DOMINANCE, SUBORDINATION AND MORTALITY: REFLECTIONS FROM THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH
Dominance and subordination is synonymous to leader-follower scheme wherein the relationship is ideal to obtain the performance of one another’s societal functions in an effective and efficient manner. The dominant imparts its decision-making and problem solving capabilities to uphold the welfare of people. In return, subordinates serve the former and follow its conquest that precipitate to loyalty and respect. The president who is widely respected by the citizenry, a husband who is loved and cared by his wife, and professors who are idolized by students are few of some dominance-subordination design in the society.
To determine such relationship is one thing, to verify the cause and extent of its existence is another. On top of these is its purpose and implications to social order. By analyzing the characters, their actions and their aspirations from “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, resolutions to the phenomenon can be settled and questions will be answered.
Pillars of Social Order
Because Gilgamesh has a “one-third man, two-third God” identity that resulted to super-natural strength, courage and “beauty” (2), he was basically known as a hero, and ultimately a king of Uruk. For his part, he should maintain his dominance and show his capability to rule on a regular basis to retain the status quo. This is exemplified through his stand against Enkidu (14), challenge to demon-like Humbaba (40) and brawl against Bull of Heaven (50) that was all proclaimed victory across his name. Every triumph was regarded a signal of competence and enduring dominance. However, being a king who possess of powers, ill-effects of abusing it (xix) was inevitable. But the extent of the abuse did not outweigh the extent of dominance, and so, continuing the order. Distant from the tendencies to abuse power, Gilgamesh has a number of virtues like self-discipline (scoring marriage from Ishtar) (50) and camaraderie (developed to a former enemy Enkindu) (14) which strengthened his right to rule.
The features of the main character in the epic are compatible to run a city which was regulated by deities. The people are at peace that their kingdom will not be easily penetrated by warfare or profoundly cursed by gods. They can rely to Gilgamesh to do the fighting to outsiders or negotiating to gods as the need arise. They can focus more on household requirements like livelihood, raising children and develop the local economy. With this, social order was met. Thinking of the reverse, when people are equal in power and homogenous in status without the guide of a ruler and an established kingdom, they are highly vulnerable to threats from the outside and the gods would curse without mercy. Civilization could be slowly attained because people are limited in their aspirations of development knowing that instability and lack of direction could annihilate their efforts in an instant.
This drive to subordination as determinant of social order, however, was partially shaken by Enkindu who hated the abusive side of Gilgamesh that ignited a collision (14). Even Enkindu was lost in the confrontation, the conflict emphasized that dominance should be directed strictly to good purpose alone. This showed that even a human from the wild is bounded to guard the acts of the ruler to assure that a certain social order does not result to ill-effects like the abusive tendencies of the dominant. It also exemplified that the dominant-subordinate system would tend to adjust when roles of one another go beyond the rationale behind the creation of the system and deprived the other of substantial power or freedom. Being the goddess of love, Ishtar retaliated against the refused marriage (50) she initiated partly because it is a deviation from the norm opposite her known status. Also, the wife of Utanapishtim demonstrated this friction when she urged her husband and succeeded to reward the hardship of Gilgamesh (96) --- apart from the inherent subordination of women.
The extent and implications of subordination was also enormous in the story. The decision of the Council of Gods to impose a death verdict to Enkindu (58), who had less initiative and participation to the conquest relative to Gilgamesh, illustrated that subordination can justify sacrifice on the part of a subordinate, even its life, to sustain the relative crucial role of the king in the society. On the other hand, loyal (Utanapishtim) and valuable (Gilgamesh) subordinates in relation to its dominant ruler (Gods) would reward the former by sparing its life and renewing its glory (like Shamash intervention (40) in favor of Gilgamesh against Humbaba) or even bestow eternal life (96) (like Utanapishtim and his wife).
Further, the subordination of women to sexual needs of men in the epic evidenced that such could be also used to achieve an end aside from the peripheral goal of obtaining the system, as in the case of the trapper’s use of harlot (2) to expel Enkindu from the endowments of the wild. In the stance of ferry-based servant, Urshanabi, subordination meant less security in terms of tenure particularly means of living (96).
The epic is largely immersed to the dominance of partly-god stature of Gilgamesh. However, his crown was regulated by the full-blooded gods specifically the Council of Gods. He had lost bargaining capacity and tamed as a subordinate when his first-ever close friend, Enkindu, was on the verge of death (68) and he had nothing to do to prevent it. His dominance was eclipsed by the gods who provided guidance and protection to him to continue his reign, and ultimately, the order in the kingdom.
In every chapter of the epic, the dominance of gods over men and non-pure gods seemed to be the greatest impediment for Gilgamesh to optimally celebrate the fruits of his dominance over people. However, the revealing fact of mortality and death seemed to be an overlapping factor behind his vulnerability. He took much pain and sacrifice to seek the key to immortality. In the process, he submitted himself to some extent of subordination to eternal life (82, 96). Although he utilized his status and dominance through self-proclamation to Siduri and Urshanabi (82), the motive was aimed to immortality and his submission to it. Due to the blazing desire to end personal subordination of a mortal to death, he underwent the test of Utanapishtim (96) without doubting of possible deception. Frustrated, the failed quest confined him back to dominating stance again. However, this move took away the consolation prize of achieving youth rejuvenation. The suspicion in the effectiveness of the consolation ended him going home empty-handed. Chapter 11 of the epic implied that such was an unwise thinking coming from an experienced warrior, celebrated hero and notable king.
The social order in the epic was achieved through establishing levels of hierarchy in the society. Subordination, in the likes of Enkindu and his kind including the rest of the people, resulted to ordinary people’s submission of some of their practices under the rule, decision and scrutiny of Gilgamesh because of his domineering attributes. On the other hand, his rule is neither absolute nor universal as deities are on top of the social system. This dominance was enforced and permitted to happen, albeit of his partly god status, primarily because of immortality demarcation. It limits the scope of dominance not only of Gilgamesh but also all mortals when speaking of their subordination.
Dominant and subordinate individuals alike have similar bottom-line, which is death. This provides disincentive to the ruler to abuse his power aside from good cause and remind him that such wrong doing would not last for a long time because of limitation in life. On the other hand, people would tend to respect the ruler’s decision and abide the kingdom’s development projects to maximize their existence in the world and help improve the status of civilization keeping in mind that time ticks away from every crime or rebellion they would ensue against a fair dominant and elite. Social order is thus seen thorough the mutual understanding and accepted vulnerability of the actors in the society giving rise to peace, and ultimately, prosperity.
Before ending, it is fitting to quote a character in the Asian movie “Hero” which stated, “All under heaven.” According to the story, these three words transformed the then vicious imperial army to exercise non-violent and non-fatal way of conquering lands, and eventually, meeting the kingdom’s endeavor and achieving its ends. Finally, being dominant, subordinate and mortal keeps everyone in social order and live each lives to fullest enjoyment. However, to install abusive and rebellious acts to power or solicited inferiority will lead to disorder and doom of a society.