The Epic Of Gilgamesh

Abridgement:

Literary history-Character Analysis-Two versions of this epic- Similarities between this epic and the bible-Symbols-Moral Themes-Contribution-Conclusion

Literary history:

The Epic of Gilgamesh ( is an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia, regarded as the earliest surviving notable literature and the second oldest religious text, after the Pyramid Texts. The literary history of Gilgamesh begins with five Sumerian poems about Bilgamesh (Sumerian for “Gilgamesh”), king of Uruk, The first surviving version of this combined epic, is known as the “Old Babylonian” version dates to the 18th century BCE and is titled after its incipit, The later Standard Babylonian version compiled

Character Analysis:

The Major characters in this epic are…

  • Gilgamesh
  • Enkidu
  • Humbaba
  • shamath
  • Ishtar

GILGAMESH

 King of Uruk, the strongest of men, Two-thirds god and one-third mortal, and the perfect example of all human virtues. He is A brave warrior, fair judge, ambitious builder

ENKIDU

Companion and friend of Gilgamesh. Hairy-bodied and muscular, Enkidu was raised by animals. Enkidu looks much like Gilgamesh and is almost his physical equal. He aspires to be Gilgamesh’s rival but instead becomes his soul mate. he gods punish Gilgamesh and Enkidu by giving Enkidu a slow, painful, inglorious death for killing the demon Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven.

HUMBABA

 The fearsome demon who guards the Cedar Forest forbidden to mortals. He is the prime example of awesome natural power and danger. His mouth is fire, he roars like a flood, and he breathes death, much like an erupting volcano

ISHTAR

 The goddess of love and fertility, as well as the goddess of war. Ishtar is frequently called the Queen of Heaven. Though she can be unpredictable at times, she is a nurturing mother figure, and other times she is spiteful and cruel. She is the patroness of Uruk, where she has a temple.

SHAMHAT

Shamhat   is a temple prostitute. By sleeping with Enkidu, she begins the process of bringing him into civilization.

UTNAPISHTIM,

Utnapishtim, also called the Distant One, is the only man to attain immortality. It was a gift from the gods in exchange for his obedience during the Great Flood. Although he’s old and wise, Utnapishtim is also demanding and impatient of Gilgamesh’s quest.

Two versions

From the diverse sources found, two main versions of the epic have been partially reconstructed: the Standard Babylonian version, or He who saw the deep, and the Old Babylonian version, or Surpassing all other kings.

Standard Babylonian version

      The Standard Babylonian version has different opening words, or incipit, from the older version. The older version begins with the words “Surpassing all other kings”, while the Standard Babylonian version has “He who saw the deep” (“deep” referring to the mysteries of the information brought back by Gilgamesh from his meeting with Utnapishtim) about Ea, the fountain of wisdom. Gilgamesh was given knowledge of how to worship the gods, why death was ordained for human beings, what makes a good king, and how to live a good life. The story of Utnapishtim, the hero of the flood myth, can also be found in the Babylonian epic

Old Babylonian versions

This version of the epic, called in some fragments surpassing all other kings, is composed of tablets and fragments from diverse origins and states of conservation. It remains incomplete in its majority, with several tablets missing and big lacunae in those found. They are named after their current location or the place where they were found.          

Similarities between this epic and the bible:

In this Epic, the gods create Enkidu, who runs wild with the animals in the open country, as a companion for Gilgamesh.  There are particularly interesting similarities between the Garden of Eden story in Genesis and the story of Enkidu’s movement from nature to culture and civilization. In both stories, a woman is responsible for the transition of a man who had once eaten and drunk with the animals to a state of estrangement from nature. Once Enkidu is rejected by the animal world, the woman Shamhat gives him clothing and teaches him to drink beer and eat bread—all technological developments that separate humans from animals.

Symbols:

Gilgamesh is rich in religious symbolism. Religious rituals in Mesopotamia involved sacrifices, festivals, sex, dream interpretation, and shamanic magic, all of which appear in the story. Enkidu’s hirsuteness symbolizes the natural, uncivilized state.

Moral themes:

The Epic of Gilgamesh has several moral themes, but the main theme is that love is a motivating force. Other moral themes in this epic are the inevitability of death and the danger of dealing with the gods. The love within the friendship of Enkidu and Gilgamesh inspires both of them to be better men in different ways

Fear, not grief, is the reason why Gilgamesh seeks immortality. Enkidu’s death thrusts Gilgamesh into the depths of despair but more importantly it forces him to acknowledge his own mortality.

Contribution:

Through his struggle to find meaning in life, Gilgamesh defied death and, in doing so, becomes the first epic hero in world literature. The grief of Gilgamesh, and the questions his friend’s death evoke, resonate with every human being who has wrestled with the meaning of life in the face of death

 “What you seek you shall never find. For when the Gods made man, they kept immortality to themselves”. A penny for your thoughts….