Gilgamesh - Marblehead High School

The Epic of Gilgamesh what is an epic?
long narrative poem about a hero
and his companions
 It is set in the “ideal” past, a past
imagined as greater than the present
 The hero often has superhuman
divine traits
 The style is elevated to the greatness
of the deeds
 The poem is oral
The epic is divided into 2 species
 The
primary epic is a stately
narrative about nobility and recited
to nobility.
 It is spoken by a bard who speaks
impersonally as the voice of the
 The Iliad, the Odyssey, Beowulf
 The
poet of the secondary epic has
more individuality
 Virgil’s Aeneid
 Milton’s Paradise Lost
Ed.Barnet, Berman, Burto, “The Dictionary of Literary Terms. Boston: Little Brown
and company, 1960
Elements of an Epic
(you will need to know this for the rest of your life)
Journey of a hero
Assembly scenes
Common sense
Tragic waste
Long involved
Sung by bards to
Heroic leaders on both
An epic simile
 An
extended comparison
 A subject is compared to something
that is presented in such detail that
the subject is sometimes lost
Gilgamesh was written on
12 or so tablets hundreds
of years before found
Gilgamesh would have
been known in 2000 bce.
Found in the Hittite
imperial capital at
Boghazkoy in Anatolia,
written in Semetic
Sumerians were the first
literate inhabitants of
Gilgamesh influenced
The Sumerians did not
unify the material into one
single narrative
The epic was lost and
rediscovered in 1839 by 2
Englishmen in Ninevah, the
once capital of ancient
Assyrian empire
First published in 2
volumes in 1884-1891 by
Paul Haupt
Do we have all the poems?
poems relating to Gilgamesh
 Of these 2 are used and are
combined with later material in this
version of the epic
…but wait there’s more
 It’s
an adventure story
 2 men want fame and fun
 Alone, but armed, 2 friends will take
on the scary forest and its guardian
in a not-so-ordinary world
 Good vs evil
 Friends
 Not so happy ending like fairy tales
gods and all their complications
 Anu
father of gods
 Ishtar goddess of love and
war(should sound familiar)
 Ea goddess of wisdpm
 Enlil god of storm and wind
 Shamash, kindly, just sungod
 Utu Sumerian underworld
 Kur mountain and foreign land
Why is the Gilgamesh so
…because it dates back to
2000 bce.
is older than the Bible and
the Homeric Epics by at least
a millennium and a half
5 poems relate to the historical ruler of
Ur: Gilgamesh
A King Gilgamesh lived and reigned in
the first half of 3000 bce
Gilgamesh is 5th in line from the first
dynasty of Uruk (after the great flood)
He reigned 126 years (his son probably
reigned 30 years)
First tragic hero in oral tradition
First literate inhabitants of Mesopotamia
They were wealthy so their land was
tempting to the wild Semitic tribes of
Conquerors from the North and East
arrived around 4000bce
They were equal in influence on their
neighbors as Rome was to Europe
Fiction: Gilgamesh the king
Hero 2 parts god one part man
His mother was a goddess, but an
obscure one
Father: lillu, a fool or demon of vampire
He is superior to all men
No one compares to him in love or war
We meet him in his mature manhood
when he is wearing out his subjects so
they pray to the gods for help
He is the foil to Gilgamesh: the
natural man
He loses his innocence
He never looks back…until his
He is taken to Uruk..the city..and is
lost in it
1.Meeting of friends
2.Forest journey
3.Flouting of fickle goddess
4.Death of companion
5.Search of ancestral wisdom and
or immortality
Main Message?
• How Can I live my life when
Enkindo, who I loved dearer
than anyone, is now dust.
• Is that all there is?
• Will I be dust as well?
• How should I feel about all this?