Cuz everybody needs to do a little overthinking once in awhile, right?
And besides, we have this, um, “thing,” for Phineas and friends.
by Jessica Levai
Phineas and Ferb is a cartoon show on The Disney Channel which tells the story of the titular stepbrothers and their never-ending quest to enjoy thoroughly their summer vacation. They spend their time constructing wacky, intricate machines and contraptions, all in the name of fun. Unbeknownst to the pair, their pet platypus, Perry, is a secret agent (codenamed “Agent P”), whose daily duels with the evil Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz are the subject of each episode’s B plot, often intersecting with the adventures of the boys and their friends in unexpected ways. Perhaps more unexpected are the parallels between the exploits of Doofenshmirtz and Agent P and those of Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the ancient Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. Indeed, Doofenshmirtz and Agent P retell that legendary bromance in their own story. If we accept classics scholar Gerald K. Gresseth’s conclusion that Gilgamesh is fundamentally a humanist work, then we can see how this retelling reflects and supports the humanist ethic of Phineas and Ferb.
Both The Epic of Gilgamesh and Agent P’s stories begin with tyrants. In the ancient poem, Gilgamesh is the despotic ruler of the Mesopotamian city of Uruk, who spends his days abusing his subjects and arrogantly strutting the ramparts of the city. In the cartoon this role is taken by self-described “evil scientist” Heinz Doofenshmirtz, who spends every day (and his wife’s alimony) constructing elaborate evil devices, called “-inators,” and scheming to take over the Tri-State Area.
The citizens of Uruk, smarting under Gilgamesh’s oppression, cry to the gods for aid. The gods create Enkidu, a counterpart to Gilgamesh, who will be able to tame him. Enkidu lives the beginning of his life as a wild man among wild creatures, little more than an animal himself. He is not turned into a human until his encounter with the priestess Shamhat, who makes a man of him, both sexually and by introducing him to bread and clothing. Hearing about Gilgamesh’s crimes, Enkidu resolves to go to Uruk to stop him. The creators of Phineas and Ferb have gone more literal, making Doof’s nemesis an actual animal. Perry begins each episode as an unassuming platypus, the pet of Phineas and Ferb. Like Enkidu, Perry the Platypus transforms from an animal to a person, if not a human, with the addition of clothing (though without any sexual encounters that we know of). Specifically, with the application of a fedora he ceases to be a wall-eyed pet who “doesn’t do much” and becomes the “semi-aquatic, egg-laying mammal of action,” Agent P. Agent P is the creation of OWCA (the Organization Without a Cool Acronym), a secret intelligence bureau which monitors Doofenshmirtz’s evil activities and sends Agent P to foil them.