The Epic og Gilgamesh. A Brief Overview. History of The Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh – King of Uruk, in the empire of Sumeria, sometime between 2800 and 2500 B.C.E. In about 2300 B.C.E.
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The Epic og Gilgamesh A Brief Overview
History of The Epic of Gilgamesh • Gilgamesh – King of Uruk, in the empire of Sumeria, sometime between 2800 and 2500 B.C.E. In about 2300 B.C.E. • Text in this chapter is a translation of a version that scholars estimate had been written about 1200 B.C.E., an Akkadian version of the story. • The story developed over the many centuries during which the Akkadians – and subsequently others – conquered Sumeria. • The story survives because it was carved into soft clay tablets that were then hardened by baking. The writing system used is called cuneiform, which means “wedge-shaped” because its characters were made with the pointed or wedge-shaped end of a stick.
Themes of the Epic of Gilgamesh • A hero develops through both successes and failures. • Lasting achievements are the only way one can attain a kind of immortality. • The opposition between nature and culture, or wildness and civilization, is fundamental to Mesopotamian civilization. • The king and the ruling class have very specific and serious responsibilities to the gods and society. • A man has responsibilities to his family.
Ancient Mesopotamian Religion • Kings were viewed as earthly parallels of the gods and were responsible for setting an example as “providers” for the gods. • The gods were in control of all aspects of social and economic life. The gods had created humans to be their servants. • Temples resembled regal palaces, and the deities were considered to live in them, cared for by clergy-servants participating in various rituals. • Mesopotamians believed that one should not try to change one’s life, but to succeed in it. That is, one should not seek heroism, but look for happiness within the status quo of human existence.
Some Key Mesopotamian Gods • Shamash – God of the sun; law-giver; husband and brother of Ishtar. • Ishtar – Goddess of love and fertility, also of war; daughter of Anu. • Anu – Father of the gods; god of the firmament. • Aruru – Goddess of creation; called upon to create a sidekick for Gilgamesh. • Enlil – God of earth and wind. • Ea – God of wisdom and sweet waters; one of the creators of mankind.
The Coming of Enkidu • Gilgamesh is two-thirds god and one-third man. • He is the king, but he governs badly, misusing his power. • The gods of heaven cry to Anu, the god of Uruk, and to Aruru, the goddess of creation. • Aruru makes Enkidu from clay and water. • Enkidu is wild and consorts with the animals. • The trapper recruits the harlot to tame Enkidu. • After six days and seven nights with the harlot, “Enkidu was grown weak, for wisdom was in him, and the thoughts of a man were in his heart.” • Enkidu challenges Gilgamesh; they fight, then become friends.
The Forest Journey • Gilgamesh decided to earn his reputation by defeating Humbaba, king of the cedar forest. • Enkidu, who knows Humbaba, is opposed to the plan but agrees to participate in it. • Gilgamesh sacrifices to Shamash, who makes armor for him. • Gilgamesh’s mother asks Enkidu to watch over him. • When they cross into the forest, Enkidu feels his hand weaken. • Gilgamesh has a series of dreams, which Enkidu interprets. • They fight Humbaba and defeat him.
Ishtar and Gilgamesh • Ishtar, the goddess of love, wants Gilgamesh as a lover. • He refuses, citing that she has caused the diminution of all her past lovers: “You have loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed whip and spur and a thong, to gallop seven leagues by force and to muddy the water before he drinks.” • Ishtar is insulted and angry. She asks Anu for the Bull of Heaven. • Enkidu kills the Bull of Heaven.
The Death of Enkidu • Anu said to Enlil, “Because they have killed the Bull of Heaven, and because they have killed Humbaba who guarded the Cedar Mountain, one of the two must die.” • It is Enkidu who must go to the “house of dust.” • Enkidu curses the trapper and the harlot for causing his death, but then recalls his curses. • Enkidu dies, and Gilgamesh weeps for him.
The Search for Everlasting Life • Gilgamesh sets out: “Because I am afraid of death, I will go as best I can to find Utnapishtim whom they call the Faraway, for he has entered the assembly of the gods.” • He passes through the gate where the Scorpions stand guard, half man and half dragon. • He passes through an area of heavy mists. • Siduri, the maker of wine who sits in the garden at the edge of the sea, gives him directions. • He goes and meets with Urshanabi, the boatman of Utnapishtim, and destroys the tackle of his boat, and cuts poles for steering the boat. • He reaches Utnapishtim, and Utnapishtim tells the story of the flood and how he became immortal. • Utnapishtim sets him the test of staying awake six days and seven nights; Gilgamesh fails the test. • Utnapishtim gives him a plant that restores youth, but it is stolen by a snake.
Gilgamesh and the Hero’s Journey • The Epic of Gilgamesh contains the elements of Joseph Campbell’s Hero on a Quest, as described in Chapter 12. • The elements are not always in order, but order is not essential to this method of analysis. • In particular, the story of Gilgamesh embodies the two essential elements of this method of analysis: 1. Father atonement (Humbaba, Urshanabi) 2. One of the following: • Meeting with a goddess (Ninsun, Siduri) • Woman as a temptress (Ishtar)