The notion that knowledge and discovery hurt humanity as much as they help rings true in Gilgamesh, Genesis, and Hesiod’s Greek creation myth in a number of ways. In Gilgamesh, knowledge and discovery take the form of the animal Enkidu’s transformation into a man through the harlot, and Gilgamesh’s realization that he cannot become immortal during his search for immortality. In Genesis, knowledge and discovery are symbolized in the form of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” that ultimately causes Adam and Eve to be cursed and banished from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:09). Finally, knowledge and discovery emerge in Hesiod’s Greek creation myth through Zeus’ seeing through Prometheus’ intentions to deceive him during dinner and in stealing fire and bringing it to mankind. In each of these situations, the benefits of knowledge and discovery are offset by the problems that arise for mankind afterwards, and in many cases, the severity of humankind’s punishments outweigh the benefits from knowledge and discovery.
In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the problems that arise from knowledge and discovery are Enkidu’s overall weakening after changing from animal to man, and Gilgamesh’s being forced to come to terms with the fact that he will never be immortal. These problems serve to offset any benefit that either character gains. Enkidu’s becoming a human gives him “reason and wide understanding” but leads him to associate with humans and live a human lifestyle, joining Gilgamesh on his journey and slaying the Bull of Heaven along the way, choices that lead to his death as decided by the Gods (Gilgamesh 1:200). Gilgamesh’s realization that “wherever [I] turn, there too will be death (Gilgamesh 9:246)” is a discovery that is only brought about by his quest for immortality, provoked by the death of Enkidu. While Enkidu’s becoming a man allowed him to integrate into civilization and befriend Gilgamesh, it reduced his overall physical strength: “Enkidu had defiled his body so pure, his legs stood still, though his herd was in motion. Enkidu was weakened, could not run as before … (Gilgamesh 1:200)” Along with his severely degraded and spoiled physical existence, being a member of human society brings about human society’s problems, and Enkidu’s joining mankind sees him embark on a journey that leads to his death. This journey with Gilgamesh would not have ever materialized were it not for Enkidu becoming a man and befriending humans. For this, it can be said that becoming a human for Enkidu created fatal problems that did not previously exist.
Secondly, Gilgamesh’s discovery that he would not live forever stemmed from the journey he embarked on that was inspired by Enkidu’s death. Gilgamesh’s witnessing Enkidu’s passing, another form of knowledge, also significantly weakens Gilgamesh’s mental state, as for the rest of the epic, he is constantly cited as mourning and lamenting Enkidu’s death: “For his friend Enkidu Gilgamesh did bitterly weep as he wandered the wild: ‘I shall die, and shall I not then be as Enkidu? Sorrow has entered my heart!’” (Gilgamesh 9:01). This offsets any knowledge imparted to Gilgamesh in regards to how to live life as a mortal properly, as opposed to his previous habits of “letting no son go free to his father”, “[letting no daughter go free to her mother]” and “letting no girl go free to [her bridegroom]” (Gilgamesh 1:71, 1:76, 1:85). While Gilgamesh learns how to live his remaining years more effectively after witnessing the passing of Enkidu and being forced to come to terms with his own mortality, this knowledge also wears heavy on Gilgamesh for the remainder of the epic, suggesting that knowledge and discovery hurt humanity as much as they help in this story.
In Genesis, the problems that arise from Adam and Eve’s eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil certainly harm mankind as much as they help, because there isn’t much of