling up our therapist if we were having so many spookily prescient dreams. But, you know, ancient Mesopotamia was a little short of therapist—so instead, he just asks his mom. And his friends.

Okay, that actually sounds a lot like what we do.

Anyway, we first hear about Gilgamesh's dreams in Tablet 1. In one of the dreams, Gilgamesh embraces a meteorite which has fallen to earth. In the other, he embraces an axe. (Yes, we agree, these are wacko dreams.) His mother, the goddess Ninsun, interprets his dreams as a promise that "there will come to you a mighty man, a comrade who saves his friend" (1.249).

This, of course, is a revelation about Enkidu coming into the picture. But, amazingly, Shamhat also knows that Gilgamesh has been dreaming about Enkidu, "Even before you came from the mountain, Gilgamesh in Uruk had dreams about you" (1.224-225). (We really would like to know how the temple-prostitute knows all this.)

Then, there are the numerous dreams that Gilgamesh has during the journey to the Cedar Forest in Tablet 4. Gilgamesh prays to Shamash for these dreams. In fact, it seems that dreams are the primary mode of communication between gods and mortals. The events in these dreams are symbolic, but seemingly accurate.

Enkidu listens to each of these dreams, and then provides a very cheery interpretation, although the dreams themselves seem rather terrifying—featuring Gilgamesh fighting with a bull, "lightening cracking,""[raining] death," and everything turning to ash (4.95-101).

In Tablet 7, poor Enkidu—already facing illness and certain death—is tormented with dreams about the underworld. (Talk about unfair; give the poor half-man-half-beast a break.) But this dream allows Enkidu to describe in great detail all the horrors of the Underworld, which is enough to motivate Gilgamesh to go in search of immortality.

So—dreams in this epic are something like previews: they give you a taste of what's to come, and sometimes they turn out to have very little to do with what actually happens. Next time on Gilgamesh ….

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