Literary Essay: Friendship and Brotherhood in The Epic of Gilgamesh and Monkey

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Friendship is more than just hanging out and being in good terms with somebody. Friendship involves mutual trust, honesty and loyalty. Brotherhood, on the other hand, goes beyond friendship. It is more of a feeling that brings friendship and comradeship between two or more people. In the epic the Epic of Gilgamesh and the novel Monkey: Folk Novel from China, these two themes are notable. However, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, friendship is more pronounced than in the novel. The book seems to focus more on brotherhood and family as primary themes.

In the epic of Gilgamesh, we first encounter Gilgamesh without any real friend. He is a tyrant king who had no respect for his subjects. His mother once told him that one day he would get a friend. George writes that his mother told him, "A mighty comrade will come to you, and be his friend's saviour, mightiest in the land, strength he possesses, his strength is as mighty as a rock from the sky." (8). Gilgamesh was surprised by this revelation and hopeful of what the new friendship will bring forth. The author writes of Gilgamesh saying, "May it befall me, 0 mother, by Counsellor Enlil's command! Let me acquire a friend to counsel me, a friend to counsel me I will acquire!"(8).

The first encounter of Enkidu in the epic is in the wild living with animals. His first friendship is with the animals. It is a gradual friendship that is more of trust and appears genuine. His first family was the animals. The animals, in turn, thought he was one of them. This relationship seems more of a brotherhood than friendship. The author writes of this relationship, "[He fills in the] pits that 1 [myself] dig, [he pulls Up] the snares that 1 lay. [He sets free from my grasp] all the beasts of the field, [he stops] me doing the work of the wild." (6). Enkidu is a savior to the animals.

Gilgamesh and Enkidus friendship started on a rocky note. Enkidu had stopped Gilgamesh from attending a wedding function. In the process, they fought till Enkidu conceded. They then embraced, and their spontaneous friendship ensured. The author brings this out when he notes, " They kissed each other and formed a friendship." (17). Whereas Ninsun had told Gilgamesh of this friendship, it is Shamhat who told Enkidu of the would-be friendship with the King. The author writes that Shamhat notified Enkidu of Gilgamesh and he knew then he would need a friend. He writes, "'where Gilgamesh is perfect in strength, like a wild bull lording it over the menfolk.' So she spoke to him and her word found favour, he knew by instinct, he should seek a friend." (8).

Their friendship grew into one of trust and loyalty. Gilgamesh trusted Enkidu to lead the way on their travel to fight Humbaba. Gilgamesh also trusts his friend, Enkidu by telling him about the dream he just had. He is comforted by the interpretation of the dream. After overpowering the great Humbaba, Gilgamesh was having second thoughts, and it is Enkidu who encourages him to kill Humbaba.

In all these scenes, we find that friendship brings Gilgamesh and Enkidu together. The animals had grown to like Enkidu and believed he was one of them because of trust. Without Enkidu, Gilgamesh may have fared poorly as a hero in this epic. It is Enkidu who helps Gilgamesh fight Humbaba. We cannot tell if Gilgamesh would have gone to fight Humbaba without Gilgamesh. The wise counsel of Ninsun to Gilgamesh was helpful in slowing down the unsettled and arrogant King Gilgamesh. Without her, Gilgamesh would not be wise. He was reckless and heeded not advice from anyone.

In the novel, Monkey: Folk Novel from China, the first instance of friendship and brotherhood is seen when the Monkeys embrace King Monkey. He is brave and leads the other Monkeys to their new home in the Cave of the Water Curtain. On his search for immortality, his first encounter was the Woodman, and their conversation is friendly. It is supported by the fact that the woodcutter went to the extent of telling the Monkey his family history. It means the woodcutter trusted the Monkey, not as a stranger but a friend. At the Patriarch's home, the Monkey develops friendship with his peer to an extend he show them the tricks and powers he had gained. This bond with his peers was not one that trustworthy. Once the Patriarch heard of the cheering noises, he came down to where the students were to enquire what was going on, on peer sold out the Monkey. Wu writes, "'To tell the truth, said someone, Monkey was showing us a transformation just for fun. We told him to change into a pine-tree, and he did it so well that we were all applauding him." (Ch'eng-en 27). It led to the expulsion of the Monkey from the Patriarch's home.

The other friendship of note in the novel is that of the hunter and Tripitaka. The hunter offers to shelter Tripitaka. Ch'eng-en writes of the hunter talking to Tripitaka, " Do not be afraid, but follow me back to my house, where you and your horse can rest. To-morrow I will put you on your way." (127). Tripitaka, in turn, prayed for the family. The hunter also escorted Tripitaka till the Mountain of the Two Frontiers. It is only trust and friendship that leads to such gestures as shown by the hunter.

In this novel, the theme of brotherhood is evident. We find the Dragon king calling out his brother to assist the Monkey. The Dragon King, the author writes, tells the Monkey, "If anything important happens, I have them sounded, and my brothers come immediately." (37). It shows how the Dragon king and his brothers were close. They would respond and come in record time. Another instance of brotherhood and family is when Kuan-yin asked the Emperor to request for reinforcement from the Emperor's nephew, Erh-lang. The Emperor agreed and this showed the special bonds they had as they faced the troublesome Monkey. Erh-lang came with his brother to help fight the Monkey. They were ready to die for one another. At the end of the fight, Erh-lang offers to get their rewards in heaven and then they will celebrate. The author notes Erh-lang telling his brothers, " Meanwhile I will claim the reward due for my services, and then come back to make merry with you." (71).

The Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy learn selflessness, discipline and other virtues through their pilgrimage journeys. Punishments meted on them ensure they become careful and restrained. The naughtiness of the Monkey ends when Buddha traps him in the Mountain of Five Elements.


Works Cited

Ch'eng-en, Wu. Monkey: Folk Novel of China. Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 1970. Kindle Edition.

George, Andrew. The Epic of Gilgamesh. London: Penguin Group, 2000. Print.


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