Epic of Gilgamesh and Epic Essay

Submitted By MCBacardi
Words: 1150
Pages: 5

Matthew Brunicardi
HIST 2321-007
Dr. Lee
September 22, 2012
The Ongoing Epic of Gilgamesh Most historians today, at one point or another, have examined and analyzed one of the earliest surviving works of literature, which in this case originated from ancient Mesopotamian culture. Entitled “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” it is an epic narrative constructed during the early second millennium BCE, describing “human—as opposed to godly—achievements” (Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, p.97). To historians The Epic of Gilgamesh has shed a great amount of light on Mesopotamian society and culture that since before little had been known. The significance of this poem can be detected through it’s themes, as they are universal and ongoing, and can be seen in literature throughout history many years later. These themes consist of pain and grief from the loss of loved ones, the power of the individual, and the battle against mortality are just some of the main themes in this epic poem that should be recognized. To place the Epic of Gilgamesh into a broader historical context, historians often first try to ask and answer many questions about their primary sources to ensure a thorough understanding of the work as its entirety. To begin, historians first try to determine when their primary source originated. From what we know, The Epic of Gilgamesh surfaced during the second millennium BCE, a time where Mesopotamia was facing severe drought and political instability. Once order and culture had been restored by the Kassites (1475-1125 BCE) they then began to study the oral tales and written records of earlier Sumerians and Akkadians in hopes to “dispel their image as rustic foreigners and to demonstrate their familiarity with the region’s core values.” A prime example of such tales is The Epic of Gilgamesh. Even though the exact author of this poem is unknown, historians do know it was traditionally kept alive through verbal transferences of Mesopotamian royal court scribes. Looking deeper, another theme that is detected in this poem is that it was written to help inform readers of the many themes in life such as friendship, religion, gender roles in society, the development of man, and of course, how humans are affected by death. One of the primary reasons of this epic poem is to draw the distinction between gods and humans; gods are immortal, and all humans have to die. Rather than a government edict, this literature conveys more of a form of propaganda for Gilgamesh’s divine claim to power over other men. The book “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart” explains that this epic poem was later used by the “Babylonians and their successors, the Kassites…of ancient Uruk, to legitimize new rulers” (p.97). Written in Old Babylonian dialect of the Semitic Akkadian language, these narratives identified the history of a people with their king, and their wide circulation helped unify a kingdom. To briefly summarize The Epic of Gilgamesh, the narrator in the excerpt begins the story with an early ancient ruler of Uruk, Gilgamesh. Referred to as the supreme hero of Mesopotamian legend, two-thirds god, and one-third man. Not only was he a successful ruler, he was boastful and vain, as well as a courageous adventurer and a devoted friend to his companion Enkidu. The excerpt then illustrates Gilgamesh at an alehouse speaking to Siduri, an alewife, about the death of Enkidu, which originally had led him on his journey to find immortality. At first glance she is weary of him and cannot determine whether he is who he claims to be. So she asks, “Why are your cheeks wasted, your face dejected, your heart so wretched, your appearance worn out, and grief in your innermost being?” He explains to her that he has been in pain and grief from losing his companion, and has wept for a week. This is an occurring theme that should signify to the reader the connection between Gilgamesh’s grief and the fear of his own death. It is evident the death of Enkidu has stricken him with