Epic of Gilgamesh Summary & Analysis

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About Poem: Epic of Gilgamesh

Poem detailEpic of Gilgamesh
AuthorUnknown, often attributed to Sin-leqi-unninni
Date writtenc. 2100 BCE
Date publishedc. 1200 BCE
Type of poemEpic poem
Key themesFriendship, mortality, the search for meaning
Literary techniquesEpic meter, simile, metaphor, personification
SpeakerVarious characters in the poem, including Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and Shamash
SubjectThe life and adventures of Gilgamesh, a legendary Sumerian king
SettingMesopotamia, c. 2700 BCE
ToneVaries, depending on the episode of the poem
Structure12 tablets, divided into three parts

Themes: Epic of Gilgamesh

The themes of the “Epic of Gilgamesh” are:

  1. Friendship ➤ It explores the deep bond of friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu.
  2. Mortality ➤ Addresses the human fear of death and the quest for immortality.
  3. Heroism ➤ Focuses on the heroic journey of Gilgamesh and his quest for wisdom and personal growth.
  4. Divine Intervention ➤ Involves interactions with gods and the idea of divine influence on human lives.

Characters: Epic of Gilgamesh

The charactersof the “Epic of Gilgamesh” are:

  • Gilgamesh ➤ The protagonist, a Sumerian king.
  • Enkidu ➤ A wild man created by the gods.
  • Shamhat ➤ A temple prostitute who civilizes Enkidu.
  • Humbaba ➤ The guardian of the Cedar Forest.
  • Ishtar ➤ The goddess of love and war.
  • Utnapishtim ➤ A survivor of the Great Flood.

Epic of Gilgamesh Summary & Analysis

The “Epic of Gilgamesh” is an ancient Mesopotamian poem considered one of the earliest known works of literature, with origins dating back to around 2100 BCE. Comprising twelve tablets, this epic tells the story of Gilgamesh, the historical King of Uruk, who embarks on a quest for immortality. Here’s a detailed stanza-wise summary of the epic:

Tablet I

The epic begins by introducing Gilgamesh, a proud and powerful king, two-thirds divine and one-third human. His oppressive rule leads the people of Uruk to implore the gods for help. In response, the gods create Enkidu, a wild man, to challenge Gilgamesh. After a fierce battle, Enkidu and Gilgamesh become friends.

Tablet II

Gilgamesh and Enkidu decide to embark on a great adventure to the Cedar Forest to kill the monstrous Humbaba. Their journey takes them through various trials, demonstrating Gilgamesh’s superhuman strength and Enkidu’s newfound humanity.

Tablet III

Upon reaching the Cedar Forest, they engage in a fierce battle with Humbaba and ultimately defeat him. The gods are angered by their actions, particularly the god Enlil, who had appointed Humbaba as the forest’s guardian.

Tablet IV

Ishtar, the goddess of love and fertility, proposes marriage to Gilgamesh, but he rejects her, citing her history of mistreating her past lovers. In retaliation, Ishtar sends the Bull of Heaven to destroy Uruk. Gilgamesh and Enkidu defeat the bull, but Enkidu falls ill as a consequence of the gods’ anger.

Tablet V

Enkidu’s illness worsens, and he eventually dies. Gilgamesh is heartbroken and terrified by the idea of death. He embarks on a new quest, this time to seek the secret of eternal life from the immortal flood survivor, Utnapishtim.

Tablet VI

Gilgamesh arrives at the mountains and meets Siduri, a goddess who advises him to enjoy life and not seek immortality. Despite this advice, Gilgamesh presses on, reaching the shores of the Waters of Death.

Tablet VII

In his journey, Gilgamesh encounters a boatman named Urshanabi, who agrees to ferry him across the Waters of Death to meet Utnapishtim, the only human to have survived a great flood.

Tablet VIII

Gilgamesh reaches Utnapishtim and his wife, who tell him the story of the flood and how the gods granted them immortality. However, they explain that immortality is a gift from the gods and cannot be obtained by mortals.

Tablet IX

Utnapishtim challenges Gilgamesh to stay awake for a week, but he fails. Utnapishtim’s wife then reveals a plant that can grant youth, and Gilgamesh retrieves it from the bottom of the sea.

Tablet X

On his way back to Uruk, Gilgamesh stops at a spring to bathe. While he’s bathing, a serpent steals the rejuvenating plant, leaving Gilgamesh to return to Uruk with nothing but his memories.

Tablet XI

Gilgamesh returns to Uruk, having realized that immortality is unattainable. He looks upon the city’s walls and reflects on the importance of leaving a legacy through one’s deeds and the memory of future generations.

Tablet XII

The epic concludes with Gilgamesh coming to terms with his mortality and accepting the cyclical nature of life and death. He now finds solace in the city of Uruk, knowing that his legacy will endure through the story of his adventures.

FAQs: Epic of Gilgamesh

What is the biggest lesson of Gilgamesh?

The biggest lesson of Gilgamesh is that humans are mortal and that we should cherish the time we have.

Why is the poem of Gilgamesh so famous?

The poem of Gilgamesh is so famous because it is one of the oldest surviving works of literature in the world and it explores timeless and universal themes such as friendship, mortality, and the search for meaning.

Why reading Epic of Gilgamesh is relevant today?

Reading the Epic of Gilgamesh is relevant today because it explores universal themes like friendship, the fear of death, and the quest for meaning in life that still resonate with people.

Is The Epic of Gilgamesh hard to read?

The poem is written in a style that is very different from modern literature, and it can be challenging to understand the meaning of some of the passages.

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